Food supply chains: shorter, simpler and stronger

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The case for shorter, simpler and stronger and more resilient food supply chains

Small is Beautiful

The idea of small is beautiful in this context means that the food system operates better under a small-scale approach rather than a larger scale equivalent. Schumacher, the author of Small is Beautiful argued that as much food and other products as possible should be made and sold locally. Food produced near to its consumers has a shorter distance to travel which enables the supply of fresher food. A farmers' market can provide an economic model which provides control; consumers know what they are buying, and a space for human interaction. There needs to be a focus on more resilient and more local supply chains which are less dependent upon imported food.

Shorter Food Supply Chains

There is a case for ‘taking back control’ of the food supply as there have been examples of poor-quality food, such as pig meat, being imported from Europe. If there is a local food factory, then you could visit it, talk to people who work there, and even work there yourself. Local people and local institutions can take responsibility for their own food. Local food offers more transparent food chains, which are easier to understand and where accountability cab be more easily identified.

A simpler food policy would involve shorter supply chains. Local food should not be dismissed as uneconomic; especially when the external costs that are imposed on society are taken into consideration. Food safety policy is expensive when it attempts to regulate the safety of food produced from thousands of miles away.

A local food system is about the maximum production of those foods which can be suitably grown and produced close to consumers. A short supply chain allows re-connection between consumers and producers which is better for consumers as they can have improved understanding of the provenance of food. However. If consumers have tasted a diverse range of foods and got used to the availability of a wide range of foods, then it could be difficult to return to a more restricted (local) diet. An alternative distribution system would need to be re-introduced. The main challenge is that the United Kingdom will find it difficult to produce foods which are easily produced elsewhere.

A Simpler and Slower Food System

The idea of slow food is about raising the status of food in society. Slow food is about local social integration and the celebration of cuisine and produce which promotes skill and artisanal food. It presents a counterculture to the complicated globalised food system and ubiquitous fast food culture (Lang and Heasman 2004).

A Stronger and More Resilient Food Supply Chain

The debate over Europe has shown that it would be difficult for Britain to leave the European Union. This is because there is little space to store food and supply chains are vulnerable and fragile. Food is frequently imported through central ports, such as Dover, which are vulnerable to disruption. Also, food is mainly imported from countries in Europe and it would be difficult to order food from elsewhere. Therefore, there is a need to improve self-sufficiency, so Britain is less reliant on food which is imported from overseas.

Employment: Consolidation in the Food Industry

Industrial consolidation has led to fewer jobs and less control over food at the local level. For example, the alliance between Tesco and Carrefour leads to international industrial consolidation. In contrast, smaller scale businesses can provide greater employment opportunities and more autonomy for workers.

Reference

Lang, T. and Heasman, M. (2004), Food Wars p. 295-6

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