Sustainable Food Trust – Written evidence (FPO0007)





  1. The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) welcomes the opportunity to provide a written response to the committee on this issue and would be pleased to provide further information, or to elaborate on any points.


  1. The SFT is a small UK based organisation, established in 2011, that works in the UK and internationally to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food systems. We focus our work in three main areas:


    1. Leadership and Collaboration: Influencing leaders and policy makers
    2. Research and Policy: Enabling policy change based on sound science
    3. Communications: Acting as a source of information, sharing ideas and empowering citizens




  1. There needs to be a transformational change in the UK food system if we are to deliver a sustainable future for environmental and public health. In light of the rise in non-communicable diseases, low-income hunger, and environmental damage, we cannot continue with business-as-usual. There needs to be a radical reimagining of how we produce and consume food in this country. The UK should aim to ensure our food system provides safe, healthy and affordable food, that is built upon a resilient and sustainable agricultural system, at the same time as being economically viable. The SFT recognises that this shift cannot occur overnight. There needs to be slow incremental steps to deliver the wider shift without undermining food security and increasing hunger.


  1. The SFT believe that the following principles should be adopted to ensure a sustainable food system:


1) Are the key causes of food insecurity in the UK? Can you outline any significant trends in food insecurity in the UK? To what extent (and why) have these challenges persisted over a number of years?


  1. A decade of austerity and spending cuts have significantly damaged the ability of the U.K to have a sustainable, healthy and efficient food system. Austerity has impacted all aspects of Government spending and stretched essential services, such as the National Health Service, to breaking point. The cuts have created pressure on families and damaged the ability of frontline services to deliver for the most vulnerable people in society. Furthermore, it has restricted income levels and lowered wages nationally while the cost of living has increased.[1] Due to financial conditions, more than a million UK residents live in ‘food deserts’ with limited access to affordable fresh food.[2] This has impacted the ability of people to make the right decision for themselves and their families. It should not be tolerated that low income communities cannot afford to buy healthy food and are limited to purchasing only cheap food of low quality and nutritional value. Access to healthy and nutritional food should be the right of all people. Westminster should work to reverse the damaging cuts to public spending and focus on smart investment that will improve people’s lives and provide a route out of poverty.


  1. More specifically to the question on farming, declining government support has also restricted the necessary investment in rural infrastructure and services that are essential to creating a thriving rural economy to deliver a sustainable, healthy and efficient food system.[3] This paralysis of rural investment and the resulting stagnation of rural economies has been exacerbated by the threat of Brexit. With no clear resolution on the horizon for our future relationship with the EU and with the likelihood of no-deal Brexit increasing under Prime Minister Johnson, farmers are concerned about the future viability of their business models. However, the lack of clarity in what the future trading relationship with Europe will look like makes it difficult for farmers to adapt their business models to meet the coming changes, especially since there are so many potential outcomes to the negotiations. This means that farming and food businesses are looking to consolidate and reduce potential exposure to market volatility as much as possible, including exiting the industry.[4] This level of caution and market contraction has knock-on impacts for food security across the UK since farmers aren’t expanding and growing their businesses.


2) What are some of the key ways in which diet (including food insecurity) impacts on public health? Has sufficient progress been made on tackling childhood obesity and, if not, why not?


  1. The UK committed to delivering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to achieve zero hunger by 2030.[5] However, the language of the United Nation’s commitment goes beyond merely addressing the need to end hunger and stipulates the goal to “ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round”. This therefore differentiates between ending hunger (i.e. guaranteeing sufficient calories to survive) and providing nutrition to help people flourish and thrive. Providing empty and non-nutritional calories may address the issue of hunger in the short-term but it does not address the long-term impacts of poor dietary health and malnutrition that exponentially impact low income communities. The right to adequate food is a more ambitious concept than the simple right to food, and it requires the creation of favourable economic, political and social conditions to make the best and healthiest decision.[6]


  1. The prevalence of ultra-processed "cheap" food that it high in fat, salt and sugar has resulted in poor dietary health and a rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and hypertension. The lack of affordable food choices in the UK condemns a generation of low-income communities to poor diet and poor health and reduces the long-term likelihood of escaping poverty.[7] [8] This is because of elevated levels of poor health and a lower life expectancy are found in low income communities.[9] By increasing access to healthy and nutritious food, NCDs in low income communities would likely decrease (when coupled with education and exercise). This is turn would increase productivity and the life expectancy.[10] Healthy people with good diets are able to work and provide for their families.


