Written evidence submitted by Feedback (FS0025)


About this submission

Feedback is a campaigning charity that works to regenerate nature by transforming our food system. To do this we challenge power, catalyse action and empower people to achieve positive change.


Founded in 2013, we combine hard-hitting investigative research, mass public participation feasts, and on the ground, community-based pilots for a better food system. As a result, we’ve put food issues, in particular waste, at the very top of business and policy agendas. 


QUESTION 1: What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

It could be said that the global nature of our food supply chains is part of the problem. As seen during the Covid-19 crisis, the just in time model that has developed within food delivery, based on reducing storage within food retail spaces but increasing the number of daily deliveries, is not agile enough to change when global disruption occurs. The cost of fuel, particularly diesel, is adding to the costs of delivery of food. The centralised model of transporting food from point A to point B to redistribute to point C becomes less efficient when fuel costs rise. 


Much has been made of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the effect upon the production of sunflower oil, wheat and fertilisers. However, this isn’t necessarily causing the problems we’re seeing this year; these are problems that will hit us next year. The rise in the cost of pasta/bread flour that we’re seeing now is down to climate change and the destroyed harvests of Canada in 2021 following drought and wildfires. Italy is our main supplier of pasta, and they import flour from Canada, hence the rise in pasta prices in the UK. Food prices have been artificially low for too long, which means there isn’t anywhere to go when global commodities increase in cost. 


In the UK, we have also created additional problems through Brexit and removing ourselves from the EU markets and limiting the visa applications of migratory agricultural workers. This has led to labour shortages and thereby food wasted on UK farms. We are not self-sufficient in any case, relying on imports for 40% of our food supply. All of this contributes to the risk of food shortages and price rises. 


Inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, which has been compounded by the rise in energy costs, are eating up any surplus within the average household budget and are having consequences for both consumers and businesses. Consumers are seeking to cut their outgoings, which means that they are paring back on extras such as going out, entertainment etc. For households who were already struggling before the energy price rises, the choice of heat or eat is becoming a reality. A 10% inflation figure equates to an 18% inflationary figure for lower paid workers. Businesses, particularly those in hospitality, are being hit by the energy prices, food price increases and the consumer cut back in spending.


QUESTION 2: What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?


Food has been too cheap for too long and now we’re catching up.

Comparing the cost of basic foods from 2021 to 2022 shows increases of between 10% and 12%. Often this is measured in pence, but the cumulative effect is adding £5 to £10 on the average weekly food shop. Again, this is absorbable for some but not all consumers. Wages and social security payments are not keeping pace with inflation, and in the short and medium term, there are no signs of food prices reducing. We can expect the trajectory to continue upwards, with a further increase post-October and the energy cost rises. As mentioned in Q1, the energy crisis is affecting the costs of transporting and producing food, and the global shortages of wheat and sunflower oil from Russia and Ukraine will send buyers from the Middle East and Africa to compete in the commodity markets. We are semi-sufficient in wheat, but the temptation of a free market may lead British farmers to look at supplying other nations for a better profit.


The problem with policy interventions is that they can be knee jerk and short term in scope. As has been long campaigned for, there needs to be proper consideration given to food, with both local and national governing bodies creating a portfolio role for food instead of allowing it to be divided into silos, such as health, tourism and business. Food is central to wellbeing, health and educational aspirations and should be the starting point for the Levelling Up policy actions.



An immediate policy change would be to re-examine the provision of free school meals for all children, irrespective of household income. Too many children in poverty are excluded from this support due to the draconian strictures around eligibility.  Henry Dimbleby, the lead adviser on the government’s national food strategy, recommended the scheme be extended to all children under 16 living in households earning less than £20,000. This would have cost £544 million a year and would have meant feeding an additional 1.1 million children. Research has shown a significant and immediate effect of diet on behaviour, concentration and cognitive ability. Increasing the provision of quality, healthy school meals in Britain can increase student achievement, by up to 8% in Key Stage 2 in Science and reduce absenteeism by 15% for all young people. Provision of universal free school meals would ease pressures on familial household budgets and free up income to cope with the cost of food price rises.


An adjunct to this would be to improve access to and distribution of Healthy Start Vouchers. A recent study carried out by Sustain revealed low take up and also barriers, such as eligibility – for example, not all Universal Credit recipients, and retailers are not registered as suppliers. Access to fresh food remains a constant issue for low-income householders. 


