Shareholders urge action from UK government following the National Food Strategy’s recommendations

A coalition of investors and NGOs (non-governmental organisations), led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments (Greenbank), recently wrote to the UK government urging it to demonstrate clear leadership and ambition in its response to the National Food Strategy’s recommendations for promoting a healthier and more sustainable food system in the UK.

Welcoming the Strategy’s publication, the coalition of investors demanded that reporting standards be made mandatory for businesses if they are to make any real change. The group represented £2.8 trillion in assets under management and included Aviva Investors, EOS at Federated Hermes and Newton Investment Management.

Why are Greenbank engaging on this issue?

The food system is a major driver of climate change and biodiversity loss. At the same time, the incidence of overweight and obesity – a key risk factor in cases of severe Covid-19 – is rising across the world and awareness is growing of labour rights concerns in global food chains. These sustainability challenges present severe risks to companies in the food sector and the way in which the world produces, processes, and consumes food. How companies respond to these issues and to the changing regulatory, consumer and other stakeholder demands surrounding them will influence not only their social licence to operate but also the long-term resilience of their operating models and supply chains.

To fully understand the risks and opportunities there is a need for consistent, high quality and meaningful information on issues such as the nutrition and environmental performance of companies within the food sector. Greenbank has been working closely with the Food Foundation’s Plating up Progress initiative and ShareAction’s Healthy Markets investor coalition to address this issue. But while there are some examples of good practice, a lack of disclosure and common metrics mean investors are often comparing apples and oranges and are limited in our ability to direct capital toward the companies which are taking a proactive and leading approach to sustainability issues.

What is the National Food Strategy?

Commissioned by then Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, in 2019, the National Food Strategy is the first independent review of the of the UK’s food system in 75 years. It recognises that the food system is currently delivering poor health and environmental outcomes and sets out a series of recommendations covering the entire system from farm to fork.

One of the key takeaways from their recent report was that a more robust reporting framework is required, and that voluntary action will not be enough – a finding that Greenbank and the coalition of investors strongly support. The National Food Strategy recommends developing mandatory reporting requirements for large companies in the food sector to report on their products, sales and food waste. This would allow investors to identify leaders and laggards and engage more effectively with them to influence change.

Greenbank are continuing to explore opportunities to coordinate investor support and influence policymakers in this area, in collaboration with the Food Foundation, ShareAction and the Access to Nutrition Initiative.

You can see our full letter to the UK Government here.