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Brief: ‘A fundamental quantum shift’ as agrifood corporates call for gov’t action to fix food system

May 13, 2024

For what many say is the first time, agrifood corporates such as Nestlé, Danone and Arla have publicly called for government assistance in the UK when it comes to fixing the food system.

The Hope Farm Statement surfaced last week after more than a year of collaboration between former Unilever CEO Paul Polman, the National Trust, the Nature Friendly Farming Network, and others. It outlines a food system in which healthy food is affordable, farmers receive fair pay and the environment is a priority. In other words, it’s a plan to transition the UK away from unhealthy diets and harmful farming practices.

The statement also includes six core recommendations for setting targets, increasing public- and private-sector funding, improving food procurement and regulation standards, accountability frameworks and strategies for land use.

“We are calling for the next UK Government as a matter of urgent national priority – starting in its first 100 days – to implement a bold national food and farming strategy for the UK, drawing on the wealth of evidence available, including in the National Food Strategy,” reads the statement.

The call to arms is not new. Henry Dimbleby, founder of healthy fast food chain Leon and author of the UK’s national food strategy, told The Times he has for years been “trying to get senior food industry leaders to say, ‘We cannot do this alone, the commercial incentives are too strong, are pulling us in the wrong direction, and we need government intervention.'”

Despite the growing list of corporate climate commitments, agrifood companies around the world have struggled to balance profitability and planetary health for years.

That many agrifood corporates are now calling for government involvement is “a fundamental quantum shift” in the public discourse around the food system, said Dimbleby.

Current signatories to the Hope Farm Statement include Dimbleby along with executives from Nestlé, Arla, Danone, COOK, the WWF and many others.

“Further government intervention will be needed to address the chronic challenges we face in the UK today. That’s why statements like this are important,” noted Rich Osborn, chief executive at supply chain consultancy Equilibrium Markets and a veteran of consumer goods behemoth P&G.

The Hope Farm Statement comes as the UK gears up for another general election, which is expected by January 2025.

“Food is a health issue, a climate and nature issue, a cost-of-living issue, an economic prosperity issue, and all this makes it an election issue,” noted Poleman. “The Hope Farm Statement is an unprecedented offer of partnership to the next incumbent of Number 10 from key players from across the UK food system: I hope they are wise enough to see it.”

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