  1. Westminster should prioritize working across departments to create an integrated approach to nutritional recommendations and encourage diets that are aligned with the environmental capacity of the ecosystem and the productive capacity of the UK. The SFT would ask that the indigenous produce that is best suited to the UK climate be supported through dietary recommendations. This would include promoting sustainably-produced, pasture-fed, extensively-grazed UK livestock that has been raised in the small herds with the best animal welfare. Currently, this type of integrated Government policy is not the case, as the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) work separately from each other. This type of siloed working minimizes the opportunity for collaboration and a synergistic approach to nutrition and healthy diets.


3) How accessible is healthy food? What factors or barriers affect people’s ability to consume a healthy diet? Do these factors affect populations living in rural and urban areas differently?


  1. Healthy food is not sufficiently accessible to all citizens. Healthy food (particularly organic or agroecological food) is frequently too expensive for the average UK consumer. Because farmers who pollute do not pay for the damage they cause and, conversely, those who farm more sustainably are forced to cover the higher cost of producing food in more beneficial ways, the market price of environmental-sustainable food is considerably higher and often out of reach of lower-income consumers. Consequently, food that causes damage to public health appears more affordable for consumers than food that preserves natural capital and promotes public health.


  1. However, what is perceived as "cheap" is a lot more expensive in the long term. Our recent report The Hidden Cost of UK Food found that for each £1 spent on food in the shops in the UK, consumers incur extra hidden costs of £1.[11] In addition to the £120 billion spent annually on food by consumers in the UK as a whole, the UK food system generates further costs of £120 billion in external costs.[12] These extra costs are currently not paid by the large supermarkets or food businesses that cause the damage, nor are they included within the retail price of food, but instead they are passed on to the taxpayer - further impacting citizens who are struggling financially.


  1. This dynamic creates a dishonest pricing scheme and perpetuates farming systems that has a catastrophic impact on public health. However, the current business model means that most farmers have no option but to employ agricultural practices that do not serve the public interest in terms of its impacts on environment and public health, because there is no business case for producers to adopt more sustainable approaches. In order to level the playing field between the most damaging food systems and those that are healthy and sustainable, it is necessary to internalise the hidden costs of food. To achieve the systemic shift towards more sustainable farming methods, we need to unlock the barriers of change. The government should factor in these hidden costs and benefits in developing future food and farming policies.


4) What role can local authorities play in promoting healthy eating in their local populations, especially among children and young people, and those on lower incomes? How effectively are local authorities able to fulfil their responsibilities to improve the health of people living in their areas? Are you aware of any existing local authority or education initiatives that have been particularly successful (for example, schemes around holiday hunger, providing information on healthy eating, or supporting access to sport and exercise)?


  1. Promoting healthy eating at a local level requires the commitment of local Government. Unfortunately, many of the national programs that had been working to address hunger have been cut through budget concerns. However, despite limited funding from central Government, Mayor Marvin Rees has made ending child hunger in Bristol a key policy of his administration. By working with key stakeholders, he has identified key opportunities to address hunger and increase healthy eating across the city.


  1. Firstly, he has expanded a school meals program. In Bristol, 16,500 children live in poverty and many go hungry.[13] During the term time, up to 85% of children receive free school meals.[14] Providing healthy meals to students can have a significant impact on their nutrition and development. It also impacts their families more widely since with the absence of free school meals for children from families on low income, it can cost an additional £30-£40 per child, per week.[15] However, school meals programs do not automatically provide breakfast and while eating a nutritious breakfast is something that many take for granted, many children go to school without a proper morning meal. Working with community groups, Mayor Rees supported the establishment of free breakfast clubs to ensure that all students have the opportunity to enjoy a healthy breakfast.[16] It has the added benefit of providing parents with support to go to work before the official drop-off time. 


