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This isn’t a tough new food policy for post-Brexit UK. It’s thin gruel and easy to set to one side

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The headlines were compelling. The Covid-19 crisis would lead to a dramatic increase in poverty and hunger; free school meals should be extended to a further 1.6 million children; another 1.1 million children in England should become eligible for holiday food programmes. The National Food Strategy document released last Wednesday was, on the face of it, an impressive opening shot from the team led by businessman Henry Dimbleby.

But for all the laudable anger over hunger contained in this first report from the National Food Strategy, it was received across the world of food production and policy with at best eye-rolling and at worst exasperation. It is the product of grubby politics, includes worrying proposals on post-Brexit trade policy, muddled thinking on the causes of poverty and risks wasting a golden opportunity to answer one of the most important challenges of the 21st century: how we feed ourselves.

The notion of a national food strategy was first put to Michael Gove, the then secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, in 2016 by, among others, Minette Batters, now president of the National Farmers’ Union. Gove had only to find someone to lead it. During the referendum campaign, he had famously announced that we’d “had enough of experts”. It wasn’t just a novel slogan by which to secure Brexit. It is an item of faith in Whitehall. If you’re appointing someone to lead a government review, God forbid they should have serious credentials. That makes it harder to ignore their findings. But the appointee still had to be convincing.

Gove had just the person: his close friend Henry Dimbleby. He started out as a journalist, then moved into management........

© The Guardian