We need to rethink our food system to stand a chance of ending hunger in the UK


As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, Dr Courtney Scott from the Food Foundation explains why a new agricultural policy that reshapes our food system is vital to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 by 2030.

Well-functioning food systems that produce sufficient food without harming the environment are essential to both human and planetary health. As such, food systems are central to delivering a sustainable future, as outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, global food systems are far from sustainable with 88% of countries grappling with two or three forms of malnutrition and agricultural systems as the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

Food, farming and malnutrition in all its forms in the UK

Despite the UK’s abundance of food, the country is not on track to end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture, finds Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the SDGs. The UK is simultaneously facing a national obesity crisis and increasing levels of household food insecurity. While seemingly unconnected, these two challenges are interrelated and linked to the UK’s food system and socioeconomic inequalities.

UK SDG2 status

Source: Chapter 2 Zero Hunger from Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the SDGs 

In the UK, healthy foods consistently cost more than less healthy foods, restricting low income households’ access to healthy alternatives. We see this borne out in childhood obesity statistics, where the prevalence of obesity doubles in England’s poorest areas compared to its wealthiest.


Source: The Growing Price Gap between More and Less Healthy Foods: Analysis of a Novel Longitudinal UK Dataset (Jones et al., 2014) 

The UK has plenty of room for improvement in the SDG2’s agricultural targets: stark figures show the loss of biodiversity. Food production in the UK predominantly occurs on large farms, many of which rely on subsidies to earn a living. Despite large and highly efficient farming operations, the UK imports nearly half of its food.

As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, and contends with a changing climate, the pressures on the agricultural system will increase. The post-Brexit landscape could affect the affordability of fruit and vegetables, resulting in further food insecurity and unhealthy diets. Increasing sustainable production of fruit and veg in the UK might help to build a more resilient supply chain with stable prices, and could help progress towards a host of other goals if it was achieved alongside diversification of production methods and increased support for smaller farms.

So, what can be done?

The UK government recently announced Chapter 2 of their Childhood Obesity Strategy that aims to halve childhood obesity by 2030. If adopted and fully implemented, the proposed measures outlined by the Strategy could be a concrete step towards tackling the country’s nutrition challenges. However, given the nutrition and agriculture challenges facing the UK, urgent action is needed across sectors if we are to achieve SDG2.

As the UK government writes its agriculture policy in Brexit negotiations, it must address both agricultural production and consumption of safe, high quality healthy food, particularly among low-income populations.

The time is right. Stakeholders should encourage the UK government to introduce cross-government policies to help achieve SDG2.  

Ways to engage:

  • Read Measuring Up's chapter on SDG2 indicators in the UK.
  • Read about the Food Foundation & Food Climate Research Network project on metrics here
  • To help achieve the SDGs in the UK, join UKSSD today

Dr Courtney Scott, Research and Policy Advisor at the Food Foundation was the lead author on SDG2 in Measuring up: How the UK is performing on the Sustainable Development Goals.