Local and central governments should also consider how they can support local food production. Returning to the market gardens of the past that used to supply both urban and rural populations and creating local market spaces to sell food outside the domination of the supermarkets would offer an alternate food supply and access to fresh food that is not currently available to many citizens living in ‘food deserts’. They in particular face additional issues around the food price rises, as they have little agency to choose where they shop.


There is a clear need to diversify the types of fish eaten in Britain and increase the proportion that is produced domestically. A way to do this is via targeted information and marketing campaigns that are supported by clear policies. Supporting direct sales initiatives stemming from primary producers, seen especially since Covid-19, is also an avenue which would benefit from targeted policies in this direction, alongside funding and investment. Government policies in terms of sourcing would also have benefits to this end. Together, these could work to boost domestic consumption of a diverse range of British seafood, which would be more sustainable in terms of fish stocks, and the industry itself. More diverse, domestic supply chains would subsequently make it easier for consumers to make choices based on social and environmental criteria. On top of this, it would make for a more transparent supply chain. 


Finally, public sector procurement could be used as a way to support local food production. A recent consultation from DEFRA around public procurement focused very much on shifting procurement to local food producers but was light on detail as to how this would be supported or encouraged. Conversations have been had about a Northern Menu for Leeds hospital, changing their food procurement rules to focus on what is actually produced or grown within the north of England, so lamb not beef, root vegetables and barley, rhubarb and apples. We are not yet self-sufficient but there are ways in which forgotten agri-food businesses could be revived, such as via growing watercress instead of importing salad leaves from Spain and Portugal.


QUESTION 3: How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious food?


68% of people in poverty are also in work and increasingly relying upon charitable support for food. This food is often ambient and not necessarily healthy. To meet the aspirations of the Live Well plate, a person on a low income would need to spend 45% of their income. This isn’t practicable or possible given the current increase in energy costs. Furthermore, for many people, the availability and access to healthy and nutritious food has been an issue for years, not just because of the rising cost of living and increasing food prices: poor transport links, bad planning of new housing, business rate and rent costs, low household incomes and the proliferation of large-scale hypermarkets in adjacent districts that have pushed smaller shops to close are just some of the barriers encountered by people in both urban and rural environments. The term food desert is used to determine the availability of food within a 1500m walk of a person’s home. By these criteria, 77% of the borough of Knowsley, home to 155,682, is a food desert.


An informal consultation held with attendees at one of our gleaning events (where we take volunteers to rescue and redistribute food surplus from farms) gave us the opportunity to ask this question. Key themes emerged which echoed our thoughts above: “Healthy food in cities is inaccessible” / “Food banks are now a permanent and necessary part of life even in comfortable Bromley” / “There is an abundance of low-quality food” / “Distance and cost of travel to reach food”.


QUESTION 4: How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect: (a) the resilience of food supply chains?; (b) the agri-food and seafood sectors?; (c) access to healthy, nutritious food?


a) As mentioned earlier in this response, the resilience of our food supply chains is precarious and relies on many moving parts as part of the global supply chain. Disruption can come from many directions and cannot always be mitigated against. The proposals within the food strategy policy are focused on mostly maintaining the status quo with respect to our self-sufficiency. There is an opportunity here to address the issue that more than three-quarters of UK land under food production is used to graze livestock or produce crops to feed to animals. The Government’s own Climate Change Committee has advised we must reduce the amount of meat we eat by 50% for the UK to reach net zero targets and to mitigate the worst effects of the climate crisis. We should be concentrating on ways to use our agri-food spaces in an efficient way that supports our climate change goals and our population with home produced, seasonally based foods. The drive towards export and trade outside our borders is a false economic priority when we have not yet reached a status quo of supply within our own neighbourhoods.


b) Britain currently exports much of the (rich and diverse array of) seafood it produces. Conversely, it relies on imports for domestic consumption, which remains heavily centred on a handful of species (the big five – salmon, tuna, cod, haddock, warm water prawns). This leaves British seafood supply chains, and those engaged along them, highly vulnerable to political and environmental changes. The government’s strategy offers little in terms of addressing this practically. And in this sense offers little in terms of security for the bulk of those primary producers working in the catching sector (i.e., small-scale producers). Instead, the Government’s food strategy offers farmed fish as part of the solution to shifting our diets towards proteins with lower environmental impact. That strategy is based on the (false) narrative that innovation in aquaculture will help boost production in the seafood sector without adding pressure on fish stocks. 

