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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 

Oral evidence: Food security, HC 622

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Ordered by the House of Commons to be published on 18 October 2022.

Watch the meeting 

Members present: Sir Robert Goodwill (Chair); Ian Byrne; Geraint Davies; Barry Gardiner; Dr Neil Hudson; Mrs Sheryll Murray.

Questions 1 - 51


I: Henry Dimbleby, Lead Non-Executive Director and Lead, National Food Strategy, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Examination of witness

Witness: Henry Dimbleby.

Q1                Chair: Welcome to the EFRA Select Committee. This is the first of our planned hearings on food security. Largely in response to the situation in Ukraine and the changed scenario with regard to food supplies globally, but particularly in the UK, we are embarking on this report.

We are very pleased to welcome Henry Dimbleby to give evidence. Henry is a non-executive director of Defra. He was an executive director when I was a Minister there, so I know Henry from then. He has been very much involved in producing our national food strategy. I have seen telephone directories thinner than that particular document. We are very pleased to have you here. Thank you for all the work you have been doing on behalf of the Government. Do you want to introduce yourself for the record and say a little bit, perhaps in a few minutes, about the context of what started your work on this report?

Henry Dimbleby: My name is Henry Dimbleby. I am the lead non-executive board member at Defra. In 2018 I was commissioned by the then Secretary of State Michael Gove to conduct an independent review of how we could not only feed the country quality, affordable food but how we could do so without destroying the environment or our own health.

The context then was that there were quite a lot of moves in place in Defra to improve the environmental outcomes of farming. People were concerned that those did not cover food security or health and that we needed to have a cross-governmental view on those things.

As we were about to publish part one, we had Covid. Now we have had Ukraine. We did publish the national food strategy recommendations last July. As I am sure we will discuss, the Government have responded to large parts of it but not yet to all of it. There is still a good amount of work left to be done to create a food system that is sustainable for the next generation.

Q2                Chair: Thank you. I will start the questioning. You mentioned Ukraine. Since your strategy was published, the supply chain in the UK has faced several challenges—higher input costs and the cost of living crisis. Does this change your analysis of what we need to do to strengthen the food system here in the UK?

Henry Dimbleby: Not fundamentally, no, but it does in terms of pace and tone. The first thing you have to remember is that we are not Egypt. There are countries in the world that, thanks to advances in the transportation and storage of food, have populations that could never be supported from their own land. Egypt imports about 50% of its food, a lot of that from Ukraine. In countries such as that, there is a real risk not just of food getting expensive but of running out of food.

In this country, there are two big food security risks. The first is the cost of food and how that impacts on the poorest in society. The 20% least affluent members of society spend 15% of their money on food. We know, for example, that those people who are eligible for universal credit but not free school meals live, on average, on about £10 per day after their rent costs. The increasing cost of food and energy are really going to squeeze those budgets. That is one big issue that we have to face.

The second risk in terms of our land is about making sure that we have farmland that is sustainable and that we maintain the ecosystems and the environment that supports our production. We cannot continue to produce in an unsustainable way.

I am concerned when I see people saying that the result of the Ukrainian crisis is that we need to continue paying farmers to produce food. That is a tiny subsidy on the cost of food. It will not affect the first of those problems, and it will make the second problem worse. Our response to the Ukrainian crisis in terms of food needs to be to double down on the environmental land management scheme to force through that transition faster and to support those living in poverty, not to go back to the disastrous policies of the common agricultural policy.

Q3                Chair: You mean direct payments.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, direct payments.

Q4                Chair: A lot of those are just capitalising on high rental values and the rest.

Henry Dimbleby: Exactly, yes. It makes productivity worse rather than better. The NFU, having originally said, “Let us do that”, has rowed back on that. There is no one sensible in the debate saying that we should not push ahead with the environmental land management scheme.

Q5                Chair: Yes, there was some coverage of what Ministers said following the last reshuffle that was taken a little bit out of context, but I understand they are still on track to do that. There may be some tinkering at the edges on things like solar farms, but is that your understanding from the ministerial team?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, there was a bit of a communications block, with a new Administration in. These are incredibly complicated issues, some of which we have been working on since the 1990s that are now beginning to come to fruition.

Chair: We will come on to that in more detail.

Henry Dimbleby: The new team at Defra said, “We want to pause. We want to look at this in detail”. Through rumour and whisper, that was translated into, “We are going to go back to basic payments”. I met our Secretary of State last week. He was absolutely adamant that he was pushing ahead on the environmental land management scheme. I have no reason to believe that is not the case.

Chair: We will get into some of the detail on that.

Henry Dimbleby: I have disagreements on solar. When we come on to talk about land use strategy, I am sure we will come on to that. I think their position on solar is a mistake, but we can deal with that in more detail later on.

Q6                Chair: The Government have already acted on four of the seven recommendations in part one of the national food strategy. Were you disappointed with the Government’s food strategy published in June as a response to the national food strategy?

Henry Dimbleby: “Disappointed” is not quite the right word. If I look at what they are doing and what they are not doing, in response to part one and with a bit of gentle encouragement from Marcus Rashford, the Government put in place the holiday activities and food programme, which is an absolutely transformational programme that means children get food during the holidays. They have bumped up the cost of Healthy Start. In the levelling-up White Paper—I do not know where this is now—they committed to Community Eatwell and the food areas.

I said at the time that it was not a strategy, and that was reported slightly more strongly than I intended it to be. It was simply talking about Defra’s role. Within Defra, the land use framework seems to be going ahead; the environmental land management seems to be going ahead. The big hole we have is on health. There is now also an increasing need to look back at the social cost as well.

On health, we had the classic thing that happens in the Department of Health. A Secretary of State goes in with a certain set of beliefs, sees the data and realises this is a massive problem. Sajid Javid was about to publish a White Paper when Boris Johnson resigned, so that did not happen. That was going to be a health inequalities White Paper. Chris Whitty was heavily involved in that. I had not seen that so I do not know what was going to be in it, but I was looking forward to it.

We now have another Secretary of State for Health, who we are told has similar ideologies in terms of the nanny state and who is also known to be a very detail-focused person. My guess is, as with every previous Secretary of State, she is looking at the data inside health and thinking, “This is going to bring down our society”. If we do not deal with these health-related issues, all of the money from the rest of the state will get sucked into the NHS. It will get sucked out of schools and social care because the NHS is the last thing you have to keep standing, and then eventually the NHS will collapse.

I am hopeful that the current Administration, as long as it stands, will be convinced, as every other new Secretary of State has been going into DHSC or its equivalents, that this is one of the big problems that needs to be faced in society and will take appropriate measures to resolve it.

Q7                Chair: Have Ministers sometimes fallen into the trap of thinking, “We need to do something”? They have limited the advertising of junk food, banned junk food outlets near schools and that sort of thing, to be seen to do something without a lot of evidence that it actually makes a difference. Some of the more fundamental changes that might be needed are more politically difficult to deliver and more expensive as well.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, there are two things to say. Fundamentally, there is a Conservative form of ideology, which worryingly for me was repeated by Wes Streeting at the Labour Party conference, that says, “We do not want to get involved in people’s lives. We do not want to tell people what to do. We are not a nanny state”.

If you look back at Conservatism and at the Boer War and Churchill, Churchill said the most important asset a nation has is the health of its people. Free school meals started after the Boer War because the country realised that people who were poor were unhealthy, unproductive and not fit to work.