  1. However, these meals are only available during term time. According to government statistics, three million children are at risk of hunger during school holidays when they no longer have access to meals at school.[17] Mayor Rees launched a city-wide campaign to provide meals for 11,000 children who were at risk from ‘holiday hunger’.[18] In partnership with FareShare South West and collaborating with approximately 150 providers of holiday clubs, Bristol City Council aimed to provide 50,000 nutritious and healthy meals to kids across the 6 week summer holiday. This model could be adapted and rolled out in schools and community centres across the UK during all school holidays in order to provide children from low-income families with access to healthy meals all year round.


5) What can be learnt from food banks and other charitable responses to hunger? What role should they play?


No response


6) What impact do food production processes (including product formulation, portion size, packaging and labelling) have on consumers dietary choices and does this differ across income groups?


No response


7) What impact do food outlets (including supermarkets, delivery services, or fast food outlets) have on the average UK diet? How important are factors such as advertising, packaging, or product placement in influencing consumer choice, particularly for those in lower income groups?


No response


8) Do you have any comment to make on how the food industry might be encouraged to do more to support or promote healthy and sustainable diets? Is Government regulation an effective driver of change in this respect?


  1. The biggest constraint for businesses that aim to produce food through sustainable systems is the imbalance that they face in the marketplace due to the failure to internalise the externalities caused by the current industrialised food system. Currently, society does not hold farmers and food producers responsible for the damaging impacts that they cause. They are not held accountable for the environmental damage they cause, whether that is soil erosion or air pollution. Because the polluter does not pay, the companies that have production systems that damage the planet are profitable and this distortion marginalises the viability of food producers who produce in an environmentally sensitive way. The SFT would strongly support the implementation of the polluter-pays principle in UK legislation.


  1. However, we do not blame conventional farmers who utilise systems that cause environmental damage. They are trapped in an economic paradigm where they have little control of their method of production, since they understand that farming in an environmentally damaging way is the only way to make profit. To achieve the systemic shift towards more sustainable farming methods, we need to unlock the barriers to change. The current business model means that farmers are often locked into an unsustainable production system as a result of the centralised supply chain of supermarkets, decreasing farmgate prices and overly restrictive contracts. Additionally, economies of scale and greater power in negotiations strengthens the position of large-scale businesses to the detriment of small-scale family farms. Furthermore, a strongly centralised and long supply chain devalues food, focusing on food as a commodity. This undermines the intrinsic value of food to nourish and sustain us, which is something that should be honoured.


9) To what extent is it possible for the UK to be self-sufficient in producing healthy, affordable food that supports good population health, in a way that is also environmentally sustainable?


  1. Despite the political maelstrom caused by Brexit and the significant challenges it presents, the UK’s exit from the European Union allows us as a society to pause and reconsider our national priorities and reimagine what our future could be and what our society should prioritise. The SFT would advocate for the adoption of a whole-farm approach to farm policy, which integrates efficient and sustainable food production with practices that maintain and enhance natural and human capital. We support designing a new agriculture support system that corrects the economic distortions that currently exist within food and farming and reintegrate food systems in harmony with the natural environment with the goal of delivering a healthy diet for all citizens. Such an approach could have multiple benefits, including climate change mitigation, improvements in biodiversity and encouraging better diets and public health outcomes.
  2. Once we have identified what our core vision for the future of food and farming in the U.K. post-Brexit is, then we can collectively begin to design a Government support system that delivers that vision. In food and farming, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has led to farming subsidies being directed to large landowners, and not to the individuals who work to produce the food in this country. Brexit allows an opportunity to introduce a new food and farming system that is;



  1. To enable the widespread shift towards a food production system that is truly integrated and functions in harmony with nature, the Sustainable Food Trust recommends that the Government introduce of a suite of sustainable farming policies that could transform UK food and farming, acting as a beacon for others to follow. To monitor the impact of these schemes, Defra should require all farmers to submit an annual sustainability assessment using a framework of harmonised metrics and units of measure. The data derived from such an assessment could serve multiple functions: for government and government agencies to monitor eligibility and the impact of public purse support, for certification schemes to collect data they require, for consumers by providing more information about their food, and most importantly, for producers as a farm management tool.

