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Thin gruel but with some silver linings: Our response to the National Food Strategy

School Dinners

The government has today (Monday 13 June) published its long-awaited response to the National Food Strategy review.

As an organisation, Food for Life, and Soil Association more broadly, are hugely disappointed.

Reacting, Soil Association Head of Food Policy Rob Percival said: “Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy set out a bold and ambitious vision to make good food accessible for all, and the government’s response feels like thin gruel, falling far short. 

"At a time when people are going hungry and the climate, nature and public health crises are escalating, the absence of leadership is palpable.

Elements of hope
“But there are fragments of policy that offer hope, especially the ambition that half of public sector expenditure should be spent on food produced locally or to higher environmental standards, like organic. 

"Pioneering caterers working with our Food for Life programme prove that higher welfare and sustainable produce can be served on a cost neutral basis, if they are supported to redesign menus to include less and better meat. If implemented as part of a wider package of reforms to public procurement, this policy could be transformational.

“As key advisors to Henry Dimbleby and his team, we will continue to put pressure on government to adopt the National Food Strategy recommendations in other government plans that are due to come forward, such as the Health Disparities white paper.”

The Soil Association continues to call for these recommendations from the National Food Strategy to be adopted:
  • Expansion of free school meals. Every child should be provided with at least one healthy and sustainable meal each day, with schools and caterers empowered to deliver this, building on the example set by Food for Life.
  • Introduction of a percentage reduction target for ultra-processed foods. 
  • A salt and sugar levy, using the proceeds to make fresh fruit and vegetables available to more people.
  • An overhaul of public procurement with:
    • buying standards to be updated and mandated across the public sector, with monitoring and verification of compliance
    • schools and hospitals enabled to purchase more ingredients from sustainable and local British farmers
    • the ‘loophole’ which allows caterers to purchase low welfare meat from abroad closed
    • schools and hospitals incentivised to adopt a 'whole setting approach' to good food.
  • Stronger government leadership to overhaul our food system with nature-friendly farming, supporting healthy and sustainable diets. 
  • More action to spark a change in diet, with a rapid move away from intensively produced grain-fed meat, especially poultry. We support a “less but better” approach to meat consumption. As recommended in the National Food Strategy, retailers should be required by law to report on meat/dairy/plant protein sales, including method of production.

How Food for Life is instrumental to change
The Soil Association also calls for its Food for Life programme to be used as a model for developing an approach to public setting food that monitors compliance. The programme also incentivises uptake of a ‘whole setting approach’. 

The strategy highlighted that students in schools engaged with the Food for Life School Award are twice as likely to eat their five-a-day and eat a third more fruit and veg overall, compared to children in other schools. The Food for Life Schools Award incorporates menu accreditation alongside food education and practical food activities.

Become part of the transformation to better food:


Find out more about our sustainable catering awards or get in touch with Caron Longden: 

Schools and Early Years

Find out more about our schools or early years awards or get in touch with Gay Darke