Press Release: The Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy, led by Greenbank, replied to the UK Government’s white paper response to the National Food Strategy.
Investors managing £6 trillion say UK Government must commit to mandatory health and sustainability standards for food companies.
An influential group of 23 investors managing investment assets of £6 trillion is calling on government to introduce consistent and mandatory reporting of health and sustainability performance by food sector companies.
The Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy is calling on the government to introduce a mandatory system of health and sustainability reporting across the food industry, following publication of the government’s white paper response to last year’s National Food Strategy today. The investor group has been engaging with the UK Government since the publication of Henry Dimbleby’s recommendations last July. It is proud to have played a role in ensuring that mandatory reporting is included in today’s white paper.
The leaders of the investor group have welcomed the government’s commitment to improving food industry reporting standards but say the proposals do not go far enough. The group is also disappointed by the low aspirations of the white paper in response to other national food strategy recommendations.
The UK Government should insist on mandatory not voluntary reporting mechanisms, they say. Voluntary schemes potentially lead to weaker reporting standards and potentially inconsistent metrics, making it difficult to compare and track progress both between businesses and across the industry. Mandatory reporting, which at a minimum should include sales reporting of fruit and vegetables, plant and animal-based proteins and sales of HFSS (high in fat, sugar, salt) foods 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.
The investor group strongly supports the plan for a multistakeholder Food Data Transparency Partnership to agree what should be reported and says the unique long-term perspective of the investment community should form a central pillar in this partnership. It also looks forward to seeing more detail in the upcoming Health Disparities white paper. The National Food Strategy (published last July) was the first independent farm to fork review of England’s entire food system in 75 years. It proposed a major reconfiguration of the current food system to deliver better health and environmental outcomes.
A powerful investor coalition led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments (Greenbank) and supported by the likes of Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation, CCLA, Legal and General Investment Management (LGIM), EdenTree Investment Management, Nomura Asset Management and Newton Investment Management, was formed to support this ambition. The group totalling 23 investors with combined total assets of £6 trillion under management or under advice, is being supported by The Food Foundation, an independent think tank dedicated to upgrading national food policy in the UK.
There is a clear correlation between poverty and obesity and Britain now faces an epidemic of obesity-related disease, falling productivity and falling life expectancy. Calorie for calorie, healthier foods are around three times more expensive than unhealthy foods. The coalition’s aim is to make healthier products readily affordable and available within a sustainable food system.
Although the group welcomes today’s government commitment to improve reporting across the food industry and the opportunity to shape outcomes through its role in the Food Data Transparency Partnership, its members are disappointed by the low aspirations of the white paper in other areas of food policy.
The investor group’s original letter urged the government to be bold and ambitious and use the full range of regulatory tools at its disposal to recognise the pressing need to align the food system with health and sustainability goals. A much more comprehensive set of proposals than those put forward in today’s white paper will be needed if we are to address the scale of the challenge.
This would mean as a minimum, mandatory sales reporting of fruit and vegetables, plant and animal-based proteins and sales of HFSS (high in fat, sugar, salt) foods.
The Food Foundation, which is supporting this investor initiative, has produced a series of statistics as part of its Plating Up Progress project, which show the deficiencies of voluntary reporting. From 11 retailers and 16 restaurant and catering companies assessed, 45% of supermarkets but no restaurant chains or caterers were reporting on sales of healthy or healthier food. Only 18% of supermarkets and 25% of restaurant chains and caterers were reporting on sales of fruit or vegetables. Similarly, 18% of supermarkets were reporting on sales of plant-based versus animal-based proteins, but no restaurant chains or caterers were doing so.
The correlation between poverty and obesity is rooted in a lack of access to high quality and affordable healthy foods. The current cost of living crisis is exacerbating this. Meanwhile the food industry faces a multitude of other risks around issues such as food waste and sustainable supply chains.
The food industry's response to these challenges and to associated regulatory, consumer and other stakeholder demands will influence their social licence to operate as well as the long-term resilience of their operating models and supply chains.
Well-designed regulation creates the right environment for businesses seeking to build long-term thinking and sustainability into their business models. Likewise, it facilitates the allocation of capital towards more sustainable investment opportunities and supports the transition to a sustainable and healthy food system.
The existing coalition of investors will continue to engage with legislators through the Food Data Transparency Partnership and on wider food system issues. As we move forward, we hope to develop as a more formal partnership to engage with both the government and the industry on food system change.
"We welcome the plan to explore mandatory reporting in the Government’s white paper today, but as members of the Government’s Food Data Transparency Partnership, we will be pushing for this commitment to be more ambitious"
Sophie Lawrence, Stewardship and Engagement Lead at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, the original investor leading the coalition says: “We welcome the plan to explore mandatory reporting in the Government’s white paper, but as members of the Government’s Food Data Transparency Partnership, we will be pushing for this commitment to be more ambitious.
There are many risks and opportunities facing the food sector which are linked to issues such as health and nutrition and environmental impacts. We also recognise the urgent need to improve health outcomes and address rising food insecurity and inequality, and we cannot drive change in our portfolios without consistent, high quality and meaningful information on the nutritional and environmental performance of companies.
That’s why our coalition has stressed its support for the National Food Strategy’s mandatory reporting recommendation for large companies in the food sector.”
Amy Browne, Stewardship Lead at CCLA Investment Management says “Large food companies have a clear role to play in creating a healthy and sustainable food system, but voluntary action alone is not enough. Businesses require equal rights and opportunities if they’re going to thrive and remain competitive. Mandatory reporting – as recommended in the National Food Strategy review – would create a level playing field and represent the first step away from a future defined by the diet-related ill health that is destroying our planet and populations. Creating a food system that is good for the health of people and planet is a prerequisite for a healthy financial future. Enabling that future should be a priority for all long-term investors.”
Neville White, Head of RI Policy & Research at EdenTree Investment Management says “As responsible and sustainable investors health and wellbeing are one of our four thematic pillars and are issues we care deeply about. We believe that regulation surrounding the food industry’s reporting standards is crucial in driving transparency and standardisation amongst UK retailers, thus leading to a more sustainable and ultimately healthier food system.”
Alex Burr, ESG Policy Lead, Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) says “We need to access relevant, consistent, comparable and verifiable sustainability disclosures for our investment decisions. History has shown that the numerous voluntary reporting standards have been inadequate. We are encouraged that policymakers and regulators are taking positive steps to establish a robust internationally compatible, sustainability reporting framework, but we want to highlight the necessity for mandatory health reporting in the food sector. Poor nutrition, particularly obesity, is increasingly becoming a systemic risk across markets. We call on the UK Government to take a leadership position in this sector.”
Rebecca White, Responsible Investment Analyst at Newton Investment Management says “As investors in an environment of constantly evolving consumer preferences, regulation and stakeholder expectations, we want to encourage companies to be well positioned for the future. Consistent reporting on healthy product sales data allows investors to better identify companies adequately managing risks, and those they judge to be well positioned to capitalise on emerging opportunities. We can, in turn, incorporate this information into our investment decision making.
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