10) Can efforts to improve food production sustainability simultaneously offer solutions to improving food insecurity and dietary health in the UK?


  1. There needs to be a transformational change in the UK food system if we are to deliver a sustainable future for environmental and public health. We cannot continue as a nation to keep the status quo given the increases in malnutrition and NCD, low income hunger, environmental damage and climate damage. Consequently, there needs to be a radical reimagining of how we produce and consume food in this country. We recognise that it is difficult to achieve this shift overnight and that we need to make incremental steps to achieve this long-term goal. It is therefore appropriate to focus on key demographics that would most benefit from healthy diets. Government support could be better directed to deliver access to healthy food to these key groups. One way in which this could be achieved would be through food stamps that would allow low-income individuals or key demographics (elderly, children, pregnant women) to purchase locally-produced, environmentally-sustainable, healthy food at a lower price to the consumer. This would not only reduce the price of healthy food but would support local farmers and improve the local economy. The SFT would suggest that an inquiry into the viability of such a program could be undertaken.


11) How effective are any current measures operated or assisted by Government, local authorities, or others to minimise food waste? What further action is required to minimise food waste?


  1. Food waste is an issue which needs to be tackled on all stages along the supply chain, from the producer to the consumer. However, thus far, most attention has been dedicated to consumer choices and waste within households and the hospitality sector, ignoring the many benefits of tackling food waste within primary production and the retailing industry.


  1. Supermarkets should experiment with relaxing cosmetic standards in their main ranges, in order to test customer response and gradually educate consumers to accept a wider array of fresh produce. Small changes to cosmetic specifications, for example to the shape requirements for vegetables like carrots or cucumbers, may make a significant difference in reducing farm waste. In addition, we would recommend the extension of supermarkets’ own aesthetically imperfect ranges for fruit and vegetables, which, by offering a better value for money, could serve as a tool to raise awareness about the difference between appearance and flavour. Produce which still does not make it to these ranges could be used in other parts of the production line, such as within processed foods, or even as animal feed. Today, despite the 12.7 million tonnes of food waste generated per year in the UK, omnivorous livestock like pigs are primarily fed on soya and cereal crops.[19] Feeding pigs on food leftovers is an age-old practice, but it was made illegal in 2001 due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak and enshrined in EU law in 2002. However, Brexit now offers an opportunity to reform this law more easily. The reintroduction of pigswill would not only be beneficial to reduce food waste, but it would also be economically profitable, as it would significantly cut down the costs of feed production and free up crops for human consumption.[20]


  1. New, more ambitious, targets for UK food waste reductions should be set, applying to all the steps of the supply chain (farm-to-fork) and including farm waste as well. The UK’s current national food waste targets aim at cutting waste by 20% between 2015 and 2025, but fail to account for waste within farms.[21] In line with SDG 12.3, the SFT believes that the UK Government should cut food waste per capita by 50 % before 2030, starting from post-harvest losses and going through production and supply, all the way to consumption.[22] Moreover, supermarkets should make their operations more transparent, to facilitate public monitoring of their efforts in hitting the targets.


  1. The concentration of power in the hands of big supermarket chains is one of the biggest drivers behind food waste, undermining the power that farmers ought to have. Industry concentration in retail has led indeed to less outlets for surplus produce, like markets and traditional grocers, and dominant market power has played a role in depressing the prices farmers are paid for their produce. The supermarkets set standards that farmers are obliged to abide by if they want to keep their contract with the retailer - regardless of how unfair or unreasonable they are. Big supermarket chains are the main perpetrators behind overproduction: by backing a model that favours consistent, high availability of a limited range of produce, they have created a system which is strictly linked with waste. To tackle this dynamic, one needs to re-localise the food system, giving priority to sourcing from local producers and preferring short supply chains to global export market. A key benefit of local food systems resides in the direct interaction of consumers and producers, which is likely to educate citizens about the environmentally and socially destructive impacts of food waste. The SFT believes that the goal should be to reconfigure funds for farming and fishing to support smaller traders, local economies, community benefits and sustainable practices.