We have 500,000 people in long-term sickness since the pandemic. If we do not solve that problem, we are not going to get growth or productivity. The first thing that needs to happen is we need to change the way people think about public health. We need to stop seeing it as nannying and interfering and start seeing it as the fundamental foundation of what a good society looks like.

The second thing, as you say, is that it is politically quite difficult. It is a very charged area. Interestingly, it is not nearly as difficult as something like meat. From the focus groups we talk to and the quant polls we have done, we have found that people are quite fed up with the health side of the food system and quite want more Government intervention. It does take care.

If you look at the environmental land management schemewe have seen that, with a little bit of miscommunication, we suddenly had everyone angry—you begin to see how narrow the landing strips are on some of these things. It takes considerable political skill to land hard policy. It is a combination of an ideology that does not lend itself to thinking seriously about it and the fact it requires a lot of political skill.

Q8                Chair: Do we need legislation from the Government in some areas?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, absolutely. The advertising regulation for me was a complete no-brainer. It was massively supported by voters; it is the kind of thing that is quite hard to game, unlike some of the placement legislation. It would not increase costs; it would reduce costs. The Government should do the BOGOF legislation. The data shows that people buy more of this stuff because of those things. It would actually help household costs.

The salt and sugar reformulation tax, which I proposed, will be pretty tricky to pull off at the current moment.

Chair: We are going to get on to some of these areas. We will probably delve deeper into that.

Henry Dimbleby: I set out a thing called the junk food cycle. Pretty much every CEO of a food company will tell you this behind the scenes. I went to the away day for the senior management team of a breakfast cereal company. They make quite healthy breakfast cereals, but every single one of their new products was a breakfast cereal with chocolate on it, a breakfast cereal with sugar on it or a breakfast cereal with whatever.

They saw themselves being sucked into this by the commercial imperatives. That is where the money was. They hated it, but they could not get out of it. That is why it needs Government legislation. If they do not do it, someone else will. You have a market failure, and market failures require Government intervention.

Q9                Ian Byrne: That was a fascinating answer, as normal, from you. When we talk about ideologies, you are spot on to cast them aside and look at public health as an investment in the future of our country. You touched on Churchill. I am reading a book at the moment by Professor Bryce Evans about the community kitchens that were formed after the war for the common good. From an ideological perspective, it was not left or right. It was for the common good of the country.

Given where we are now, Henry, that is what is needed. If you watched “Newsnight” last night, you will have seen some of the statistics that were coming out from the Food Foundation. The former Children’s Commissioner was saying she had never seen anything like this. We are in a moment in time when we need this kind of public health intervention.

Would you say there is a cowardice in Westminster at the moment to tackle that head on? We need to cast aside the nanny state ideology, do what is right for public health and cut through the nonsense that we hear on many sides of the argument.

Henry Dimbleby: The literal answer to the question is that I genuinely do not know what the mindset is. My position has changed a little bit on this. I had always been pro universal free school meals, not just pro increasing them to people on universal credit. That is difficult at the moment, for various reasons, but there is good evidence for it.

One of my advisory panel, Paul Clarke, who was at the time the CTO of Ocado, made consistent arguments for bringing back British Restaurants, which were restaurants run by the state after the war that provided cheap meals.

Ian Byrne: They were also high quality.

Henry Dimbleby: As a restauranteur, I knew how difficult it was to run decent restaurants, and I thought the state would do a bad job of it. The more I think about it and look at the holiday activities and food programmes, the more I think we have these extraordinary assets, school kitchens. During the pandemic, my charity Chefs in Schools started cooking in them and delivering food to the community. In some communities, there is definitely a case for that. I am not sure you would do it in all communities, but in some communities you could.

Q10            Ian Byrne: Can I respond to that? We ran a pilot last week called Scouse Kitchen in a school in West Derby. We turned the school kitchen into a restaurant from 5 until 6.30. We had non-profits providing school meals and volunteers. We put it together to show what could be utilised. As you rightly say, many communities’ biggest asset is the school kitchen. We got agreement from the headteacher, and it was a massive success. We had children, parents and extended family sitting down together and having a meal together. There was no stigma. It was done in the right way; it was a healthy meal. It was also two hours in a warm place, which is relevant now. That is hopefully a template we can utilise.

I would like to take that and give that to you and have a chat with you about that, Henry. The utilisation of schools in this current crisis could be absolutely crucial for our communities.

Henry Dimbleby: That is fantastic. We ran some holiday activities and food programmes in Hackney. It was free to free school meals kids, but we charged non-free school meals parents—I cannot remember—£2 or £2.50 a day. You had a complete mix of kids at the school. My kids went because they wanted to be with their friends who were going. It really brought the community together. It did not feel like a food bank. It felt joyful. It was a fantastic experience.

Q11            Chair: It seems quite ironic that on the one hand we have families struggling to feed themselves and struggling with food poverty and inflation, et cetera, and on the other hand we have an obesity epidemic in the country.

When the Covid pandemic started, it became clear very quickly that people who were overweight were more likely to die. If that is not an incentive for people to adopt a healthier diet and lose weight, what can Government do that is going to be a stronger measure than saying, “You are much more likely to die if you do not lose weight”? People did not lose weight. It almost got me thinking, “Is there anything we can do to address the obesity crisis?” I may be being pessimistic there.

Henry Dimbleby: Interestingly, if you look at how appetite works and the situation of people who are struggling with their weight, it is the case that people have different genetic propensities to be different weights. About 70% of weight is hereditary; about 30% is environment. It is also the case that appetite is incredibly hard to resist. Over time, if you diet, your body makes you hungrier, you put back on the weight and you tend to put on a bit more. If you are someone with a different weight and you force yourself to overeat, you adjust the other way.

You can see this now with groups of people. Weight used to be distributed on a bell curve, but there is now a tail of people stretching out who particularly seem to be affected by the environment that we have and the kinds of food we have. We know that processed food makes you eat more. You seek it out more, and you do not get full as quickly.

We wrote at some length about poverty and the effects of poverty on what you eat. One of my advisory panellists, an economist, had been very poor as a youth. He would do a list of meals that you could have from the supermarkets, and he pointed out, quite rightly, that it is possible to eat healthily on quite a low budget, but it is incredibly hard for a number of reasons. For example, we all know about cooking equipment; we all know about storage, which means you buy things in smaller packets. That makes it more expensive.

We would talk to mothers, and they would say, “I would love to feed my child the healthy food. If they do not eat it”—anyone who is a parent knows that is a constant struggleI cannot afford to give them anything else. They give them the cheapest calories, which are high in salt, fat and sugar, because they know that is what the child is going to eat.

That is why you have not only people who are hungry and people who are obese, but obese people who are malnourished. You have people who have hidden hunger because they do not have the nutrients in that food. Although those two things seem to be at odds with each other, they are actually parts of the same problem.

What I said in the report was that there is only so much you can do with the food system to change this. Fundamentally, you have a societal problem, which is inequality and poverty. That is beyond my pay grade. That has been a problem for all Western countries and continues to be one. My guess is that we will continue to have the exciting politics that we have and many other countries share until we solve the problem of inequality.

There are things you can do. I made the case strongly for benefits in kind, so Healthy Start giving families who are either pregnant or have young children extra money to spend on fruit, vegetable and milk, school food programmes, holiday activities and food programmes, community wellbeing and social prescribing.

