Realigning UK Food Production and Trade for Transition to Healthy and Sustainable Diets

Principal Investigator: Professor Srinivasan, University of Reading

Recognition of the enormous costs of ill-health, disease and obesity associated with current UK dietary consumption patterns and the environmental damage inflicted by current food production systems have made the transition to healthy and sustainable diets the key objective of UK food policy for the 21st century. The dietary consumption patterns of all segments of the UK population show large divergences from the UK dietary guidelines for healthy eating, with the poorer sections of the population having the most unhealthy diets. The UK also remains substantially reliant on imports for its food consumption. The transition to healthy and sustainable diets requires a significant shift in consumer preferences and dietary choices that could be induced through a combination of fiscal measures, behavioural, public health, regulatory and supply-side interventions. However, this transition cannot be successfully accomplished without a realignment of UK food production, trade and supply chains consistent with the anticipated shifts in consumer demand and environmental sustainability constraints.

This project directly addresses the two overarching questions posed by the Transforming UK Food Systems programme that relate to (1) the changes in dietary consumption, food production and trade patterns that would be required for a transition to healthy and sustainable diets and (2) the interventions that would be needed across government, business and civil society to deliver this transformed food system. The project takes a food systems approach through a simultaneous consideration of consumption, production, trade and supply chain implications of a transition to healthy and sustainable diets and brings together multidisciplinary expertise encompassing: (1) economic modelling of consumer demand and shifts in consumer preferences (2) dietary pattern analysis (3) derivation of environmental sustainability indicators at food product level (3) partial equilibrium modelling of production and trade incorporating environmental impacts of green house gas (GHG) emissions, land use, water use and soil nutrient balances (4) elicitation of consumer preferences using stated preference techniques (discrete choice experiments) (5) trade policy analysis in the context of current and emerging international and regional trade policy regimes (6) structural changes in the supply and value chains for the agri-food sector and (7) co-design approaches for industry-led initiatives – in designing a coherent policy framework for supporting the transition to healthy and sustainable diets.

Our analysis will address the complex policy challenges arising from (1) the need to consider the impact of fiscal measures on consumers’ entire food baskets rather than on the consumption of individual food products (2) the distributional (equity) impacts of fiscal measures (3) the potential trade-offs between healthy and sustainable diets (4) the constraints imposed on trade policy measures by the architecture of international and regional trade policy regimes and the need to balance the interests of consumers, domestic producers, importers and trading partners in the implementation of trade policy measures (5) food industry incentives for food product development and marketing strategies that may not support the transition to healthy and sustainable diets (6) the socio-culturally embedded nature of dietary patterns that tend to be slow to change and (7) the very limited avenues for restricting consumer dietary choices in a market economy that respects consumer choice.

The project aims to develop a blueprint for a coordinated set of fiscal and trade policy interventions along with structural changes to food supply and value chains and industry-led initiatives for supporting the transition to healthy and sustainable diets.