Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Farming and Food Security

I attended a meeting/debate in London on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 on Farming and Food Security which I have to say was mildly encouraging, but only mildly.

Tim Lang who has been professor of Food Policy at the City University’s Centre for Food Policy since 2002 and is the author of Food Wars and a couple of other books on food said that there are signs that all is not well with the B’org of Food.  Well, he didn’t say that exactly, but he did say that it may come down to Tesco v Farming, and unless Tesco goes into farming, it will be farming that wins out in the next couple of decades.

Highlighting the current government’s love affair with technical innovation under the guise of some ill-defined notion of food security, he also pointed out that things need to change on a fundamental level.  He said that we need to re-frame markets and put more controls on the foods consumers buy, such as has been done with cigarettes.

Among other things, Stephen Tromans, QC was promoting allotments and Muck In4 Life Campaign including community food-growing projects, both of which I fully support.  He also stated that the government needs to crack down on food waste and progress environmental considerations.  A member of the audience pointed out that food waste is about 80% down to supermarkets and was looking for some proposal to control this.

In addition, he pointed out my pet peeve that a large proportion of the population in the UK has an unhealthy diet which is the cause of disease, and in particular, obesity, and a waste of NHS resources.  Yes, it's a total waste for everyone but the few people making money out of selling the unhealthy foods and medications that at best mask symptoms.

Roy Norton, Deputy Director in the Food Policy Unit, at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs asked for suggestions from the audience on what the government should be doing in relation to food and I volunteered that the government should tax processed junk food even though I know they’re under tremendous pressure from corporations such as NestlĂ© and working in partnership with them.  After all, how can you tax your partner?

He also discussed the Foresight Food & Farming Futures Report (January 2011) which he said provides policy-relevant advice on five key challenges: sustainability, price stability, ending hunger, climate change and biodiversity.  All good stuff.  But I asked a question at the end.  What about health?  Isn’t the main purpose of food to keep us healthy and active?  The best I could make of the answer from the panel is that there is no clear message on health.  This is so, even after everyone conceded that there is a major public health crisis.  Words like complicated, over-fed, under-fed, tackle, FSA and 30,000 items to choose from in supermarkets all left me with a hollow feeling.  Furthermore, it was pointed out that sufficiency, not good health is what the current goal post is.  I already knew this though having read EU Food Law by Caoimhin MacMaolain.  Is there a nutrition transition on the horizon?  Is real farming going to be the primary health service of the nation?  Mmm... not much evidence of that at this meeting.

Another interesting topic that came up in the debate was that the current planning permission system is allowing loss of agriculture lands to development.  I'll be attending the All Parliamentary Group on Agroecology meeting on 12 July 2011 on access to farmland, land partnerships and land sharing.  This ought to be interesting especially after the last meeting on land grabbing by billionaires and transnational corporations where it was aptly explained by author Fred Pearce how this is happening all over the world, even in the UK.