An investor coalition led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments is calling on the Government of the United Kingdom to enforce stricter health and sustainability standards on the food industry.
The call comes in the wake of a government-commissioned independent review of England’s food system, published last July. The review, titled National Food Strategy, is the first of its kind in 75 years.
Rathbone Greenbank formed the Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy alongside The Food Foundation, an NGO focusing on food policy reform, to help support the review and drive forward its initiatives. The coalition is composed of 23 investors representing £6 trillion in assets.
The investor coalition had a series of discussions with the government on food policy. These interactions influenced the content of a white paper that the United Kingdom recently released in response to the National Food Strategy. The white paper is a declaration of the United Kingdom’s food strategy. It contains sections on sustainable food production, healthier eating, and the country’s role as part of a global food system.
The coalition is encouraged by the release of a government response but feel it did not go far enough. They hope to see the government make more of an effort to address the National Food Strategy’s recommendation for mandatory reporting of sales in the food industry. While the government’s white paper promises to explore the idea, current regulations allow for voluntary reporting. This has led to “a lack of consistent data being reported by companies on their health and nutrition performance,” Sophie Lawrence, Rathbone Greenbank Stewardship and Engagement Lead, tells Food Tank.
“Mandatory reporting…would help investors understand the direct and systemic risks companies face and facilitate the movement of capital toward companies that are supporting the transition to a sustainable and healthy food system,” Lawrence explains.
The investor coalition is backing its stance with statistics generated by The Food Foundation, whose organization is tracking reports from supermarkets, restaurants, and caterers. “Collaborating with NGOs such as the Food Foundation on specific environmental and social issues ultimately allows us to magnify the positive social or environmental impact we can have as an investor through our engagement work,” says Lawrence.
The Food Foundation has a history of advocating for business transparency in the food industry. Its Plating Up Progress initiative assesses health and sustainability efforts of food retail businesses in the UK. This experience helped guide the investor coalition’s goals.
“Mandatory reporting is a good start, but in reality, we want this to evolve to the point where the food industry is setting targets for change, not just disclosing data on their current sales,” Will Nicholson, Project Lead at The Food Foundation, tells Food Tank. “Beyond reporting standards, we would like to see wider commitments from the government on ensuring healthy food is more affordable, that land reform is aligned with sustainability targets, and that all of this is brought together in a food bill that ensures the change become regulatory.”
The investor coalition sees an opportunity to further pursue its goals through the government white paper’s announcement of the formation of a Food Data Transparency Partnership. The partnership will gather input from representatives across the food supply chain and society to help inform consumers, incentivize industry change, and unite government efforts.
The coalition feels that investors should be a central part of this partnership. “Investors have the benefit of having a bird’s eye view of the food sector and the…risks and opportunities it faces,” Lawrence tells Food Tank.
And, Nicholson adds, investors can offer a “reasoned voice to governments to ensure that regulation around food and the food industry is designed to reward the right business behaviors, prevent the wrong behaviors, and create a strong business case for change.”
The broad perspective of the Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy favors a holistic approach to healing the food system. “The food system challenges we face are complex…but not insurmountable,” Nicholson tells Food Tank. “We need a transition that involves the protection and restoration of natural habitats, the widespread adoption of sustainable farming practices, the tackling of food waste and, crucially, a consumption shift to healthy and sustainable diets.”
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Photo courtesy of Heidi Fin, Unsplash