Public want government to urgently correct the UK’s ‘upside-down food system’ to make it healthier for nature, people and the planet, says new UKRI Sciencewise dialogue

Ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit and UN Climate Summit (COP26), the full findings of a UKRI Sciencewise public dialogue commissioned by Defra have now been published.

The Sciencewise public dialogue informed the National Food Strategy final report, adding the voices of its participants to those of scientists, policy makers, farmers, food producers, distributors and trade bodies. The dialogue provides rich detail on how people from across the UK view the food system and what changes they would like to see. It also chimes with growing global calls for greater alignment between food systems and climate policy.[1]

Participants in the dialogue concluded the UK food system is currently upside-down and needs to be urgently corrected to deliver vital improvements for people, nature and the planet: “Surely the processed food should cost more because it’s been processed and the actual basic food that’s just provided should be cheaper?” In its current state, participants felt the UK food system was damaging human health, the environment and the climate. Tackling climate change was seen as a fundamental priority for the food system: “It is important that we mention climate change, as that will most likely be the next, very possibly worse, challenge we will face today.

Henry Dimbleby, author of the independent National Food Strategy’s final report, published in July, highlighted the importance of adding the public’s voice to those of scientists, policy makers, farmers, food producers, distributors and trade bodies. Thanking all the participants who took part in the Sciencewise dialogue, he said:

These public dialogues were inspirational events. No written report could ever hope to capture the full depth and richness of a discussion involving 180 people across the country over 18 months. Throughout the process I have been consistently inspired by the depth of passion and experience which citizens bring to this conversation. I cannot thank them enough for the insight they have provided.”

The report says that to turn the UK food system ‘the right way up’ requires immediate long-term remedial action from all actors, including food producers and manufacturers, farmers and distributors, individuals and communities.

Six key recommendations for UK government are:

  1. A joined up system of governance, with national government taking strategic oversight over the food system
  2. Taxes to hold producers accountable for the effects of their products on health and the environment
  3. Better regulation to enforce changes in industry behaviours such as banning advertisements of fast food, tackling food waste and unsustainable packing; and banning practices that do not adhere to high animal welfare standards
  4. A clear transition plan and subsidies for farmers to farm in ways which are environmentally sustainable and encourage biodiversity
  5. Extending the provision of free school meals (and for these to be healthy and sustainable)
  6. Subsidising healthy and sustainable foods, especially for those on low incomes.

Headline findings from the report published in July show the public:

  • Strongly support changing the food system – and are fearful of the prospect of no change;
  • Are united in a desire for systemic and long-term thinking to address the problems in the food system;
  • Want a fairer UK food system: it was vital to participants that interventions don’t exacerbate social inequalities or pit different groups against each other;
  • Want government to create the right conditions for businesses, producers and individuals to act responsibly and for everyone to play their part as consumers, citizens and communities;
  • See Covid-19 and climate change as opportunities to make significant and long-term changes for the benefit of people and the planet in the future;
  • Want an integrated suite of interventions to address multiple problems simultaneously, although views differ on the efficacy of incremental vs dramatic change;
  • Feel that the less restrictive interventions (eg information), while useful, are not enough by themselves, but also that more restrictive interventions such as bans risk a backlash.

You can watch a short film about the public dialogue here.

[1] e.g.,  and