Report highlights threat to nation's dietary health

Britain's dietary health faces a "perfect storm" of low vegetable consumption, rising prices of imported produce and the decline of home production due to labour costs and shortages, according to a report by the Food Foundation, funded by the Esmee Fairbairn and Nuffield Foundations.

Explaining its focus on vegetable intake, the report says: "We now buy about the same amount of veg as we did in the mid 1970s. Fruit purchasing has increased by over 50 per cent over the same period, indicating that specific attention is needed on veg purchasing and consumption."

A quarter of secondary school-age children currently eat fewer than one portion of vegetables a day, while 17 per cent of children's vegetable intake now comes from pizza and baked beans, it notes.

With 42 per cent of vegetables now imported, prices of these are vulnerable to the lower value of sterling, it warns, pointing to the decline in fresh produce consumption after the economic shock of 2008, particularly among lower-income households. For the largely unsubsidised UK horticulture sector, "political uncertainties surrounding migrant labour may threaten the survival of some horticulture businesses" in the wake of the Brexit vote, it says.

Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor 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 rethink agricultural subsidies as we leave the EU 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."

Professor Corinna Hawkes, director of the University of London's Centre for Food Policy, added: "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."

The Food Foundation, together with Nourish Scotland and WWF-UK, has launched a "Peas Please" campaign to coincide with the report, aimed at tackling barriers to vegetable consumption by working with retailers, producers, manufacturers and fast food chains. A "major summit" on the topic is scheduled for June next year.

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