Horticulture in the UK: potential for meeting dietary guideline demands

Lang, T. & Schoen, V. (2016). Horticulture in the UK: potential for meeting dietary guideline demands. UK: Food Research Collaboration.

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Abstract

Executive Summary
Public health analysis suggests that many lives can be saved if the UK population actually followed dietary guidelines on fruit and vegetable daily intake. The Government’s Eatwell Plate suggests that more than a third of UK daily diets should comprise fruit and vegetables and yet currently less than a quarter of diets are taken from this source. A UK debate on the status of the horticultural industry and its potential to meet a recommended increase in consumption is long overdue.

This paper, largely based on secondary sources of data, presents current national levels of fruit and vegetable production and consumption. It outlines the origins of what horticultural produce is consumed here and the potential for meeting demand should diets adapt to those suggested by government guidelines. The Briefing provides a summary of key facts on UK horticulture based on information that is publicly available. An FRC seminar is planned to take account of non-documented industry views in order to complete or correct the picture presented here but our current objective is to outline the situation as it appears from published data:
• There has been a big decline in area given to horticultural production. From 1985 to 2014, there has been a decline of 27% for fruit and vegetables combined. The area growing vegetables has declined by 26% and the area growing fruit by 35%.
• Fruit and vegetables are by far the greatest source of imports in the UK food system. The trade gap in horticulture has risen to £7.8 billion a year, about 37% of the UK’s total food trade gap of £21 billion in 2014. Although some growers have extensive growing operations in Southern Europe and further afield, this makes sense for them as commercial enterprises but still does not resolve the serious lack of UK horticultural output. This is important to meet the 21st century challenge of increasing production for health everywhere and to ensure that rich consumer societies do not excessively distort international trade for their purposes.
• Some imports (e.g. pineapples, avocados) could not be grown in the UK (or not yet) but others which could be UK grown (e.g. brassicas, mushrooms, lettuce) have seen massive drops in production.
• The proportion of the adult population (over 16 years) in the UK consuming five or more portions of fruit and vegetables per day stood at only 26% in 2013.
• Only 16% of children achieved an intake of 5-a-day or more in 2013.
• The Consumer Price Index for food items as a whole has shown a significant increase of 35% in 2007-2013. Within this, the price of vegetables has increased by 27% and fresh fruit by 26%, less than the average for the food sector as a whole.
• Horticulture is unevenly distributed across the country, partly for climatic reasons, but areas that used to have sizeable sectors (e.g. the South West) have seen a heavy decline. A ‘re-boot’ of regional strategies is overdue to incorporate a review of planning and financial regulations and to rebuild bioregional resilience where appropriate.
• Land used for horticulture is highly productive. Only 3.5% of UK croppable land is down to horticulture, yet producing £3.7 billion worth of produce. For every one hectare of land under fruit and vegetables, 4.5 hectares are used for wheat for animal feed- with the inevitably slower and less efficient energy conversion rates.
• Horticultural wages for seasonal workers are low, not helped by the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board. Horticulture occupies only 2% of the farmed area in England yet employs 12% of the agricultural labour force and at least 35% of the UK’s casual farm labour force.

The Briefing makes a series of recommendations:
• The Government (DEFRA) forthcoming 25 year Food Strategy should apply a ‘health lens’ to its proposed focus on ‘Brand Britain’
• Government, growers, land use specialists, industry and regional bodies should begin to plan the infrastructure needed for a massive reinvestment in, and policy support for, horticulture.
• Both academics and civil society should examine the scope for encouraging demand for more home produced, sustainable horticulture and higher consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK
• Public health and environmental analysts should work more clearly on how to narrow the gap between supply of, and demand for, fruit and vegetables. Modelling studies as well as practical investigations should be funded.
• A new research strand should be set up by the Government Research Councils into how to build demand for more sustainable home production.
• A new more unified voice between all parties is needed to champion the British horticultural sector; this lack should be the subject of a joint inquiry by the Parliamentary Health, Environmental Audit and Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committees.

Item Type: Monograph (Working Paper)
Additional Information: Copyright the authors, 2016
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Divisions: School of Social Sciences > Department of Sociology > Centre for Food Policy
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/14319

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