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Nuffield ‘Farming Fit For Food’ conference highlights

Food and farming industries were told to work together to make their voices heard by government bodies at the Nuffield ‘Farming Fit for Food’ conference on 8 June, in order to tackle diet related health issues once and for all.

Over 500 delegates heard from industry experts who warned that change requires strong leadership and although government involvement to influence change is imperative, everyone must do their bit.  

“Quality means lots of different things, to different people. It isn’t always defined by health. Therefore, defining quality is becoming more subjective,” said Michael Winter, Professor of land economy and society at Exeter University.

He added that diets have not adjusted to our modern-day requirements. “For much of our human existence, we haven’t led the lifestyles we lead now, and in most cases dietary requirements have not adapted to our more sedate lifestyles.”

Over the past decade we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for convenience foods and ready meals, which is also in line with the rise in obesity and diet related health issues such as diabetes.

Susan Jebb, Professor of diet and population health at Oxford University, said that one in five children are already obese by the time they finish primary school. “We’re failing to protect and care for our children.

“And, when the UK is seeing a huge amount of uncertainty around the future of the NHS, a change of diet could help to avoid over 33,000 premature deaths each year and a tide of ill health caused by diabetes and heart disease,” said Professor Jebb.

Professor Winter said farmers can play a large part in tackling these diet related health problems, but at the end of the day, change lies in the hands of the consumers, who need information and support. Emphasis must therefore be put on reconnecting with the consumer.

“The farming, food and health industries need to work much more closely,” he said. “This will help the key influencing sectors ensure that they are all on the same page when it comes to striving for change, and make a stronger case when it comes to approaching governmental organisations,” said Professor Winter.

Professor Jebb added that we need to think about aligning primary production with the optimal diet for good health. In the UK, we need to eat fewer calories but improve the nutritional quality of what we eat. To achieve this, we need a joined-up strategy for food and farming.

Also speaking at the conference, Caroline Drummond MBE, LEAF, chief executive said farmers have an important part to play in improving the UK's health and engaging people around the food and farming story. Indeed this weekend saw some quarter of a million members of the public go out on Open Farm Sunday to share a bit of farming life up close.

It was clear from all the speakers that it is hands on initiatives such Open Farm Sunday that help to enable consumer change, rather than major advertising campaigns, such as 5-a-day, where we see the majority of the UK population still eating less than three portions of fruit or vegetables each day.

To watch the full presentations and debates as well as view the presentation slides, please visit: http://www.nuffieldinternational2017.org/conference-day/presentations-and-papers/