Just when we thought the obesity crisis could not get any worse, new threats to children’s health are revealed by expert research from the Food Foundation.
New statistics on British veg consumption and production show that:
  1. A quarter of secondary school age children eat less than one portion of veg a day. New government guidance indicates we should be eating about 7 portions of fruit and veg a day. Assuming half of these are veg, only 1:20 teens eat more than 3.5 portions a day. More than a third of the veg they do eat is highly processed which means that pizza and beans now contribute 17% of their veg intake.
  2. We now rely on imports for 42% of the veg we eat (up from 17% 30 years ago) and along with other imported foods, prices are expected to start rising due to the drop in the value of sterling. Between 2007 and 2014 veg prices went up by 11% and people bought 5% less veg as a result. Those on a low income cut back more.
  3. Our horticulture sector which already receives the lowest subsidy of all the farming sectors through the Common Agricultural Policy relies heavily on migrant labour, the future of which is now very uncertain. This uncertainty is likely to start to threaten the viability of some British horticulture businesses.
Anna Taylor OBE, Executive Director of the Food Foundation said “The combination of higher food prices and pressure on UK horticulture production, in a situation where our children are already eating much too little veg, threatens to make our children’s diets even worse than they already are.”
“The government now has an opportunity to re-think agricultural subsidies as we leave the European Union, and link them directly to supporting the public good. Scaling up investment in horticulture would be an excellent place to start. If we ate the amount of veg we should it would provide an opportunity for British growers to produce an additional 1.5 million tonnes of veg, creating employment opportunities and generating growth. “
Lee Abbey, Horticulture adviser at the NFU said “Despite numerous government and industry initiatives to improve consumer diets, fruit and veg consumption simply hasn’t risen. Much more has to be done to make fruit and veg available whenever and wherever we buy our food and in the right format to satisfy today’s shopping habits. We need to build a supply chain that is fit for the future and works collaboratively from the supplier right through to the retailer. Consumers want to eat more fruit and veg and everyone in the food supply chain has a responsibility to enable them to do so.”
Prof Corinna Hawkes, Director, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London said “Horticulture is something the UK can excel in. We can produce tasty fruit and vegetables that people want to eat, picked and packed by an engaged and well-treated workforce, while contributing to a healthy agricultural economy and natural environment. With these multiple wins, Brexit offers a golden opportunity for a race to the top to make Britain known for the quality of our produce. To do so, government needs a coherent plan to allow a diversity of supply chains to flourish to create a vibrant horticultural economy."
Laura Sandys, former MP and Chair of the Food Foundation said “Our food system makes it too hard for us to eat enough veg. 5 A Day is a great consumer awareness campaign but it has had no impact on our consumption of veg, which has gone down in recent years. Veg needs a major facelift with the best brains in advertising needed to make it a super desirable treat.”
On November 7th, the Food Foundation, Nourish Scotland and WWF launch a new initiative to tackle the supply chain barriers to veg consumption working with retailers, producers, manufacturers and fast food chains, leading to a major summit on June 7 next year .
For more information about the project launch see www.foodfoundation.org.uk/PeasPlease