SUSTAINABLE DIETS and the notion that meat consumption should be reduced are controversial topics, so Footprint asked former, newly knighted, NFU president and current chair of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board Sir Peter Kendall his thoughts.
David Burrows (DB): How would you define a sustainable diet? Does it involve eating less meat?
Peter Kendall (PK): I believe a sustainable diet is a good varied balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and moderate meat consumption from production sources that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability to meet the needs of future generations.
We are already fairly modest meat-eaters in the UK – we don’t even rank in the world top 20 meat-eating countries. Our average daily consumption is 96g for men and 57g for women – 80g is equivalent to three slices of roast lamb or a cooked fresh quarter- pound burger. So the amount of red meat most of us eat is about right and is in line with the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition guidelines.
DB: Progress towards defining sustainable diets has been slow. Why is this the case?
PK: The relationship between diet and health is a highly complex puzzle which the scientific community hasn’t yet resolved. What we think we know about healthy and unhealthy foods keeps being turned on its head with foods once demonised as bad guys returning to grace as the good guys, such as butter and whole milk.
What we need is a joined-up vision of what “good” might look like across social, environmental and economic long-term interests to give a shared sense of purpose and focus. It will be important to identify and be transparent about the trade-offs between the different aspects of sustainability and relative priorities. With gaps in the science and so many organisations with vested interests or single-issue focus, this will never be a simple task for government policymakers.
DB: In an interview with us in 2012 you suggested the government needs to get serious about the food it procures (all £2bn worth of it). What signs have you seen that this is the case since then?
PK: I am more optimistic with progress than I was in 2012. I am in no doubt that successive governments have recognised the central role that good food can play in the wellbeing and health of those being fed from the public purse. A number of initiatives have been tried over the years but these have tended to fall by the wayside, either as a result of a lack of will on the part of procurement managers to incorporate what is a voluntary scheme into their purchasing or due to pressure from budget holders to always purchase the cheapest option.
The opportunity to prove what could be achieved when there is willingness on the part of all links in the supply chain came with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This showcased this country to the world and more importantly showcased farm-assured British produce to the catering industry tasked with the largest peacetime feeding exercise in our history.
DB: Were all the guidelines and specifications a reason for this success?
PK: The London 2012 Food Vision provided a specification and audit process which has now been taken forward by the team at DEFRA into a new legacy-based set of mandatory standards for food served in Whitehall and central government departments. Additionally, the standards are open for use by the NHS, school meals and social services, as well as contract caterers providing services for the public sector.
We have also seen the launch of “A Plan for Public Procurement: Food and Catering Services”. Why this new initiative may work where others have failed is that it removes the emphasis from being on the cost of the food purchased and instead, through a balanced scorecard approach, requires procurement managers to attribute weighting to a list of considerations based on quality and value.
DB: You definitely seem more upbeat than when we met in 2012.
PK: I am optimistic that we are on the cusp of some real progress – and I firmly believe that we, in British agriculture, can prove ourselves to be the best supply partner for our troops, schoolchildren, hospital patients, inmates and our civil servants.