The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Commons Select Committee has recently published its report into Food security, focused on demand, consumption and waste.
The report highlights the health impacts of poor diet and over-consumption. The Committee’s Chair, Anne McIntosh said “Despite efforts to promote healthy eating, the UK is still experiencing high levels of health problems linked to poor diet, in particular over consumption.”
Part of the IFR’s mission is to carry out research that helps in the production of healthy foods, and IFR welcomes the acknowledgment in the report that a major part of ensuring food security involves supplying sufficient nutritious food. As the Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford reported to the committee, there has been a major focus on “producing more food” rather addressing other factors, including health. Whilst it’s right that we look to ensure our food supply, especially in the face of growing world population and climate change, we can also try to make food healthier.
We have led the way in this effort, with the development of Beneforté broccoli, a variety of broccoli that has been bred to contain three times more of a phytonutrient. We believe there is great potential in developing other, healthier crop varieties. We are currently looking to appoint a scientist to lead a research group to develop healthier cereal crops.
Working with crop experts at the John Innes Centre and bioinformatacists at The Genome Analysis Centre, we want to develop cereals that are more beneficial to health and potentially address the allergenic issues of some cereals. For example a cereal that contains more resistant starch, might help to reduce diet related illness. This will be a key strand of research in the new Centre for Food and Health, which will open in 2017 on the Norwich Research Park, and demonstrates how the expertise contained within it and on the wider park can address the health and economic challenges society faces.
Healthier staple crops may help provide healthier ingredients and ultimately healthier foods, but the report also highlights the central importance of consumer choice. Despite a large effort to promote healthy eating, we still consume 50% more fat than the recommended levels, but half the fruit of veg we should. Children eat 50% more sugar than recommended, and a quarter of the amount of fruit and veg. It’s clear that more needs to be done to reduce the burden of diet related diseases caused by overconsumption and poor nutrition, but clearly there isn’t a simple solution. We welcome the recommendation that there should be greater integration between the different government departments, local authorities, retailers and other bodies to promote healthy eating. It’s important that advice is based on sound scientific evidence, to ensure that health messages are reliable and effective. The report, for example, highlights how figures for our national diet are based on what we buy, rather than what we consume, ignoring what food is wasted.
We are interested to see that the report recommends that Defra should review labelling regulations and their effectiveness in providing information for consumers. This information must be easy to understand, as consumers make decisions quickly when choosing. Health messaging must also sit alongside other information, such as use by dates, country of origin labelling, and sustainability information. More and more, consumers can supplement this information with data from online sources, and the report highlights initiatives including where heathy options are suggested during online ordering. The Food Databanks National Capability at IFR curates food composition data on the UK’s foods, and resources such as this will only become more and more valuable as online mobile technology helps put this information in consumers’ own hands.