Interestingly, some people from both the left and the right are ideologically opposed to that. On the right, some people think it is the nanny state. On the left, some people think it is not a dignified way to treat people who are in poverty.

Q12            Chair: This is the argument between giving people a voucher, which they have to spend on food, and giving them money, which they could spend on anything.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, exactly. I argue that, if you are concerned about the health of the nation, it demonstrably works. If you talk to people in poverty on Healthy Start, for example, they say, “I love the fact it does not come to me as money because I can get a fruit bowl for my children, which would be an outrageous extravagance if I were to do it as part of the household money. The Healthy Start voucher means that in our family we do that. It means we can have a fruit bowl on the table in our house”.

It works. It improves people’s diets. I argue that you should do that and that you should ignore the ideology of left and right on that particular point.

Q13            Barry Gardiner: It is very interesting to see the way in which, in answering the Chair’s initial questions, you have covered all of it. You are looking at this in a very comprehensive way. That is extremely helpful, but I want to try to pin you down. We need to make recommendations to Government. You have already made them. It would be really good to be able to pluck out things we can reinforce in the Committee’s own inquiry report so we can make those recommendations to Government.

My job is to focus on land use strategy. At the start of that, could you go over, with the Committee, your three compartments, explain that and talk about what you would like to see in the Government’s land use strategy?

Henry Dimbleby: The problem we are faced with is that since the war we have been producing more and more food, incredibly successfully, on the same amount of land. We have been keeping fed a population that has grown from 2.5 billion to 7.8 billion. In fact, we produce 1.7 times the number of calories per person on the same amount of land, which is a huge amount more calories per acre of land. That is making the land sick, destroying the environment and driving out nature.

We now need to solve a different equation. We need to use that land, which is a fundamentally scarce resource, not only to produce food but to restore nature and sequester carbon. The land needs to be carbon-negative. Net zero is not enough because it needs to sequester emissions from sectors that we are not going to get decarbonised by 2050. You can do that. It is possible. You can do it because there is quite a large amount of land. 20% of our farmland produces 3% of our calories, which is very unproductive and also suited to carbon sequestration and biodiversity at the same time. Slightly baldly speaking, this is some of the peatlands and uplands, but that is oversimplifying the situation.

There is a problem. How do you get private landowners to use their land in the best possible way? If you are not going to create a Stalinist five-year plan and direct them to do this, which I argue would neither be possible nor desirable, how do you do that? You have to get much more savvy about what land does what.

We argue that you will basically end up with land that produces more food. That is one of the compartments. It will be higher yielding with lower inputs. You will have land that is largely set aside. About 5% of our farmland, we argued, would largely come out of farming. Then, in the middle you would have a range of kinds of farming, which shared nature and food production.

The only instruments the Government have in their toolbox to deal with that are ELMthe environmental land management policyplanning law and regulation. In order to build those correctly, you need to look at a national level and say, “Here is what I need to do in terms of food, biodiversity, carbon and fuel as well. How might Britain look if it were optimised for those things?” That is called the land use framework. The single most important thing the Government need to do in this area is to do those calculations and use those to create a framework, which informs, at a local and a national level, planning regulation and the ELM policy.

Going back to the point earlier, that is why I thought it was weird to say we were not going to put any more solar on farmland. You simply cannot know whether you need to do that until you have done the calculation as a whole. If we come back to the point about inequality and what is going to get us out of this mess, in one of my optimistic moods, the price of solar is falling so fast that many people think that we might get to a situation where northern hemisphere countries, such as Germany or England, with gloomy winters have significantly more solar than they need in the summer, so that even in the winter the technology will be so good that they can feed some of the grid from solar.

In the summer, you will effectively get huge amounts of energy for free, at no incremental cost, and other industries will be built around that to store that energy, whether that is green steel, fermented protein or whatever. At that point, energy becomes very cheap and we solve this problem of inequality, or at least largely assuage it. Therefore, to say off the bat that we are not going to allow solar on 75% of our land seems to me to be a very strange starting point for a land use framework.

Q14            Barry Gardiner: One of the recommendations it would be helpful for this Committee to put forward in response to what the Government have said on this is, “Do not put the cart before the horse. Get your land use strategy in place and then take the decisions about what you are going to put on it, like solar panels”.

Henry Dimbleby: Exactly, yes. That would be the single most important thing in the environmental space.

Q15            Barry Gardiner: You were in danger of not making any great friends in the sheep farming community when you said that 20% of farmland could be lost as farmland and used for the environment and it would only reduce the calories produced by 3%. I wanted to give you the chance to get back in the sheep farmers’ good books. Can you explain how you see the uplands and the management of those lands, including peatlands and others? You said that these would be primarily for environmental use. How do you see us balancing the claims of sheep farmers, the claims of sequestration and indeed the claims of tourism? If you take the sheep off the uplands, you dramatically change the tourist industry in the Lakes, the Dales and so on.

Henry Dimbleby: As you know, the uplands are not homogenous. If you take my part of the world, Devon, we have Dartmoor, where the land use strategy would probably say that you should do one thing, and we have Exmoor, where it would say you should do another. Then we have a lot of extensive graze dairy and beef on a lot of the other land. David Fursdon is leading a group of people to create a land use framework for Devon to try to sketch out what that might look like.

Let us think about, say, Cumbria and what it might look like. I was up there the other day talking to a 90-year-old farmer who had been there, seen there and done it all. He had also been an entrepreneur and had set up a service station on the M6.

At the moment, the upland farmers in the Lake District are a little bit stuck. If you look at the Lake District, you see enormous tourist traffic around Windermere, but the Lake District itself is not particularly visited. The farmers are paid basic payments. You can easily see a situation with a combination of paying those farmers to produce environmental benefits and working out how you get the planning right so they can convert those barns and other outbuildings into additional businesses that can look after other visitors to the Lakes. You can get a brand around the Lakes that is less about Windermere.

You can see that area becoming abundant with nature, profitable and a place that is visited even more than just Windermere. It is a difficult balance to strike, which is why you need a framework first, and then that needs to feed into local planning, central planning, ELMs payments and so on and so forth.

Q16            Barry Gardiner: Again, can I ask you to target this towards a recommendation that the Committee might be able to make? How would you frame that in terms of the planning system and the multifunctional use of land?

Henry Dimbleby: I am not a planning expert. One of the things we were talking about was how the Blair Administration tried to deal with this issue. That goes to show how long we have been trying to deal with it. They made available a small amount of money for all farmers to get some advice on how they could extend their revenue streams and stretch out into certain things. It was not quite enough to do anything fundamental.

In the Lake District they created a co-operative. They pooled the money and hired some people who had been on the local planning authorities to vet applications and say, “This will work. That will work”. For that short period of time, you suddenly saw a big expansion of additional opportunities in that area. From talking to farmers, the problem isand I do not know the answer to this—that system is impenetrable to a lot of them. Therefore, the idea of this expansion is quite scary. We need to find a way of helping them and advising them.

One recommendation you could definitely make, which is needed, is more direct support and advice to farmers on this transition. We could provide the framework. Again, we have drifted away from asking the state to do this, but it is done in many other countries. We definitely need a bit more support for farmers through the transition in this country.

Q17            Barry Gardiner: It is not the first time we had heard that recommendation, though in a different form. Thank you. That is really helpful. Have you spoken with your equivalents in BEIS or DLUHC about how their interests will be reflected in the land use framework? Do you know where they are coming from on this, as well as what is happening in Defra, where you are a non-executive?