12) A Public Health England report has concluded that “considerable and largely unprecedented” dietary shifts are required to meet Government guidance on healthy diets. What policy approaches (for example, fiscal or regulatory measures, voluntary guidelines, or attempts to change individual or population behaviour through information and education) would most effectively enable this? What role could public procurement play in improving dietary behaviours?


  1. Public procurement could help to achieve this goal of equitable access to healthy food. The UK public sector serves some 3.5 million meals each weekday across settings as varied as schools, nurseries, care homes, hospitals and prisons.[23] In total, it spends £2.4 billion each year procuring food and catering services and its influence is significant.[24] Food in schools and public institutions sets norms for the public and consumers, signals values, and gives integrity to government priorities and policies. The relative weightings given to price and quality in public sector catering tenders can have a big impact on the quality of food. In recent years, as local authorities seek to meet the pressures of austerity cuts, there has been a worrying shift towards tenders with 60-80% weighting to price, effectively ensuring that the cheapest bid wins. The SFT would suggest that public procurement decisions should place a weighting of at least 60% on food quality (with local production being a consideration) and with price not exceeding 40% weighting. Maintaining this cost-quality ratio will support caterers to maintain high-quality food standards while supporting local food producers. Safeguarding a 60% minimum quality weighting will incentivise a 'race to the top', with benefits for consumers, farmers and food business, especially if the sourcing of grass-fed red meat, dairy products and vegetables receive increased focus.


13) Has sufficient research been conducted to provide a robust analysis of the links between poverty, food insecurity, health inequalities and the sustainability of food production? How well is existing research on the impact of existing food policy used to inform decision making?


  1. There needs to be a better understanding of how poverty is linked to poor health and poor health perpetuates poverty through the generations. There is insufficient research into how poor health traps individuals in poverty, and the Government should commission further academic studies to better understand the causality between the two. It is commonly known that poor health makes it more difficult to hold down employment, limits the types of jobs that are possible, and can ultimately reduce the number of years that an individual can work full-time. However, there is insufficient research into this issue to identify the key intervention points that would make the most difference. Secondly, there needs to be more research into how best to improve low-income nutrition from a psychological and sociological perspective. Too often stakeholders suggest that education and access alone are needed to improve diets. However, altering behaviours and changing habits are much more complicated and therefore there needs to be a greater understanding of the behavioural economics that underpin dietary choice. 


14) What can the UK learn from food policy in other countries? Are there examples of strategies which have improved access and affordability of healthy, sustainable food across income groups?


  1. It would be worthwhile considering the recent project established in New York City to address NCDs. Pharmacy to Farm offers low-income individuals prescriptions for fresh produce. These prescriptions are available via 16 pharmacies across the city and give qualifying residents $30 (£25) per month to spend in local farmers’ markets. This not only increases access to fresh fruit and vegetables but supports local farms that sell at the market. To qualify for the program, individuals must already be prescribed medication for high-blood pressure and be a participant in the Federal Government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Administered through the US Department of Agriculture, SNAP (originally known as Food Stamps) provides benefits for families below the poverty level to purchase food. While similar ideas have been trialled in the past, this one is unique in that it moves the responsibility of “prescribing” to pharmacists, as opposed to doctors. Since people receiving repeat prescriptions for blood-pressure medication more frequently visit their pharmacy than their doctor, this makes logical sense. The city also chose to work with small independent pharmacies. This was firstly because they have deeper ties to the community than larger chains. Secondly, it was because they hoped that it would increase customers for smaller businesses that might otherwise struggle. The Committee might consider looking at the viability of such a model in the UK.


15) Are there any additional changes at a national policy level that would help to ensure efforts to improve food insecurity and poor diet, and its impact on public health and the environment, are effectively coordinated, implemented and monitored?


