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There’s not enough fruit and veg to go round in UK, finds new study

24/01/2023 – Fruit & Veg / UK / Vegetables / Foundation / SHEFS / Report

There’s not enough fruit and veg to go round in UK, finds new study

Britain does not produce or import enough fruit and vegetables for its population to get the government-recommended five-portions-a-day 400-gram intake, according to a newly published analysis by the Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) research group, which includes The Food Foundation.

Just one in 10 children and roughly one-third of adults are eating enough fruit and vegetables. Even without taking waste into account, the UK would need to produce or import nine-per-cent more fruit and vegetables for everyone in the UK to be able to eat the recommended amount, according to the SHEFS Fruit and Vegetables Policy Brief, which is intended to inform policy-makers of the need to increase production as well as consumption.

In the UK, over 80% of fruit and more than half of veg come from imports

Today, much of our fertile farmland is used for animal agriculture – as grazing land or for crops to feed animals. People have turned away from traditional homegrown foods such as peas and carrots, and more than 80 per cent of our fruit and almost half of our vegetables now come from imports, many of them exotic and tropical varieties that could not be grown in Britain.

Our dependence on imports from regions increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and water scarcity puts our food security at risk by exposing us to cost and supply fluctuation. Meanwhile domestic producers say their costs have risen by 27 per cent (from March–October 2022), threatening the future viability of their businesses.

Earlier SHEFS reports have shown that if everyone in the UK ate the recommended 400g-a-day fruit and vegetable intake, healthy life expectancy would increase by an average of eight months and diet-related greenhouse gas emissions would reduce by more than eight per cent.

Soaring fruit & veg prices add to rich-poor health gap

The high cost of fruit and vegetables is contributing to the health gap between rich and poor, the briefing shows. In the year to October 2022, the price of fruit rose by more than 10 per cent and vegetables by more than 15 per cent, making fruit and vegetables too expensive for many people to buy.

Healthier foods are nearly three times more expensive per calorie than less healthy foods, meaning people switch away from purchasing fruit and vegetables when budgets are tight.

Even before the cost-of-living crisis, consumption of fruit and vegetables showed strong, wealth-related differences – with the highest income groups consuming about 1.5 portions per day more than the lowest.

Key priorities for policy-makers

The researchers say there are four key priorities for policy makers:

– To support increased fruit and vegetable consumption through initiatives such as sensory food education for young children and investing in TV and online advertising of fruit and vegetables.

– To protect low-income consumers by expanding schemes such as Free School Meals and Healthy Start that provide a nutritional safety net for children, and by ensuring fruit and vegetables are available from ‘food desert’ convenience stores in areas of high social deprivation.

– To boost domestic fruit and vegetable supply so that the UK’s fruit & veg supply chains are not unsustainably dependent on imports from countries likely to experience future climate and water stress, and in order that greater consumer demand can be catered for.

– To make better use of government, promoting cross-departmental working so the health and environmental benefits of greater fruit and veg production and consumption are realised, and to ensure all taxpayer-funded meals in schools, hospitals, prisons and government offices include two portions of vegetables, with fruit as an additional portion if used as a dessert.

Government must aim boost both production and consumption

“As the government takes forward the development of the Horticulture Strategy for England – which is now long overdue – we show it must aim to increase both production and consumption of British fruit and veg. This will make a significant difference to the nation’s health and help our farmers. It’s a win-win,” remarked Anna Taylor, Executive Director of The Food Foundation

“SHEFS research is about identifying food system changes that would be beneficial for both people’s health and the environment. Increasing production and consumption of fruit and veg is vital to achieving these goals, and should be prioritised now,” said Professor Rosemary Green, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, co-PI of SHEFS.

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
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