2 Consumer choice and food security |
3. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (Defra) concluded in its 2012 Green Food Project that
the future sustainability of food production was tied to demand-side
issues. Our inquiry
started from this point: the way in which consumers' actions affect
their own and others' access to sustainable supplies of affordable
and healthy food.
4. Retailers told us that consumers' purchasing decisions
play a central role in driving food production systems. Tesco,
for example, said that "customers have always influenced
our procurement and supply chain practices".
Farmers and other food producers and processors have a similar
set of market drivers spurring their production and marketing
decisions so that procurement decisions along the whole food supply
chain aim to fulfil customers' demands closely. This consumer
demand can be used to promote sustainable food supplies, as the
Government has recognised. Defra's Sustainable Consumption report
published in 2013 recommended actions to change both consumer
and producer behaviours, and noted that a key question was how
consumer demand could be influenced so as to deliver so-called
'public good'. However,
individuals' food purchasing decisions reflect varied needs, wishes
and constraints. Consumers report that price is by some margin
their top consideration on food issues, against which other factors
ranks as lower priorities. However, other factors including food
waste and health issues are cited as considerations.
Tesco noted that customers valued a range of things and did not
simply chose the cheapest products: "price matters but so
does quality, freshness, range, availability, service, trust and
convenience". Tesco noted, however, the underlying truism
that customers buy based on "what matters most to them".
Hence if sustainability matters to a consumer, for example in
terms of a product's impact on the environment or on British farming,
retailers will have an incentive to supply products that meet
5. Although UK food supply systems are largely market
driven, they operate within institutional and policy frameworks
that shape supply chains. Regulatory frameworks set certain minimum
national and EU standards pertaining amongst other things to production,
competition, market and trade regulation, quality and safety of
food. These rules serve to constrain individual choice in some
respects and may also directly or indirectly affect the security
of the food chain. In particular, the EU Common Agricultural Policy
(CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CfP) have an extensive
impact on food supply. For example, CfP quotas limit the catch
of specific fish stocks and new CAP greening rules may promote
growth of certain crops such as legumes; this in turn influences
the availability and hence price of those products.
6. Food critic Jay Rayner argued that, with 95% of
the food retail market controlled by just nine companies, larger
retailers' market dominance gave them a "massive social responsibility"
as "custodians of the food supply". He considered that
the Government had a "role to mediate that supply" so
as to guarantee future supplies.
However, we received no evidence arguing for the development of
further specific regulatory mechanisms to constrain consumer choice
in the interests of national food security. George Eustice MP,
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, told us that he did not see it as the Government's
role to "tell people what they should buy" but rather
to support the choices people make.
This approach is consistent with an overall deregulatory approach
at national level to reduce the bureaucratic burden on businesses
and at EU level to open agricultural production more to market
7. The myriad decisions made by millions of individual
consumers every day cumulatively play a considerable role in determining
how the UK sources its food. Harnessing these decisions to align
with 'public good' objectives can be a powerful way of ensuring
the delivery of public food security goals but this should not
be achieved through heavy-handed rules or unnecessary constraints
8. We do not argue in this report for a regulatory
shift towards compulsion over consumers' food purchasing decisions.
We therefore make recommendations for more co-ordinated and focussed
actions by the Government, food producers and suppliers, and the
third sector to support consumer choices that enhance the ability
of all to obtain sufficient safe, healthy and affordable food.
We support a robust regulatory framework for the nation's food
production and retail systems; consumers must be able to make
their choices about what food to buy and from where to buy it
knowing that there are strong measures in place to protect their
Sourcing our food
9. Defra policies and programmes such as the National
Farmers' Union (NFU) Back British Farming Charter aim to encourage
consumers to buy British products in the interests of supporting
UK farming. Morrisons
highlighted its purchase of only British beef, pork and lamb for
sale under its own brand label saying that sourcing UK products
had beneficial impacts on the sustainability of UK farming and
In addition, maintaining UK sources of foodstuffs contributes
to secure food supply chains. Professor Chris Elliott, the author
of the Government's Review into the Integrity and Assurance of
Food Supply Networks,
told us during our Food Supply Networks inquiry that the more
steps there are in the supply chain the greater the number of
risks. Sourcing food
from the UK rather than from more remote international markets
usually leads to shorter supply chains and, although this may
not necessarily reduce the number of steps, retailers' procurement
approaches suggest that they view sourcing local (UK or near European)
products as an important part of their risk management. Tesco
told us that it is shortening supply chains and buying British
where possible. For example it sources all its beef from Britain
and Ireland because that is "what customers find to be the
appropriate answer" as they are interested in its "direct
10. Retailers recognise that consumers frequently
demand UK products. Morrisons told us that "we know it's
important to our customers [to find British meat]. If it's good
for customers and there is a preference in the marketplace for
British products it's also likely to be good for British farmers".
