Contributing over £4Bn every year to the UK economy, our horticultural crops, vegetables and fruit, are key components of a healthy diet. Fruit and vegetables offer essential vitamins and minerals; a variety of naturally occurring phytochemicals, fibre and antioxidants that are important for good health. Potatoes, in particular, provide essential dietary nutrients, fibre and fresh, gluten free options. Studies show that consumption of horticultural crops lowers the risk of developing many diseases, including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and stroke. It is estimated that eating a healthy, balanced diet, with more fruits and vegetables is the second most important cancer prevention strategy, after stopping smoking.
Currently, the UK Government guidelines of eating a minimum of five portions of vegetables and fruit per day is missed by around one portion, with only 8% of teenagers and around 30% of adults meeting the current minimum requirement. The treatment of non-communicable diseases, costs the NHS billions of pounds a year and this is compounded by the personal and economic impact of lost days at work and poor attendance at schools.
It is also estimated that one third of food produced globally is wasted before it is consumed; for the UK this equates to more than 15M tonnes of food and drink per year, valued at over £20Bn. Over half is wasted before it reaches the consumer’s home, presenting opportunities for businesses to make cost savings by developing new ways to prevent food loss and benefits for the environment by developing solutions that enable more sustainable production and food system practices.
It is, therefore, a vital benefit to our health and the economy to develop horticultural crops that offer improved quality and an extended storage and shelf life, delivered by improved food systems to reduce environmental impact and waste.