Leon restaurants co-founder to lead review of UK food system | The Guardian

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Henry Dimbleby, a co-founder of the restaurant chain Leon, has been appointed by the government to lead a landmark review of Britain’s food system to determine a national strategy lasting decades beyond Brexit.

Dimbleby said he was so determined to have an impact he was setting aside four days of his working week without pay for one year to work on the study.

The review will be the first significant assessment of the British food system in 75 years and could be one of the final actions by Michael Gove as environment secretary. Gove is likely to leave the post when a new prime minister is appointed.

Gove described the review as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to cultivate a stronger food system. “Leaving the EU is a great opportunity for British farmers and food producers,” he said. “But with an expanding population the urgent threat of climate change and rising levels of diet-related disease we face many challenges too.”

Dimbleby’s brief is to look at how a post-Brexit Britain will deliver “safe, healthy, affordable food” regardless of income, as well as examine sustainability of supply, jobs and the impact of the climate crisis.

“There are urgent challenges with which we must grapple. Populations are growing, diet-related conditions are harming the lives of millions, and climate change is altering what our land will yield,” said Dimbleby, who is also the founder of the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

Aware of the struggles of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver in effecting food changes in schools and hospitals, he said: “I think if we do a good job there is a really good chance of landing something good.

“If you look at the system, you see on the one hand extraordinary abundance of food and prices previous generations would not have dreamed of. But increasingly it is making many of us ill, and killing us and hitting those on lowest incomes, harming the environment and causing greenhouse gases.

“But we can change that. We have not gone through a collapse of willpower in the human species. But I have no illusions about how hard it will be.”

Dimbleby said he hoped the review would lead to an ambitious and long-term rethink, even in the face of the continuing dominance of Brexit in parliament. “We have got to realign things so they will last 30 years out.”

One concern is the report falling by the wayside next year if its sponsor gets reshuffled in or out of the cabinet and Brexit continues to paralyse decision making.

However, industry leaders hope it will bring lasting change. Kath Dalmeny, the chief executive of Sustain, said the food and farming alliance was “excited about the ideas, collaboration and optimism” that the review had already started to generate.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the national strategy would build on the agriculture bill currently before parliament alongside the childhood obesity strategy and the forthcoming environment bill.

Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food andDrink Federation, said people had taken food for granted over the past 70 years but “in truth, it is a strategic national asset to be protected”.

The National Farmers’ Union president, Minette Batters, said the review was long overdue. “It is crucial that this strategy delivers for everyone, from food producers to families across the country, regardless of their income,” she said.