There are few more insecure jobs in the food sector that that of secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs. This week, Steve Barclay became the tenth Conservative MP to assume the role since 2010, the year in which the party led by David Cameron (remember him?) came to power.
Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle sees Barclay move from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) where his greatest hits included torpedoing plans to ban junk food ads and volume promotions of foods high in fat, sugar and salt by kicking them into the middle of the decade.
No sooner had Barclay entered Nobel House as the new sheriff in town than The Guardian was exposing his family links to the water sector. The paper reported that campaigners have raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest for Barclay whose wife, Karen Barclay, is a senior executive at Anglian Water, which is under investigation for potential illegal dumping of raw sewage.
The Barclays weren’t the only political family under the microscope. Steve’s replacement at DHSC, Victoria Atkins, is married to Paul Kenward who happens to be the chief executive of one of the world’s biggest sugar producers, ABF Sugar. What could possibly go wrong?
Overconsumption of the white stuff continues to impact the health of the nation. The campaign group Action on Sugar marked sugar awareness week by publishing research showing that over a third of drinks and sweet products sold in major high street coffee shops exceed an adult’s daily limit of sugar per serve. The survey of nine leading high street coffee chains found that the highest combination of food and drink sold in the shops can contain five times an adult’s maximum daily sugar limit.
Action on Sugar called for greater transparency over a “scandalous” lack of nutrition information available at the point of purchase in out of home settings and for new levies to be introduced to encourage healthier food and drink across the board.
“Whilst it is scandalous that companies get away with providing so little nutrition information, it is even more outrageous that the government hasn’t taken decisive action to incentivise sugar reduction,” said Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar.
In a week that saw major food retailers and suppliers pull together to ramp up food redistribution efforts (see separate news story), a coalition of businesses has reported on their collective efforts to reduce food waste. The Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) ‘Food waste coalition of action’ has released its first baseline report, presenting aggregated food surplus and waste data from 16 of its retailer and manufacturer members. The baseline forms part of the coalition’s ambition to halve food waste in their businesses by 2030, in alignment with SDG 12.3.
Total food waste across the cohort in 2021 was 2.12 million tonnes, which was made up of nearly 929,000 tonnes of retailer food waste and 1.19 million tonnes coming from the manufacturer side. The data, which will form the baseline from which to track progress in future years, did not reveal which 16 of the 21 coalition members reported their waste nor did it break down the waste generated by individual businesses. “Public reporting on food loss and waste is widely recognised as a trigger for rapid and effective action,” said Sharon Bligh, director of health and sustainability at the CGF. “This baseline report represents a line in the sand for our coalition, and we are confident that it will help guide our 2030 roadmap to ensure we fully understand the challenges and opportunities to end food waste.”
The UK government has taken considerable flak from business groups and campaigners for recent rowing back on net-zero policies. Now, MPs on the public accounts committee (PAC) have weighed in with their conclusion that a lack of long-term planning and investment from the government risks jeopardising the UK’s legally-mandated pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The committee made particular reference to the recent decision to delay the phasing out of new fossil fuel vehicles and heating systems.
In a wide-ranging report, it found that plans for supporting the progression of net-zero technologies are too often short-term, putting at risk the large amounts of private investment needed to achieve net-zero by 2050. The inquiry also identified a lack of clarity and support from government for businesses, with access to public sector funding deemed especially difficult to navigate.
“Our committee has warned time and again of the damage that can be done to delivering policy by the lack of long-term planning and funding from government,” said Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the PAC. “If the government continues to leave businesses to peer through a haze of uncertainty, then that investment will not be forthcoming.”
Also in this week’s Footprint news is a call for an extension in free school meals entitlement due to financial pressures on parents, and push back from campaigners over attempts by the meat and dairy industry to change the way in which methane emissions are measured.