Nonetheless, Tesco cautioned that stocking only British products
across many of its ranges, such as all of the chicken in ready
meals, would cause planners and farmers concern that it might
distort the market and farmers might not have capacity to meet
the consequence of a diverse source of supplies is that consumers
can benefit from access to a wider choice of products.
11. The complex operation of supply chains means
that it is not simple to map the relationship between UK customers'
demands for British produce and the security of the nation's food
supplies. Nonetheless, if UK consumer demand for national produce
were to increase, this could enhance the sustainability of British
12. We endorse the work of the Government together
with farmers, food producers and processors, and retailers to
promote UK food to consumers to help ensure the long-term future
of national food production.
13. In terms of ensuring environmental sustainability,
many make the assumption that local produce, with fewer 'food
miles' from farm to fork, is the more sustainable choice. The
Minister took this view noting that "if we can buy locally
produced food, that generally has better environmental outcomes".
However others, such as food critic Jay Rayner, considered that
a simple measurement of 'food miles' could produce a misleading
indicator. The relative
sustainability of a product will depend not only on a vast range
of inputs, including nutrients, energy, water, transport, packaging
and labour, but also on how these have been supplied and how efficiently
they are used. Mr Rayner noted that a range of factors affected
whether sourcing food from the UK was more or less environmentally
sustainable than importing the same product. He considered it
was not harmful, for example, to import apples and lamb from New
Zealand but questioned the sustainability of imports of some other
products such as asparagus.
Mr Rayner argued that international trade in foodstuffs could
ensure that products were grown in the most appropriate places
so that buying imports should not be portrayed as necessarily
less sustainable. The Sustainable Restaurant Association also
told us that purchasing indigenous-type imported foods may sometimes
have a lower carbon footprint than those produced within the UK.
14. There has been a growth in the number of local
markets such as farmers' markets which can provide an effective
route to supply fresh, local produce. This can deliver benefits
to the local economy and environment as well as improving individuals'
access to healthy food.
15. Technological and process advances have allowed
UK consumers to choose to buy home-grown products such as soft
fruits for longer periods of the year, as we noted in our previous
Food Security report.
The Government's response to that report outlined a range of work
to support this, including by the Agricultural and Horticultural
Development Board and by commercial organisations including supermarkets
and fruit growers, in areas such as the production of apricots,
which had not previously been grown on a major scale.
16. We welcome the co-ordinated efforts of those
producing and retailing fresh produce to exploit longer growing
seasons for some fruit and vegetable products. Defra, together
with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, should
continue to work closely with producers and retailers to develop
and widen markets for these products.
Securing a healthy diet
17. One aspect of the definition of food security
is that individuals should have access to sufficient healthy food.
However rising levels of diet-related health problems, notably
those linked to obesity, indicate that many UK citizens are not
eating a healthy diet.
The Faculty of Public Health of the Royal Colleges of Physicians
of the United Kingdom reported that children and adults eat 50%
more saturated fat, and children eat 50% more sugar, than the
Furthermore, children eat only one quarter and adults only half
the amount of fruit and vegetables recommended. The Waste and
Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that the health impacts
of poor diets and unhealthy lifestyles cost the UK more than £16
billion a year, a figure which could rise to £50 billion
18. As we discuss below, there are affordability
constraints for some people in accessing healthy food. Recent
research by the University of Leeds found, for a range of typical
meals, that the healthiest in dietary terms cost £6.63, about
double the £3.29 price of the least healthy meal.
Nevertheless, UK citizens in the main have a vast array of choices
over the food they buy and eat, with many healthy options available
at the same time as less healthy options. However, a large number
of people who can afford to choose healthy options do not make
healthy food choices as effectively as they might. There appears
to be no shortage of advice and guidance, based on a range of
robust scientific research, such as the 'Change4Life' programme,
and the 5 A DAY campaign promulgated by the Department for Health
advising people to eat a healthy diet including sufficient fruit
and vegetables. Public
Health England produces a range of promotional and information
material to support its 'EatWell' plate depicting the components
of a healthy diet,
and local government is active in promoting healthy eating to
help fulfil its public health duties.
For example, many initiatives are taking place in schools to help
educate children of all ages on how to cook and eat healthily.
