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Investors managing £6 trillion say UK Government must commit to mandatory health and sustainability standards for food companies

Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

The Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy is calling on the government to introduce a mandatory system of health and sustainability reporting across the food industry, following publication of the government’s white paper response to last year’s National Food Strategy today.

The investor group has been engaging with the UK Government since the publication of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations last July. It is proud to have played a role in ensuring that mandatory reporting is included in today’s white paper.

The leaders of the investor group have welcomed the government’s commitment to improving food industry reporting standards but say the proposals do not go far enough. The group is also disappointed by the low aspirations of the white paper in response to other national food strategy recommendations.

The UK Government should insist on mandatory not voluntary reporting mechanisms, they say. Voluntary schemes potentially lead to weaker reporting standards and potentially inconsistent metrics, making it difficult to compare and track progress both between businesses and across the industry.

Mandatory reporting, which at a minimum should include sales reporting of fruit and vegetables, plant and animal-based proteins and sales of HFSS (high in fat, sugar, salt) foods would help investors understand the direct and systemic risks companies face and facilitate the movement of capital toward companies that are supporting the transition to a sustainable and healthy food system.

The investor group strongly supports the plan for a multi-stakeholder Food Data Transparency Partnership to agree what should be reported and says the unique long-term perspective of the investment community should form a central pillar in this partnership. It also looks forward to seeing more detail in the upcoming Health Disparities white paper.

The National Food Strategy (published last July) was the first independent farm to fork review of England’s entire food system in 75 years. It proposed a major reconfiguration of the current food system to deliver better health and environmental outcomes.

A powerful investor coalition led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments (Greenbank) and supported by the likes of Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation, CCLA, Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM), EdenTree Investment Management, Nomura Asset Management and Newton Investment Management, was formed to support this ambition. The group totalling 23 investors with combined total assets of £6 trillion under management or under advice, is being supported by The Food Foundation, an independent think tank dedicated to upgrading national food policy in the UK.

There is a clear correlation between poverty and obesity and Britain now faces an epidemic of obesity-related disease, falling productivity and falling life expectancy. Calorie for calorie, healthier foods are around three times more expensive than unhealthy foods.  The coalition’s aim is to make healthier products readily affordable and available within a sustainable food system.

Although the group welcomes today’s government commitment to improve reporting across the food industry and the opportunity to shape outcomes through its role in the Food Data Transparency Partnership, its members are disappointed by the low aspirations of the white paper in other areas of food policy.

The investor group’s original letter urged the government to be bold and ambitious and use the full range of regulatory tools at its disposal to recognise the pressing need to align the food system with health and sustainability goals.  A much more comprehensive set of proposals than those put forward in today’s white paper will be needed if we are to address the scale of the challenge.

This would mean as a minimum, mandatory sales reporting of fruit and vegetables, plant and animal-based proteins and sales of HFSS (high in fat, sugar, salt) foods.

The Food Foundation, which is supporting this investor initiative, has produced a series of statistics as part of its Plating Up Progress project, which show the deficiencies of voluntary reporting. From 11 retailers and 16 restaurant and catering companies assessed, 45% of supermarkets but no restaurant chains or caterers were reporting on sales of healthy or healthier food. Only 18% of supermarkets and 25% of restaurant chains and caterers were reporting on sales of fruit or vegetables. Similarly, 18% of supermarkets were reporting on sales of plant-based versus animal-based proteins, but no restaurant chains or caterers were doing so.

The correlation between poverty and obesity is rooted in a lack of access to high quality and affordable healthy foods. The current cost of living crisis is exacerbating this. Meanwhile the food industry faces a multitude of other risks around issues such as food waste and sustainable supply chains.

The food industry’s response to these challenges and to associated regulatory, consumer and other stakeholder demands will influence their social licence to operate as well as the long-term resilience of their operating models and supply chains.

Well-designed regulation creates the right environment for businesses seeking to build long-term thinking and sustainability into their business models. Likewise, it facilitates the allocation of capital towards more sustainable investment opportunities and supports the transition to a sustainable and healthy food system.

The existing coalition of investors will continue to engage with legislators through the Food Data Transparency Partnership and on wider food system issues.  As we move forward, we hope to develop as a more formal partnership to engage with both the government and the industry on food system change.

 

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