Henry Dimbleby: No. I should do that. I have done that quite a lot with carbon. Defra is the lead in terms of adaptation. We set up a non-exec group that asked the question about adaptation because a lot of Departments were not considering how bad things could get. That has been well received by the Departments. It is a good idea to set something up on land use frameworks. It is exactly the same issue. It is something that is understood to be absolutely critical by Defra, but it is probably quite a long way off the radar for a lot of other Departments.

Chair: My constituency has two thirds of the North York Moors national park. Planning there is pretty much a no-no. You cannot do anything. The idea that you are going to remove a lot of heather moorland and plant trees would need a fundamental recalibration of what the national park is there to deliver. There is an interesting challenge in some of our more sensitive areas. Your area would be similar, would it not, Neil?

Q18            Dr Hudson: Can I follow up on that? I take your point, Henry, about Cumbria. I declare an interest as a Cumbrian MP. I speak to many farmers. In one of our previous inquiries on the ELM system, we very much wanted to make sure that tenant farmers, commoners and smallholdings were not falling through the cracks in the support.

One of the concerns, certainly in my part of the world but also across the country, is that large landowners are not renewing the leases for tenant farmers. Tenant farmers are struggling to stay on the land. It is not as simple for them as putting some glamping pods, a wedding barn or anything like that on their farms. They just cannot do that.

My concern is that these upland farmers are really on the profit margin, but they are farming the most beautiful parts of the country. As the Chair has said, they are fundamental to the tourist economy as well. We have not found that landing strip that is supporting them. They do so much for our communities and they produce food for us.

Henry Dimbleby: I agree with that. I am not sure whether you are asking her, but it might be worth asking Baroness Rock, who has just done an independent review of how tenant farmers, who make up almost 50% of our land, can become part of the transition. It is tricky at the moment. There are some very good recommendations in that report.

Q19            Chair: The review is coming out fairly soon, I understand.

Henry Dimbleby: It was published last week or the week before. It has just come out. We have not really seen much news other than the main news in the papers. There is a lot of stuff that has happened that we have not been aware of. She has been very thoughtful about this and made some recommendations about how Defra can change what it is doing in terms of ELMs and on the regulation of landowner leases that are specific to the farming community. That is important.

It is tricky with the different upland areas. Take Nidderdale as an example. In the Dales, I cannot imagine that you will get a local consensus any time soon that there should not just be stone walls and grass. There are some areas that will move more slowly. Talking to commoners and various groups on Dartmoor, there does seem to be a sense that we could have some more trees on Dartmoor. There are areas where we could make it a bit wilder because it is a slightly different environment.

The idea of beauty and the idea of social value will change and evolve over time. Once you have seen and become convinced of the fact that too much of our land is grass and that is a monoculture, it becomes quite hard to unsee. For a lot of society, that has not been seen yet. Therefore, there is quite a lot of work to do before you get local consent for those kinds of things.

Q20            Mrs Murray: Could I turn to the environmental land management scheme? What changes would you like to see come out of the review of that, which was announced in the September growth plan?

Henry Dimbleby: It is very difficult to say what changes I would like to see because we have seen so little of what it is. The single most important thing is to start creating those schemes and getting money out of the door. In my mind, the biggest risk for environmental land management is that we get to 2024, which is when the £3.4 billion of common agricultural policy money has been guaranteed until, without showing that this transition is possible, that it can be done to the benefit of both upland and lowland farmers and to the benefit of nature and that it will not harm food security.

All of those things can be true, but, if you look at how tough the next spending review is going to be, the biggest risk is that the money will go if we have not proven this. For me, it is about pace. I have said this to Minette, the president of the NFU. I have said to everyone who was lobbying the Government to slow down: “You are making a fundamental error. If we slow down and we do not show that we can get results, the money will get taken away, and that will be terrible for everyone”.

Chair: The other major report we are embarking on is on precisely that subject. It will be good to see whether we agree.

Q21            Dr Hudson: Henry, your report and our Committee called for core standards in trade deals. The first iteration of the Trade and Agriculture Commission called for it. Disappointingly, as we all know, the Government have not committed to core standards in their trade deals as a condition for tariff liberalisation.

In spite of that, the second iteration of the Trade and Agriculture Commission found that the statutory protections for food and animal welfare standards were not reduced by the UK-Australia free trade agreement. In some places, they were strengthened. I have to say that I am very sceptical of that finding. Does that context and the stance of the new Trade and Agriculture Commission reassure you that there indeed are sufficient safeguards in the trade deals we are signing in terms of upholding environmental and animal welfare standards moving forward?

Henry Dimbleby: No, it does not, although there are signs in the tea leaves that we are moving in the right direction. The large reason the Australian and New Zealand deals were not considered to put our standards at risk is—we left out certain sectors, such as pigs or poultry—that in those sectors, such as sheep, where there are lower standards, they were not taking up their quotas anyway.

The argument was that we are not going to get a sudden rush of lamb on to the market that has come from mothers that have been mulesed, which involves trussing them up with their legs around their head and slicing off parts of their buttocks, often without anaesthetic, so the wool does not grow back and they do not get flystrike. It is an absolutely abhorrent practice, but, because they are not taking up their quotas anyway, that is not going to come to the UK.

There is a risk. People probably would have seen this as pie in the sky five years ago, but if, for example, China were to have a trade war with Australia, we would be the national dumping ground for that lamb. We would have to move pretty fast to work out what to do about that.

The other concern I have is about areas such as the US. The last federal law on animal welfare in the US was in 1966. At the moment, certain states are trying to pass their own legislation. The US pig association is taking the state of California to court, as we speak, to try to stop them doing that. We have some pretty lousy animal welfare legislation in America. In Brazil, we know that there are large amounts of beef with a terrible carbon footprint. My second concern is that, having done those deals, they become the precedent.

I may be a little bit more optimistic. The looseness of those deals was in large part due to a political need to get them done to show some benefit and to show something was happening after Brexit. We did not negotiate maybe as hard as we might have in those situations. Another piece of news that went largely unnoticed was that the Indian trade deal had been put back. It was going to be finished before Christmas. The reason The Times gave was that Kemi Badenoch, our Trade Secretary, felt we were at risk of giving away too much if we stuck to that timetable.

That makes me feel like, after having had to negotiate trade deals for the first time in 50 or 60 years, we have now realised that a trade deal is a serious and permanent give and take and you cannot be bound by an arbitrary deadline. The big risk is either a Chinese trade war or that we do a similar deal with the US and Brazil. Looking at the signs at the moment, it is looking like the latter of those two things may be less likely than we might have thought it was a year ago.

Q22            Dr Hudson: That is very helpful and powerful evidence. I am often accused of leading our witnesses, but your answer there is something I have been saying repeatedly on this Committee and in the Chamber. A lot of the negotiations were predicated on forecasts that were uncertain. As you have said, if the geopolitics in south-east Asia changes, we just do not know.

Moving forward, could we still make the recommendation to Government that there is nothing to be scared of about putting core standards into trade deals and having sensible tariff rate quota mechanisms? If something changes in geopolitics, you can turn down the supply. Some people have labelled me a protectionist, but I think that is standing up for our values and beliefs on where we stand on environmental and animal welfare standards in this country. We can be a beacon to the rest of the world.

Do the Government have anything to fear from putting in core standards and sensible tariff rate quota mechanisms?

Henry Dimbleby: One of the things that went wrong with this debate was that it was largely led by the NFU. In the papers and the public consciousness, it became about protectionism and protecting our farmers. There are a lot of good things about trade. We would not want to grow all of our potatoes in Devon rather than importing them from Norfolkthat would be insane. In the same way, there are other parts of the world—we would not grow our own rice in the UK—where you can produce food sustainably, ethically and more efficiently than you can in the UK.

Dr Hudson: We can produce beef and lamb quite well here.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes. The argument should not be about protectionism. It should be about standards. There is simply no point in creating an Eden here in the UK where farmers are held to very high standards and no harm is happening in the UK, if we are simply exporting those harms to other countries in the form of cheap imports. It does not stand up.

I have long argued for a dual tariff, which would be legal under WTO terms, where you reduce tariffs for goods that are produced to our standards and you maintain the existing tariffs, which effectively keep things out that are not to our standards. There are examples where that works.

If you look at organic milk, for example, the organic milk standards in the US are higher than our standards. If you apply antibiotics to an animal, you have to take it out of the herd forever, which you do not have to do here in the UK. There are licensing bodies that will license farms here in the UK to be able to export their organic milk to the US. I see no reason why you could not have a similar situation for beef or lamb produced abroad.

Q23            Geraint Davies: I have a supplementary on that. You will be aware of the carbon border adjustment mechanism from the EU. They equalise the carbon footprint through tax at the border for imports. Could that helpfully apply in terms of agriculture?

Secondly, that is conceptually the same as what you have said about standards, is it not? You have a set of standards, whether they are about carbon or animal welfare, and there is an equalisation mechanism at the border that provides an incentive for other providers to meet those same standards or have a lower carbon footprint.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, that will probably happen at some point on carbon. The issue is simply complexity. We know that on average, for example, it takes 70 kg of carbon to produce 1 kg of meat for Brazilian cattle, versus 35 kg of carbon to produce 1 kg of meat here in the UK. You cannot tell what the rearing has been from looking at a piece of meat. You would need to have accreditation; you would need to have other things.

If you had a carbon price, that would be easy to do. You would not get the political problem of a meat tax, which would be toxic. People in this country would not see it initially. It would be keeping out the worst. You could do a cost for difference between 35 kg and a 70 kg.

When you get on to animal welfare, et cetera, you then have the problem not only of doing the accreditation but of working out what the cost is for it and how you define it. It gets harder and harder, but, if we do a deal with Brazil, for example, I can see that a carbon border tax with a cost for difference might well be one of the things that ends up being in there for Brazilian beef.

Q24            Geraint Davies: What is the dual tariff you mentioned?

Henry Dimbleby: It is similar to that, but it is slightly different. It has a similar effect. With a dual tariff, the way you craft the deal is that you have the same tariffs that you have for the rest of the world, but in the deal you say, “If you produce your beef to this standard, you can have the lower tariff”. In the same way as we excluded poultry and pigs from the Australian deal, you could exclude beef produced under certain systems.

Chair: Certainly, our sister Committee, the Environmental Audit Select Committee, is looking at carbon border adjustment mechanisms and how that could work. It is mainly things like steel and some manufactured goods where it is a big issue, if we want to green our industry here.

Ian, do you have any farmers in your constituency at all?

Ian Byrne: No, not in my constituency. Just outside, in Maria Eagle’s constituency, I have a friend who is a farmer.

Chair: It is good that we have urban voices on this Committee and that we are not a load of farmers.

Geraint Davies: They eat a lot of food in Liverpool, or they want to.

Q25            Ian Byrne: Yes, they want to. Today, the Food Foundation released quite devastating figures. Four million children do not have adequate access to food. In a “Newsnight”  piece on those statistics last night, Anne Longfield, the former Children’s Commissioner, said that it has never been so bad. She called for the Government to start holding Cobra meetings on the poverty we are seeing within our communities.

How should the Government address the impacts of the rising cost of living? You touched on it before. We have wage stagnation, rent going up, energy prices going up and food prices going up. How should the Government address these impacts?

Henry Dimbleby: I was going to say it is shocking, but it is not shocking; it is just obvious. If you have a situation where you already have a certain number of families who are really struggling and then you increase the cost of living, clearly you are going to push other people into that situation. It is horrible, but it is not surprising.

How do you deal with it? There are two things the Government need to do. You touched on the first one with the Cobra committee. We recommended that. The Government started doing it a bit, but they are not doing it enough. These problems are not spread equally. They are geographically concentrated in certain areas. They are not always the areas you think.

For example, I was at a school in Plymouth the other day, which had a relatively low rate of free school meals. About 20% of pupils were on free school meals. It had an enormous number of people who were just above the threshold. You would look at that and you would say, “That is not an area we need to focus on”, but those people are really going to start to struggle.

What those Cobra committee meetings do is they get really granular on the data and define the problem. The Government need to be really looking at that data on a local level and understanding how they can structure that support beyond the national support. On the national level, the thing that needs to happen almost immediately is the increase of free school meals. It is one of the best levers. Fifty per cent. of a childs calories during term time are taken in school. It is one of the best measures we can do.

I am not going to talk about benefits because it is not my area, but in the food system the Government should be looking not only at eligibility for free school meals but at Healthy Start cut-off points. That would go for half of the holiday activities and food programmes.

Q26            Ian Byrne: You touched on the need for legislation before. We have had this debate over a couple of years. Would you now support a legislation change for a right to food?

Henry Dimbleby: It depends on what that legislation does.

Q27            Ian Byrne: It would provide universal free school meals.

Henry Dimbleby: In terms of some of the specifics, we are aligned. At the moment, I would go for free school meals for the children of people on universal credit. I am a pragmatist. That is politically very doable. It would not receive any wrong-headed backlash about giving money to people like you and me for our kids. It has to happen, and it has to happen soon.

Q28            Ian Byrne: This goes back to the change in ideology, the change in mindset. It is about what we want for the country. It should be seen as an investment. It should be framed as an investment.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes. I will make that argument until I am blue in the face. In terms of immediate action in that area, we know the majority of people support universal free school meals. We know the vast majority of people support free school meals for everyone on universal credit.

It is such an easy thing to do. PricewaterhouseCoopers did some work on it a couple of weeks ago. They costed it at about £447 million, but they also looked at the investment case. In terms of the saving in health spending, the increase in productivity and the improvement in education, it pays for itself. It is a no-brainer for me.

Q29            Ian Byrne: Why have the Government not done it yet?

Henry Dimbleby: You would have to ask them. I do not know.

Q30            Chair: I was at the Department for Education when this debate was going on. The argument was that six times as many children would qualify, if you made it the UC requirement rather than the previous requirement. It is a big increase.

Henry Dimbleby: It is just under a million. It is 1.8 million at the moment; it would go to 2.8 million.

Ian Byrne: We have 4 million kids who are hungry now.

Henry Dimbleby: There is one area where I can answer why the Government have not done it. People often say that the problem with the food system is that it is spread across Government Departments, so no one person has control. That is true. It is sometimes a problem and it is sometimes not a problem.

In this case, you have this weird thing where DWP does all of the benefits, the Department for Education has this one particular benefit in its remit, and Health mops up a lot of the problems. Our Secretary of State for Health, Thérèse Coffey, was asked about this on the radio the other day. She said, “You will have to ask the Secretary of State for Education”. You are thinking, “That is not right”. I hope she went away and spoke to the Secretary of State for Education immediately after that call.

Q31            Ian Byrne: This Committee has previously called for a food tsar, somebody who has overall control over

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, we called for legislation on targets and then for something like the Climate Change Committee, because it falls apart; you get someone like me who comes in and brings a bit of energy and coherence, but over five years it dissipates, and then they bring someone else in. There needs to be a structural mechanism.

Ian Byrne: It goes back to what Anne Longfield said yesterday about the need for Cobra meetings. It is that important. It truly is. For the future of this country, it needs to be addressed with that sort of importance.

Q32            Barry Gardiner: On the universal school meals issue, you have said, yes, we should extend free school meals to children whose parents are on universal credit but perhaps not up to everybody. We do not make that same argument in relation to child benefit. Both sides of the political spectrum accept that this is something we do for children and it is something that should be there for them. I just wonder whether it is too cautious to say the extremes of left and right will oppose it for different reasons.

There is also an argument about inclusivity. Often, wealthier people say, “Why do I not get that particular benefit?” if it is not a universal benefit. If it is a universal benefit, it brings society together. It is not only about taking away stigma; it is about being one society that cares for all of our children and therefore makes this available for them. If somebody wants to spend half an hour from 6 am to 7 am preparing a packed lunch for their child to go in and they do not want them to eat that universal school meal, that is their choice. Maybe there is too much political sensitivity around this, which is not real. I would welcome your response to that.

The other thing is that we have not talked about mandatory cooking lessons. It seems to me that very often we cannot expect parents to be feeding their children well, properly and nutritiously unless they know how. I am sorry, but we do not teach people how. We are lucky if we grow up in a family where people are taught how to cook. It is so important to educate people about the nutritional value of food and about how to give their children not only the good food but to teach them to do it for themselves.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes. On the first point about political caution, you may well be right. One of my weaknesses sometimes is trying to work out what you can get done rather than what you need to get done. When I wrote, with my business partner John Vincent, the school food plan back in 2013, we made a very strong case for universal free school meals. That was based on evidence of going to schools, here and abroad, where they had them.

If you look at Sweden, for example, which has a very competitive what they call the schools market. They have state schools, private schools and all sorts of schools. The one thing they have in common is that every child has a free school meal, because they believe that creates a culture at the heart of the school and it is right for the child. If you go to schools such as those in Newham where they have introduced free school meals for everyone, what is interesting about looking at the academic performance is that not only does it improve, but it actually improves as much for those already on free school meals as those who get it, because it changes the culture of the school. I am absolutely a massive protagonist for universal free school meals. It will happen at some point, and it may be that in this case I am being too cautious. Criticism accepted.

On cooking and the curriculum, one of the things that came out of the school food plan was that it was not known to everyone, particularly not the children, that cooking is compulsory on the curriculum for all children up to the age of 14. That curriculum says—I know because I drafted it with a group—that the school should instil a love of cooking into the children. It talks about not only nutrition but cooking healthy, delicious, savoury meals so they can feed their friends and family in later life. I go into a lot of schools now and that is simply not happening. They are either not teaching it, or still doing lessons cooking cupcakes.

That has been a learning for me, which is it is sometimes necessary but often not sufficient for the Government to pass legislation to make something happen. You cannot imprison people for not doing that. You cannot send in the Army to make it happen. The question is how you get the care and attention instilled in a school that means that all schools do what the best schools are doing. There are lots of schools that are doing this very well.

There are two things that need to happen. One was a recommendation that all schools should have compulsory accreditation on this. The Government would choose certain people to accredit, and it would not cost a lot of money but every school would have to get Food for Life or someone else to come in and give a report to the Government and to parents on how they are doing on food. The reason I want to do that is that that accreditation is actually not just a checklist. It would be terrible if Ofsted did it; they would not know how to do it. It would come with advice. Inevitably the people who did that accreditation would be people who could say to them, “Actually, this is possible. You need to do it a bit like this”, and the accreditation would lead to advice. The next step is to have that accreditation.

Separately, with the charity that I founded, with Nicole Pisani and Louise Nichols, Chefs in Schools, we are trying to do that from the bottom up. We have at the moment done 150 schools out of 23,000 schools in the UK. We want to do thousands over the next three years, because what we find is that, when you go and show people that it is not impossible and that it is possibly better, the change you can make in schools from the bottom up are huge and life changing.

Q33            Barry Gardiner: That would be another good recommendation from this Committee.

Henry Dimbleby: The accreditation sounds so wonkish and boring, and such a hard sell, but I literally think it is the one thing I would do in this area.

Q34            Chair: Thank you. That is a very important point. Incidentally, on free school meals, nobody ever questions that if you are in hospital you get three free meals a day, no matter how wealthy you are. It is just a given, but where we have identified children who are not being fed very well, or in some cases at all, it is a different matter.

Henry Dimbleby: We do not ask children to pay for their books. We do not expect them to come in with wood and graphite and make their own pencils. It does not make any sense.

Chair: I might add gardening at primary school. We had a school garden. A lot of schools do that, which is another way people can actually feed themselves.

Q35            Geraint Davies: On free school meals, you will know that in Wales since 2004 they have provided free school breakfasts and now they are rolling out free school meals at lunchtime for all children of parents or guardians who register. You do not have to have them. Given, as you have said and as we have found, that one in four children across Britain are now in food poverty, is this something that you think we should push as a Committee to recommend for across England as well?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, absolutely. The order I would do them would be free school meals and then breakfast. As you know, Scotland are doing it in primary schools. Wales are leading. It will just be seen as one of those things we cannot believe we did not have, in the same way that free school meals were resisted by a lot of people in the early 20th century. Now the idea that you did not have them would be considered ridiculous. This is definitely an area where we should be seeking not only to match our neighbours but to outstrip them if we can.

Q36            Geraint Davies: Do you think that free school meals, as we have got in Wales, as you say, would mean higher performance in schools, better concentration, better health, and therefore savings in the health service but also higher productivity in terms of the growth agenda?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, absolutely. The evidence is completely irrefutable, which is that increasing free school meals and universal free school meals will pay for itself. You can go and look at the PwC report. It improves the culture of those schools, it improves the performance in those schools, it improves the health of the children in those schools and it sets them up better to become productive adults. There is absolutely no question in my mind it is the right thing to do.

Q37            Geraint Davies: We spoke earlier about the relationship between obesity and poverty, where poorer people were getting processed food that was impregnated with salt, fat and sugar to make them eat more, but it was not nutritious food. Are you disappointed that the Government has not gone forward, first, to restrict promotions on that, but also perhaps to use other measures in terms of the limits to the amount of these ingredients, or indeed further taxes on sugar, et cetera? Do you think the Government should be doing more more quickly, and what should they be doing?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes. I thought the framing of a health inequalities White Paper was absolutely the right framing. We know that Chris Whitty, for example, probably the busiest man in the country, or one of them, during lockdown, in his spare time was doing a series of online lectures on the problem of food-related disease to the NHS. He gets it and he was heavily involved in creating this White Paper. We need to see the health inequalities White Paper and we need to see it soon.

Q38            Geraint Davies: On that point, would you agree that better global health for everybody means that the country is more resilient to unexpected pandemics like Covid, et cetera? There is a great correlation with people who are not very well being more likely to die if they are hit by a disease.

Henry Dimbleby: The NHS is almost entirely concerned with mopping up and trying to fix things in bodies once they have broken. Everyone within the health service knows not only that that is an incredibly inefficient way to do healthcare, but that the repercussions for the productivity of our country are huge, because those people who are having those problems fixed are not working productively. Unless we can find a way of shifting healthcare spend upstream and starting to fix those problems before they hit the health service, the health service will at some point collapse.

Let me take an analogy. There is a fantastic school called the Reach Academy in Feltham, which is an all-through school and has universal free school meals. It decided to pay for them out of its budget. Everyone eats together. They have a minute’s silence where they think about the food before eating. Then all the teachers eat with the children. It is a pretty tough intake school and it has this incredible culture and is very successful academically.

The head of that school actually gets in touch with the parents when they give birth. The first point of contact he has with parents is immediately after their child is born. That is when he starts his relationship with the parents, because he says, “If I wait for them to get to me, I will be undoing all sorts of things that will happen in the five years before they arrive at my gate. Just helping and supporting those families a little bit in those five years is lower effort and cheaper in the long run than waiting for them to arrive at school and trying to undo all of that.

In the health service that is the attitude. It is not nannying. It is helping people not get to the stage where they need acute care. That is what you have to get to in the health service.

Q39            Geraint Davies: There is an issue here about things like sugar, which is very cheap. You can buy an enormous amount of biscuits and chocolate if you want to get calories. It is an issue about poverty. If it was the case that the Government were decisive and said, “We want to put taxes on sugar as an ingredient in food”, it would hit the poorest. Should the strategy moving forward be one that ensures that poorer people, and in fact all people, are able to get cheap and nutritious food to replace currently cheap food, which is impregnated with sugar and the like, by perhaps some system of raising the price of sugar yet providing food to poorer people, through universal credit or whatever? How do you see us squaring that circle?

It seems to me that we are going through this period where people will resort to worse and worse food to get the calories, and we actually want to get them off sugar, for example, and on to fresh fruit. How do you square that off?

Henry Dimbleby: The recommendation we made on that was that you have a sugar and salt reformulation tax, with a large tax on bulk-bought sugar. If you were buying a bag of sugar to make a cake for your nan, you would not see that go up in price, but if you were making millions of processed meals, you would have to think very carefully about how you formulated those. We know, from the sugary drinks levy on soft drinks, that does not necessarily mean that the price goes up. It means you get a lot of reformulation. I see no reason why you could not expand the categories on that and put that in place. Politically it is difficult at the moment.

You then take some of that money. As you will know, there is an economists’ debate about hypothecation of taxes and whether it is coherent to say, “We will take taxes from one place and put them somewhere else”, even though it is politically often easier to tax people if you say, “It is going directly to this”. In this case, the idea of taking a tax in the band end and then saying that money should go to supporting the diets of the poorest is economically coherent, because you are pivoting the system in that way. In the end, that is one of the routes we need to go down in order to pivot the system: to start to break the junk food cycle and make it less commercially attractive for companies to market the rubbish at us, and, as we do that, make it easier for those struggling to afford the good stuff.

I do not think, as some people have argued, that you should put subsidies on vegetables across the board. It is just too expensive to subsidise my vegetables, or rich people’s vegetables. You should direct money at those who are struggling, helping them to improve their diet.

Q40            Geraint Davies: In your example, you said the manufacturers of cereals were in some sense, through market forces, pushed into producing more sugar-covered cereals and the like. In terms of trying to tackle that, is the answer partly to restrict promotion and partly, as you said, a targeted increase in sugar ingredient cost?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, it is a combination of things. Restrict advertising, restrict promotion and target the ingredients. We are also on the cusp of understanding a bit more about ultra-processed food. There has been this big debate about the 50% of the food we eat that is processed, about why we eat so much and why it is so bad for us. Is it simply because it is high in sugar, salt and fat, because those are what is cheap and that is what is killing us, or is there something about the processing?

The science on that is rocketing ahead at the moment. We might also find that, as that science becomes clearer, there are other interventions that we could make in terms of companies that are processing things. It is possible that some forms of processing will become seen as not acceptable. That might help as well. We might understand a bit. The science of nutrition is still a pauper science. Because it is not exciting, it is not glamorous and it is not sending men to the moon, it is not funded in any way proportionately to the amount of harm that food does to society, but that is beginning to change. As that changes, we may be able to get a bit more refined in the interventions we are able to make.

Q41            Geraint Davies: Finally, there is technology emerging, is there not, where you can go into a shop and test a carrot for its nutritional level? It is going to appear on apps. There is some sort of meter that looks at nutritional level. Do you think that those technologies will help consumers make rational choices and encourage Government to do the sorts of things you are doing?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, I do. The University of Nottingham is currently creating something like that. Before you get to that stage, there are a number of people who are, at the moment, trying to create vegetables that have higher levels of micronutrients in them and then brand them to sell them at a premium. You say, “These are good for you carrots, rather than bad for you carrots”. This is an example of where the commercial interests will be a good thing, because what will happen is, as soon as it becomes clear, as it probably will, that there is such a thing as good carrots and bad carrots, the whole base will come up and everyone will start doing this, and the base of food will become more nutritional. We are a bit further down the road to personal readers, but it will happen.

The other thing that will happen is we will begin to realise much more that for different people, different things make them sick, and you will get personalised medicine and personalised diets. That will take us forward as well.

Q42            Geraint Davies: Finally, on the health disparities White Paper, in a brief list what would you like to see in it?

Henry Dimbleby: First of all, doing the things that the Government have said they would do. In terms of advertising and BOGOFs, those two things need to happen.

Secondly, one of my recommendations was mandatory reporting. All big companies should have to report on a bulk case what food they are selling, how much HFSS and how that is changing over time, and how much meat from an environmental perspective and how that is changing over time.

I would like to see, if it is not the sugar and salt reformulation tax, thinking set out about how you continue to progress to break the junk food cycle. If you are not going to do that, how are you going to cut this commercial incentive?

At the moment it is about stopping regression, making the data clear and available to anyone who needs it, and then setting out a path for how you are going to continue to move forward in this area.

Q43            Dr Hudson: In terms of Government food procurement, in the food strategy the Government have committed to having at least 50% of food procurement on food produced locally or certified to higher environmental production standards. What do the Government need to do to try to achieve that target?

Henry Dimbleby: The biggest barrier in public organisations is the time it takes to do that. If you look at cuts, where those cuts have often been made has been on purchasing departments in hospitals, in public organisations. Therefore they fall back on the big wholesalers because it is the easiest thing to do and no one is going to get fired for doing that. In terms of schools, we set up an app for the chefs. They can order their food from local suppliers, but for them it is just in the app and it comes the next day in one load. We find they are getting better quality food cheaper, and they are beginning to build relationships with these suppliers. Again, it is how you build a community.

The Crown Commercial Service has a tender out to ask for bids to create similar solutions for public purchasing around the country, to solve that problem. My only concern, looking at the tender, is that it says it will be a tier one supplier. A lot of what they say they want to do is absolutely spot on. I am slightly concerned that it is a tier one supplier, with one person doing it all the way across the country. By doing that, you risk getting someone who is good at submitting Government tenders and you just create another wholesaler, but, even worse than that, you create a state-run wholesaler, which is the worst of all possible worlds. I do not understand the detail but, reading through the tender from the Crown Commercial Service, that was my big concern; the direction and ambition are right, but that stipulation feels a bit off to me.

