Healthy Eating Plan For Public Sector Workers, Patients And Prisoners

Hospital patients, prisoners and millions of Britain’s public sector workers are to be the focus of a healthy eating initiative drawn up by ministers. Canteens will be expected to meet new guidelines on nutrition, lower fat, salt and sugar content, and portion size.

The scheme, already compulsory in schools, will be extended under voluntary arrangements to hospitals, care homes, prisons and government offices, although legislation has been threatened if these initiatives fail to work.

Launching the 124-page Food Matters study yesterday, Gordon Brown said: “We cannot deal with higher food prices in the UK in isolation from higher prices round the world. Attempting to pursue national food security in isolation from the global context is unlikely to be practicable, sustainable or financially rational.”

Ministers will try to encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables and to persuade councils to license fruit and vegetable stalls in markets and at bus and railway stations. They also plan to tie in environmental information, such as advising people to eat at least two portions of fish a week but only from stocks that are not under threat of extinction.

The report revealed that the government is investigating whether agriculture should be drawn into carbon trading agreements, and whether nitrous oxide emissions from fertilisers and methane from livestock could be fitted into a wider framework to contain greenhouse gases. About 7% of these come from farms.

Ministers have been reluctant to order changes that could put the industry – which accounts for 3.7m jobs, or 7% of UK output, and is worth up to £139bn annually in consumer spending – at risk when most food legislation must be EU-wide and is influenced by global, environmental and trading forces.

The report also considered the impact of New York-style “green carts”, which have led to a boom in fruit and veg stalls there.

The UK produces only about half of what it eats, despite protests from farmers who suggest that Britain has a moral duty to produce more of its own food, particularly at a time of rising global prices and shortages. But the report concluded that “the composition of our diet is more important than how and where food items are produced”. It stressed the importance of adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in fruit and vegetables and low in red meat and dairy produce, to help reduce the 70,000 premature deaths a year in the UK – more than 10% of annual mortality – caused by poor nutrition.

The Food and Drink Federation, the main industry body, applauded the government “for recognising the importance of maintaining a supportive environment for competitive UK food producers”.

Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, an independent UK advisory body, said the report was “refreshingly frank about the staggering health and environmental challenges we face around food”.
Main points

· An international strategy for more open, competitive markets for food.

· More one-stop-shop information and advice for consumers.

· Clearer health messages to improve fruit and vegetable consumption.

· Investigation into the effect of global trends on UK farmers and consumers.

· Research into the impact of climate change on food production.

· Improvement in recycling and cuts in food waste by encouraging more prudent shopping.

· Reductions in food packaging.