Because of the level of detail provided in the Government’s strategy document, we assume here what the strategy is indicating is boosting the production of farmed salmon, the UK’s largest seafood export by value. Given that farmed salmon remains dependent on wild fish for feed, this is a highly inefficient way of producing food, both socially and ecologically. According to our research at Feedback, based on the last publicly available figures, the production of 179,000 tonnes of Scottish Atlantic salmon requires 460,000 tonnes of wild-caught fish – most (up to 90%) of these are food grade and could be eaten instead. Many are more nutritious than the salmon they produce – most (more than half, in some cases up to 99%) of the valuable micronutrients available in these feed fish (e.g., sardines, herrings, sprats) are lost when fed to farmed salmon. 


How will the Government’s current commitment to “remove any bureaucracy that stems from old EU rules and currently holds back our agri-food and fishing industries” impact the seafood sector? It’s clear now that the windfall of quota promised from exiting the Common Fisheries Policy is now not going to materialise. Research indicates that the amount of additional catch for UK fishermen will only reach 12.4% by value for all species by 2025. Most of these gains relate to a small number of species. Those least likely to benefit are inshore fishermen, who are faced with the added complexity now of exporting their catch may end up worse off. The Strategy does involve a welcome commitment to investing in infrastructure, ports, and processing facilities, alongside aquaculture. Investment in infrastructure, ports, facilities, etc. in coastal areas is needed to ensure a future seafood sector. However, how those investments are directed will ultimately determine what that future sector looks like – a small number of large-scale producers providing precarious employment, or many small and medium-scale domestic producers, potentially, providing social and environmental benefits to communities. 


c) Compared to the ambitious recommendations laid out by Henry Dimbleby (which would go a long way to help address issues such as food insecurity and increase access to healthy and nutritious food), the Government’s response fails to measure up in ambition and scale. Rather than committing to doing something about the fact we now have 31% of all children living in poverty, this paper fails to support an additional 1.5 million children with free school meals. Very little is offered beyond the already existing Holidays Activities and Food (HAF) programme, which is itself underfunded, and the Healthy Start scheme, which, following digitalisation, is now failing to reach eligible families. Instead, the status quo of eligibility based on households earning less than £7,400 a year remains. The opportunity to create those much-vaunted Levelling Up options is missed. 


The consultation emphasised the importance of giving all the public equal access to affordable healthy food. That’s been pushed off to the Health Disparities paper. Moreover, the onus is once again placed on individual choice and education, rather than addressing the issues of availability. There’s one mention of hunger in this paper and that’s in relation to food aid overseas. It may be unpalatable to those in government to think about hunger in relation to their own citizens, but with an increase of 81% in people regularly accessing food aid in five years and over 7.1 million admitting to skipping a meal because they cannot afford to eat, the stark reality is, our citizens are hungry and those numbers will only increase as the cost of living (or surviving) continues to grow.


QUESTION 5: Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?


No. It makes out that we have largely arrived at where we need to get to: celebrating high self-sufficiency in processed food and animal products, previous (and largely failed) healthy eating programmes and the charitable actions of food manufacturers. According to the food strategy policy paper referenced above, there is an intention for the target of food self-sufficiency to be broadly the same as the current one. The 60% figure refers to certain foods, particularly cereals, meats and some vegetables. If we are to meet carbon reduction targets and other environmental ambitions around animal welfare, reducing usage of chemical fertilisers and a move towards a more plant-based diet, we will need to increase our fruit and vegetable production and be more efficient with the food that we do produce. Now is the time to invest in plant-based proteins - beans, lentils, grains and start moving public and private diets towards a less meat-based menu. Increasing industrial meat production is not the way forward. The government has many tools at its disposal to drive the shift towards low-carbon diets, including regulation, planning for factory farms and public procurement. It has chosen not to deploy any of these. The strategy was an extraordinary opportunity for climate leadership from the government, instead, it is marching us towards climate chaos.


QUESTION 6: How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security? What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?


This is an important question that needs further detail. The balance around land use for food production and other goals requires more information - when it comes to food production, are we including things like sugar beet? The area of land used to grow sugar beet is comparable to the area devoted to the production of all UK vegetable crops.


The three-compartment model proposed combines intensification, land sharing and land sparing. This may well improve our food security and self-sufficiency, but without the as yet unpublished land use framework, it is impossible to quantify.