Q44            Dr Hudson: Following up to that, the food strategy emphasised local strategies. What you have just said seems to go against that. Do you think there is a way the central Government can use public procurement effectively? Are they doing it in some way that would be a lever for change locally? Do they need to work more with local authorities and private companies in the local environment?

Henry Dimbleby: They need to learn from people who are doing it. I have not now, for a year or so, looked at where it is working and where it is not working. I know how it works in our schools and I know from conversations. You go and meet someone who is buying food for Plymouth Hospital, for example. The idea of switching out from 3663 or whoever it was who was doing it feels, to someone who is stressed with a high workload, like a lot of work. You need to understand what the barriers are to getting to a stage where you can get cheaper, better local food for that person.

The solution is called dynamic procurement. We need some way of using technology to take the hassle out of having multiple local relationships. That is the solution. That is the answer: to make it easier for those small businesses to join the platform so the food gets delivered. I do not know, just from a cursory glance, whether the Crown Commercial Service tender really gets to the nub of that.

Q45            Dr Hudson: Thank you. That is helpful. Just a final question, we have talked about core standards and trying to drive up standards internationally in terms of environmental standards and animal welfare standards. Currently, Henry, there still is a loophole in the Government buying standards, in terms of domestic food procurement, that a public body could buy food that is produced to lower standards if there was an economic case for that. That seems to be a significant loophole domestically. We as a Committee have recommended to Government that they should close that loophole quickly. Do you agree with that premise, that we should be saying to Government we need to clean up our act at home if we are going to start trying to be a beacon to the rest of the world on animal welfare standards?

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, and it would not necessarily increase the cost overall. Clearly you have to close that loophole. You have to have some commercial considerations, so you need some kind of balanced scorecard. If you look at, for example, purchasing for the Olympics, where the cost of those tenders was actually not ranked nearly as high as it normally would be and they went much more for sustainability, they in the end got better people delivering it; they reckoned they got better service because the companies they were dealing with had a strong purpose. It was not just about cost. If you take out cost as the primary target, it does not necessarily mean that everything becomes more expensive. Actually, it sometimes means you get a better service, better products, and overall it does not become that much more expensive.

Q46            Dr Hudson: It might actually be better financially, and then ultimately it is better for animal welfare.

Henry Dimbleby: I have certainly found that in my experience.

Chair: My experience in North Yorkshire with school meals is we had a very good local butcher shop supplying the schools in Scarborough, and the county council decided they were going to tender for the whole county, and they said, “We are not going to drive three hours to deliver meat to Bentham, or wherever, and they just lost interest. Granularity has to be important as well, so that it is actually local.

Q47            Barry Gardiner: I want to follow up exactly on that, because my constituency is in Brent, the borough with 183 different languages and cultures. Being able to cater for the culinary cultures and tastes is so important. A tier one supplier simply would find that very challenging, which is another reason for precisely the locality granularity that you were talking about. Again, I am trying to lead you into a recommendation to the Committee so that it is able to cope with cultural diversity.

Henry Dimbleby: Interestingly, we had a board meeting of the charity Chefs in Schools last night. We have just gone to do stuff in Sheffield and we are moving to Cornwall; we are moving out of London. What is really interesting about the model is that what you are trying to do is instil skill, passion and care. It is about how flexible that is culturally.

Nicole has just taken on a Jain school in west London. They were saying what they are not allowed to cook. The list was so long that I just said, “What can we cook? We are not allowed eggs, we are not allowed onions, we are not allowed garlic. She said that the culture was so different and yet, in terms of the central tenet of cooking from scratch, taking care, training up skill, she was amazed that the model worked in that culture.

The central thing that enables you to deal with the wonderful lack of homogeneity we have in the UK is not centralising things; it is incentivising care and enabling people to do things at a local level. In the end, every plate of food that tastes good and is nutritious was put in front of someone because someone took care at a local level to make that plate of food. If you shove everything up to a huge level, you lose that care, and that is a tragedy.

Q48            Geraint Davies: On this idea of dynamic procurement on a granular level, you said earlier that you already had an app that did this. Can you provide that information to local authorities and other people? I would be interested in providing it to my own.

Henry Dimbleby: Yes, definitely. I would be very happy to follow up after this.

Q49            Geraint Davies: You have made the case that the centralised thing could go wrong for a variety of reasons. You could make that available to the Committee.

Henry Dimbleby: I am very happy to do that.

Q50            Chair: Before we close, can I just ask about something we have not touched on, which is food waste? It seems that, at every stage of the production, marketing and consumption of food, there is waste. We all read about wonky vegetables and lots of stuff getting discarded. You have some experience in catering. In the catering trade I see massive amounts of food waste. There are breakfast buffets at which, at the end of the breakfast serving, a lot of the food is presumably thrown away. Is there anything we can do to try to ensure that the food we produce and people buy with their limited resources gets consumed and not thrown in the bin?

Henry Dimbleby: You are right that there is a problem. Twenty-five per cent. to 30% of the food we grow gets thrown away. If we did not throw that away, that would reduce our total greenhouse gas emissions by between 5% and 7%. It gets worse as you go down the line. Digging lettuces back into a field because you had a hot spell and they grew and no one wants to buy them is sad but not a disaster. Once you have then transported them to a shop, that has added to the waste. Once that shop has refrigerated them and then sold them to a customer, who has transported them to their home, and then that customer cooks the food and then puts it in their fridge and then throws it away, that has added to the issue. Not all food waste is the same.

If you look at businesses, we have a strong commercial incentive not to waste food. In catering it is called the control gap. You have what is called your theoretical gross profit, which is the amount of money you should be making from the food that you sell, and the stuff that you throw away. Typically the theoretical GP just on the food might be 70%, then you might waste an extra 2%. We watch that 2% like hawks. We are always trying to work out how to reduce the waste.

Where it goes wrong is when people reduce that waste by pushing it one way or the other. For example, if you are a supermarket, supermarkets are quite good at pushing the risk down to their suppliers. They are very good—you might think it is a good thing—at discounting heavily the waste at the other end to push it to the customer. There are a number of things we could do on waste, but one thing in terms of commercial waste is to expand the role of the supermarket regulator to be all the way through the supply chain. At the moment they just deal with the relationship between the supermarket and the supplier that supplies them, but they have no power all the way down. That should go all the way down to the farm. That scope should increase.

Q51            Dr Hudson: You were talking about going back down to the farm. Henry, Ian and colleagues have talked a lot today about spending a bit for the greater good and having ultimate benefits down the line. The FareShare scheme did that, did it not? Defra put in £5 million to get produce fresh from the farm gate to communities that really needed it. Is that something we could recommend to Government: Spend a bit to have a benefit longer term”?

Henry Dimbleby: Victoria Prentis, who was a Minister in Defra at the time, led this work during the pandemic. She was absolutely passionate about supporting people who were struggling. She helped create the scheme that increased the amount of food going to FareShare. At the moment I do not know what FareShare would say; I have not spoken to them recently. I do not know how much food is being wasted that could get to them.

I know that every other day I get an email from a food bank I have visited, or a charity that has been relying on organisations like Felix and FareShare, saying they do not have the food anymore; they have the customers but not the food. There is clearly a problem there. You would have to look at the root cause to see whether it is the same solution or another solution, but there is a big problem.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed for your evidence. Having worked with you at Defra, I was expecting it to be very valuable, but you have exceeded my expectations. It has been very helpful. You have obviously thought about these things in depth and that work has gone into these reports. We appreciate your time. Thank you very much indeed.