  1. A further barrier to food security in the UK is posed by future of potential international trade deals. No matter how socially equitable and environmentally minded future UK policies are, a free trade deal with non-EU countries (such as Australia, the United States or New Zealand) could undermine these proposals. Depending on the terms of the agreement, low-cost ultra-processed foods could flood the UK market and allow multinational food companies and fast-food chains to expand and to introduce unhealthy products at low cost. This has happened with previous FTAs, such as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) where obesity rates rose significantly in both Mexico and Canada.[25] Just as happened in Canada and Mexico, a free trade agreement with the US could negatively impact nutrition in this country. This could be made worse if fresh fruit and veg become less affordable for British households post-Brexit due to a combination of inflation, unfavourable exchange rates, rising production costs, and a potential heavy tariff bill. Already, only 26% of UK adults and 16% of children consumed the recommended daily five portions and this consumption could further decrease if prices increase.[26]


  1. Secondly, farmers will be undercut and unable to compete on a fair and level playing field. If UK producers are placed at a competitive disadvantage, some will be driven out of business, while others will be forced to drop standards in order to bring down costs and remain viable. Such a move would have a deleterious effect on public health and prove disastrous for British wildlife and the wider environment by tipping the scales away from sustainable agroecological farming systems. The Government should aim to protect our farmers and rural economy by ensuring Britain continues to set the highest standards in food quality and welfare and not allow Brexit to be used as an excuse to undercut our farmers and flood Britain’s food chain with cheap and inferior produce. Westminster needs to work to ensure that any future trade deal – whether with Brazil, the US or even the EU - has adequate checks and balances in place to guarantee that any trade deal maintains the highest standards of food quality.



Sustainable Food Trust


3 September 2019

[1] Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2019, Households below a minimum income standard: 2008/09 to 2016/17. Available here:

[2] Corfe, S., The Social Market Foundation, 2018. What are the barriers to eating healthily in the UK?. Available here:

[3] Stuckler, D. et al., 2017. Austerity and health: the impact in the UK and Europe. Available here:

[4] Sustainable Food Trust, 2019, Farmers and Food Businesses Reflect on Brexit, available here:

[5] UN, 2015. Sustainable Development Goals. Available here:

[6] FAO, Right to Food Handbook 1: The right to food within the international framework of human rights and country constitutions, 2014, available here:

[7] Bristol Food Policy Council, 2014. What do we know about the state of good food in Bristol? Available here:

[8] Marmot, M., 2010. Fair Society, Healthy Lives. The Marmot Review. Strategic Review of Health inequalities in England Post 2010. Available here:

[9] Longevity Science Panel, 2018. Widening rich-poor mortality gap. Available here:

[10] Ahmad Reza Hosseinpoor. Socioeconomic inequality in the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases in low- and middle-income countries: Results from the World Health Survey, BMC Public Health 12:474. Available online:

[11] Sustainable Food Trust, 2017. The Hidden Cost of UK Food. Available here:

[12] Sustainable Food Trust, 2017. The Hidden Cost of UK Food. Available here:

[13] Bristol City Council, 2017, Mayor Backs Big Breakfast Campaign in the Fight Against Child Hunger, available here:

[14] Bristol Post, 2019, 11000 Children Are Going Hungry In Bristol, available here:

[15] House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, 2019, Inquiry into school holiday poverty, available here:

[16] Bristol City Council, 2017, Mayor Backs Big Breakfast Campaign in the Fight Against Child Hunger, available here:

[17] House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee, 2019, Inquiry into school holiday poverty, available here:

[18] Bristol Post, 2019, Bristol projects that are leading the way to tackle holiday hunger, available here:


[19] WRAP, 2018. The Courtauld 2025 baseline and restated household food waste figures. Available online: food-waste-figures

[20] FeedBack, 2018. Feeding Surplus Food to Pigs Safely: A win-win for farmers and the environment. Available here:

[21] FeedBack, 2018. Farmers Talk Food Waste: Supermarkets' role in crop waste on UK farms. Available here:

[22] UN, 2015. Sustainable Development Goal 12. Available here:

[23] Foodlinks, Revaluing Public Sector Food Procurement in Europe: An Action Plan for Sustainability. Available here:

[24] Bonfield, P., DEFRA, 2014. A Plan For Public Procurement: Enabling a healthy future for our people, farmers and food producers. Available here:

[25]Soil Association, 2018, Brexit: Healthy Eating, Obesity and Trade, available here:

[26]NHS, 2018. Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet. Available here: