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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 01:14 GMT
Health 'should govern food policy'
'Farm policy should be linked to improving health'
People's health is at risk because of the way British food is being produced and marketed, according to a report from a top team of academics.

The report argues that public health - and the not the vested interests of the food and farming industry - should be the key factor which governs policy.

It says that health issues have plunged food policy into crisis, and that the turmoil will continue unless the government re-thinks its approach.

Current policy is neither efficient nor delivering good human and environmental health

"Current policy is neither efficient nor delivering good human and environmental health," say the report's editors.

"Health is often an afterthought in policy decisions in farming and food when it should be central.

"Poor nutrition is a major explanation for the UK's health inequalities. National health priorities must be reflected priorities for the farming and food sectors."

The report says current food policy is dominated by concerns about food safety yet food poisoning costs less than 1bn a year.

This is dwarfed by the cost of diet-related diseases. For instance, coronary vascular disease costs 10bn a year.

Policy failings

The report, "Why health is the key for the future of farming and food" gives a number of examples of where current policy falls down:

  • while obesity rises, retail planning makes it hard to walk or bike to the shops
  • it is becoming ever more expensive to buy healthy foods rather items which are bad for us
  • one in five children eat no fruit in a week and three in five eat no leafy green vegetables
The report says that if people ate as much fruit and vegetables as the government wanted, this would merely lead to a rise in the import bill.

"Why are we importing apples and pears when we have a perfect climate for them?" asks the report.

The report features contributions from a raft of experts in the field.

It has been edited by Professor Tim Lang, of the Centre for Food Policy, Thames Valley University, and Dr Geof Rayner, UK Public Health Association.

It argues that farming and food policy should:

  • give equal weight to both human and environmental health
  • encourage diversity of foods and biodiversity in fields
  • the food supply chain should decrease its reliance on non-renewable energy
  • food costs should more fully reflect their real costs of production and distribution
  • encourage food supply chains to be as local and as short as possible
The findings of a government policy commission on the future of farming and food in the UK is expected to be published next week.

See also:

06 Nov 01 | Health
Children's diet seriously lacking
29 May 01 | Health
People 'fool themselves on diet'
18 Jun 01 | Health
Green veg keep arteries clear
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