Britain’s first food industry investor summit calls for government action to transform the way food is grown, manufactured and eaten in UK

Food Foundation's Anna Taylor

Food Foundation’s executive director Anna Taylor

Investors attending Britain’s first ever food industry investment summit in London have called for government action to transform the way we grow, manufacture and eat food, to tackle Britain’s public health crisis and the food industry’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Summit, ‘Putting Money on the Menu: How can investors transform the UK food system?’ held yesterday (7 February), was organised by The Food Foundation and featured contributions from Richard Walker the executive chairman of Iceland Foods, and leading investment experts from HSBC, BNP Paribas Asset Management and CCLA, Britain’s largest charity investment manager.

Stuart Landrum, head of product and process for the supermarket chain Iceland Foods, delivered a strong message written by Richard Walker, the company’s executive chairman: ”To achieve societal change, we need to get the whole food industry working together under a strong, clear and consistent government lead,” he said.

”When governments do intervene, their actions need to be well thought-through and well-implemented, encouraging consumers to make a positive change to their eating habits rather than just hitting people in their pockets.”

Investors are increasingly concerned about the impact of business as usual as the food system is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, he added. Diet, food production and farming methods must change if Britain is to meet its 2030 targets to combat global warming.

Many of those present were from the 23 member organisations of the Investor Coalition for Food Policy (the Food Foundation is the secretariat), which has more than £6 trillion in assets under management.

The summit audience was also given outline plans for the government’s Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) – a new initiative to ensure all large food businesses report publicly on metrics which will help determine whether the health, sustainability and animal welfare impacts of the food system are improving.

Other speakers made similar pleas for more decisive political intervention in the food system. ”We are only growing a third of the fruit and vegetables in the world that are needed to allow everyone to eat a healthy diet, and about twelve times too much sugar,” said Professor Tim Benton, research director of emerging risks at Chatham House.

”We need to think about how we can work with politicians to get market restructuring right so the incentives are in the right places to make the food that people ought to be eating more available and cheaper and the food they shouldn’t be eating less available and more expensive. That requires a radical change.”

Sophie Lawrence, an expert in sustainable and ethical investment at Rathbone Greenbank Investments and one of the leaders of the investor coalition for food policy, welcomed the establishment of the Food Data Transparency Partnership. ”It’s not about increasing the burden on retailers; it’s about getting comparable data so we can make the right decisions as investors, and consumers can have the right information,” she said. ”The UK will be leading in this kind of regulation, and we hope there will be a ripple effect.”

”Government regulation creates the right incentives for the right things to happen,” said Anna Taylor executive director of The Food Foundation. ”That’s the call to action for us. We are delighted with the response to this event and the level of support it has generated. These are forward thinking investors who recognise the risks to their assets, and that business as usual is no longer an option.”