A coalition of investors managing £6trn in assets has called for the introduction of mandatory health and sustainability reporting standards for UK food companies.
The Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy, led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments, said that proposals published yesterday in the government's long-awaited Food Strategy do not got far enough.
Although the strategy outlines how ministers “will consult on implementing mandatory public reporting against a set of health metrics and explore a similar approach to sustainability and animal welfare”, the investors said that it lacks ambition.
They argued that mandatory reporting should, at a minimum, include sales of fruit and vegetables, plant and animal-based proteins, and foods high in fat, sugar, salt, which would help investors move capital towards and more healthy and sustainable food system.
Voluntary schemes, they said, potentially lead to weaker reporting standards and inconsistent metrics, making it difficult to compare and track progress both between businesses and across the industry.
“We welcome the plan to explore mandatory reporting in the government’s white paper, but we will be pushing for this commitment to be more ambitious,” said Sophie Lawrence, stewardship and engagement lead at Rathbone Greenbank Investments.
“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.”
The government's strategy has been widely criticised for omitting recommendations from a previous National Food Strategy review, led by businessman Henry Dimbleby, including mandatory reporting standards.
However, it does commit to the formation of a multistakeholder Food Data Transparency Partnership to agree what food companies should report.
The Investor Coalition on UK Food Policy said that the investment community should form a “central pillar” of this partnership due to its unique, long-term perspective.
It highlighted how there is a clear correlation between poverty and obesity, and said that Britain now faces an epidemic of obesity-related disease, falling productivity and falling life expectancy.
“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,” commented Amy Browne, stewardship lead at CCLA Investment Management.
“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.”
Image credit: iStock
Author: Chris Seekings