Research from the University of Southampton shows that future choices on trade, diet and climate change will be crucial in securing micronutrient supplies to the UK.
Researchers conclude that factors such as Brexit, a shift to plant-based diets and any further disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic will have a major impact on our food supply and again the range and level of micronutrients available to people through their food.
The UK is not self-sufficient in several important vitamins (A and C) and minerals (calcium, zinc and iron). We rely on imports, rather than domestic products, to provide enough of these micronutrients to ensure that the population can receive their recommended daily allowance.
The pandemic has shown the importance of nutrition to stay healthy and fight infections. It is important for public health that people can maintain a healthy diet through readily available food sources. If the UK is to become more self-sufficient in nutrients, it will require a series of actions to change production and how much is grown domestically, combined with some significant changes in consumer food preferences. “
Professor Guy Poppy, Lead Researcher, Vice President of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
The researchers examined data from a number of sources showing how micronutrient safety has varied between 1961 and 2017. They also analyzed 2017 overseas trade data from HM Revenue and Customs to assess overseas food supply prior to leaving the EU and ran future scenarios around domestic production , import and supply of animal and plant food sources.
Results, published in the journal Nature food, shows that since the 1960s, the UK has become much more dependent on imports to secure micronutrients. For example, most of our vitamin C before we joined the EU was domestically produced, but we now import the majority in the form of fruit and vegetables. About half of all these imports are from European countries, with Spain and the Netherlands the largest contributors. The research also highlighted that trade agreements over the last sixty years have affected the supply of important micronutrients, underlining the importance of trade in food supply when the UK negotiates post-Brexit agreements.
Co-author of the paper, Dr. Jenny Baverstock added: “There is a growing demand for a more plant-based diet to help deal with climate change – but this will be a challenge based on current patterns, and especially if we continue to rely on fruit and vegetable imports, which cannot be grown in the UK.
“This increase in vegetarianism and veganism will require careful policy and decision-making, as the bioavailability of micronutrients from meat and dairy products is something that cannot be easily copied by plants. It will be necessary to consider how to” eat for humans ” health “as ‘eat for the health of the planet’.”
University of Southampton
Poppy, GM, et al. (2022) Trade and dietary preferences may determine micronutrient safety in the United Kingdom. Nature food. doi.org/10.1038/s43016-022-00538-3.