Furthermore, retailers play a significant role in promoting healthy
diets. For example Sainsbury's provides extensive healthy eating
advice including recipes and links to Government campaigns such
as 5 A DAY. Morrisons
told us about a local store initiative to highlight its fruit
and vegetable section including life-size cardboard cut-outs of
local health professionals with messages to buy more of these
products. Over a five week period sales of fresh fruit and vegetables
rose by 20% and of frozen versions by 26%.
19. However, despite these efforts by a range of
public and private organisations, witnesses were critical of their
impacts. For example, the Fresh Produce Consortium told us that
whilst programmes such as 5 A DAY had achieved results, a more
ambitious programme was needed to tackle obesity and other public
health issues, including promoting fresh fruit and vegetable consumption
since people still ate only 3.9 portions a day on average.
At the same time households are throwing away about a fifth of
the fresh produce they buy. Furthermore, the University of Oxford's
Food Climate Research Network told us that the food system was currently
failing in its primary purpose "to feed us adequately",
noting that policy makers focussed too often on "producing
more food" rather than addressing multifaceted "environmental,
health and equity challenges".
The Network criticised the lack of a strategic policy framework
to underpin the diverse activities of many interested parties,
urging the Government to provide "policy leadership to set
the direction of travel on sustainable food consumption"
and support investment in research into "actions effective
in shifting consumption patterns in healthier and more sustainable
20. Despite efforts to promote healthy eating,
the UK is still experiencing high levels of health problems linked
to poor diet, in particular problems caused by excessive consumption.
While we welcome the work of a range of government departments,
local authorities and retailers to promote healthy food choices
there needs to be greater integration between the bodies, with
firm strategic leadership from the Department for Health. The
Government must ensure that innovative local approaches are disseminated
to enable far greater numbers of councils, supermarkets and local
NHS bodies to develop more effective means of targeting messages.
21. Defra collects and publishes a range of data
on food consumption,
alongside that published by other government departments including
Public Health England.
However, these data do not take into account wastage, even though
Defra accepts that some 22% of edible fruit and vegetable purchases
are not eaten.
22. Government policies require a robust evidence
basis, yet Defra currently uses data that do not reflect consumption
accurately. The Department should use data published by Public
Health England on nutritional intakes to refine its own estimates
so as to take into account food bought but not subsequently consumed.
4 Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs,
Green Food Project Conclusions, July 2012 Back
Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, Sustainable Consumption Report: Follow-Up to the Green Food Project,
July 2013 Back
Food Standards Agency, Biannual Public Attitudes Tracker, Wave
8, May 2014, reports that the top wider food issues of total (spontaneous
plus prompted) concern were food prices (51%), the amount of sugar
in food (48%), and the amount of salt in food (47%). Back
Tesco (FS2 04) Back
See Government Red Tape Challenge agriculture theme webpages on
UK approaches, and Europa webpages on CAP reform. Back
See NFU website, Back British Farming Charter Back
HM Government, Elliott Review into the Integrity and Assurance of Food Supply Networks ,
July 2014 Back
Oral evidence taken on 18 November 2014, HC (2014-15) 771, Q6 Back
Wm Morrison Supermarkets plc (FS2 01) para 9 Back
Jay Rayner, Greedy Man in a Hungry World, (London 2013), chapter
See LocalFoods.org webpages Back
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Second Report of
Session 2014-15, Food Security, HC 243 Back
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Fourth Special
Report of Session 2014-15, HC 702 Back
"Diet and obesity are a crisis for NHS and families"
Daily Mail, 12 June 2014 Back
Faculty of Public Health of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of
the United Kingdom, Food poverty and health Briefing Statement Back
Waste and Resources Action Programme (FS03) para14 Back
University of Leeds, What is the cost of a healthy diet? Using diet data from the UK women's cohort study,
July 2014 Back
See Change4Life webpages Back
See NHS 5 A DAY webpages Back
See Public Health England EatWell webpages Back
See for example Gateshead case study on salt reduction, in the
Local Government Association, Changing behaviours in public health: to nudge or to shove?
October 2013 Back
See for example Food Standards Agency School-based food initiatives Back
See Sainsbury's healthy eating webpages Back
Fresh Produce Consortium (FS2 06) para 16 Back
Food Climate Research Network, Environmental Change Institute,
University of Oxford (FS2 07) Back
Food Climate Research Network, Environmental Change Institute,
University of Oxford (FS2 07) Back
For example, Defra publishes an annual Family Food report on household
food purchases Back
For example, Public Health England, Food and Nutrition Survey Back
Defra, Family Food 2012, p54 Back