In the media

A more limited diet

By Agneta Renmark

Förenade Måltider

07 June 2024

The report on a new law to strengthen food preparedness proposed giving greater responsibility to municipalities for ensuring access to food, in the event of serious disruption to supply of food. Public sector meals are highlighted as one of the most important tools they can deploy.

Food supply is one of society’s most important, and most basic, tasks. Something that must work all the time, in all locations, and throughout the country. And ensuring continuity of supply in all situations, is the focus of the report “Food Preparedness for a New Era” which was submitted to the government earlier this year. When the investigation began, in June 2022, Russia’s invasion and war against Ukraine radically changed the security policy of Sweden and the rest of Europe.

The drought in 2018 and then the pandemic were reason enough to review food preparedness. Then came the war which accelerated the process. This is outlined by Martin Allard, who was secretary general of the inquiry.

The report proposes a series of measures to strengthen food supply preparedness, which range from increased individual responsibility to actions such as the protection of agricultural land and emergency storage. Not least, is it proposed that municipalities take on an increased responsibly to provide food to the population. Municipalities reach the entire population in geographical areas and have a systematic way to work with both social services and meal providers.

“We see the public provision of meals as the most important mission for public sector, especially in its application to the distribution of food,” says Martin Allard. He points to the approximately three million public meals served daily, and so reaching a significant proportion of the population. “In a crisis situation, you may need to scale this up, to reach even more residents. As NATO members, we must also be able to handle refugee flows of several hundred thousand people, who also need food.”

The municipalities, he emphasises, need to analyse the needs of the population – and in particular consider who may need help at an early stage. These are elderly or sick people who have already been assessed as needing interventions in everyday life, but can also be people with cognitive difficulties, or for example, undocumented migrants.

“The individual’s own preparedness is the starting point. But not all people will be able to do this, and that is when the public sector has a responsibility,” says Martin Allard.

How long should municipalities and meal operations plan to cope with food supply constraints in a crisis?

“Setting a specific time limit would be counterproductive, continuity must be ensured over time. Depending on the external circumstances, it could be several years. The risk of a time limit is that you step back when you have a plan for a week, or three months. But then what happens on day eight, or the fourth month? No one else will take over the business. Therefore, it is necessary to plan how to maintain public meals in a simpler form, and with a more limited diet.”

The report also proposes that the National Food Agency be given greater responsibility than at present. What are the most important changes?

“The National Food Agency will act as a support for the municipalities in terms of food supply preparedness, and also have responsibility for coordination. In addition, we want to establish a national Food Preparedness Council with Municipal representation, where you can detect early signals of shortages and communicate to the municipalities.”

If you were a nutrition manager, what is the first thing you would do to strengthen food preparedness?

“I would develop a continuity plan around what is required to maintain meals in disrupted conditions. I would also map internal and external flows and explore how to restructure the business to be able to serve lower quality, but increased quantity under difficult conditions.”

At the same time, the law states that school meals must be nutritious. Does this cease to apply in a crisis?

“No. But in the short term, it is primarily calories that are important. Certain nutrients may be provided in tablet form, depending on the circumstances,” says Martin Allard. He also emphasises the importance of robust procurement, where municipalities and meal operations do not rely only on a single supplier.

Is more cooperation with local producers needed?

“We propose that municipalities collaborate with the local business community, in the first instance grocery stores. The production and processing of food takes place in national and international value chains; and this makes it difficult to start from a local perspective.”

Should the country’s catering industries have to buy more Swedish food?

“We need to have both comprehensive food imports and robust domestic food production. But within the framework for the Public Procurement Act, it is an excellent idea to buy more Swedish produce. Sometimes it is a question of price, but preparedness is an insurance that costs money and here everyone must be involved and contribute,” says Martin Allard.

The report proposes measures costing a total of SEK 1 billion per year from 2027, but when it comes to appropriations for municipal food supply preparedness, it is SEK 250 million – divided among 290 municipalities.

Will that money be enough?

“It’s a powerful reinforcement. Today, the municipalities share SEK 500 million, for all work on crisis preparedness and civilian defence, here you will be getting 250 million extra just for food preparedness.”

How will the money be distributed?

“The capacity must be available in all municipalities; therefore, the money should be distributed evenly. The idea is to be able to finance a half-time role for someone who can be dedicated to working on building up the local food supply preparedness. To maximise the effect, it is important to combine experience and find synergies between, for example, social services, meal operations and crisis preparedness.”

Do you see a risk that smaller municipalities will not be able to handle all the responsibility?

“The responsibility is the same for all municipalities, but how you choose to organise yourself is another matter. There are lots of rational reasons for the municipalities to cooperate. Both with each other and with civil society but also, not least, with business.”

You have worked with these questions for almost two years. How has that experience been?

“It’s like going into a bubble where you both live and breathe investigative material. At the same time, it is a real luxury to have the opportunity to devote yourself to one and the same subject for a long period. Time is needed to really get to the bottom of the issues. For every stone you turn, there are new problems to unravel.”

A few years ago, Martin Allard was engaged in another inquiry, on total defence.

“It’s clear that it’s a completely different geopolitical situation now, where it is suddenly possible to discuss proposals that cost money. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that we are in a new world.”

The report proposes new legislation on food will enter into force as early as 1 January 2025. Is time the horizon is realistic?

“Yes, I absolutely think so.”

Read the print article in Swedish.

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