Against the backdrop of poorer people eating worse food (DEFRA Stats February) and Food Banks feeding twice as many this year (‘Food Banks ARE part of the Big Society’ Conservative Home), any summary of sustainable food over the last couple of years has to note the lack of anything positive coming from this government. Their few interventions have all supported various forms of big business, while a lot of the rest of us are going to have to rely on the Big Society.(Details of government action in first 2 years)
EU1 When President Sarkosy called a special G20 Agricultural meeting in June last year to find ways to curb food speculation, our PM objected saying that it would damage his chums at the Gherkin in the City. It went virtually unreported, although the World Development Movement is running a good campaign. They estimate that in the last five years, the amount of financial speculation on food has nearly doubled, from $65 billion to $126 billion.
Most people say this speculation is producing high food prices (See FAO January this year), and the UK is more dependent on world prices than others in EU. But the added point is we would like this sort of money put not into short term speculation, but instead into long term investment. We need a public sector to provide the sort of research that we used to do – how to grow gherkins; yet out of 32 land-based research stations 20 years ago only a quarter still exist (Environmental Audit Committee Sustainable Food Vol 1 and Government Response - see September)
EU2. EU Agric Minister proposed to cap CAP funds so that any one farmer can receive no more than 300,000 Euros in Single Farm Payments (SFP).
The PM opposed the proposal; so that the likes of Lord Westminster, the richest person in the UK, can continue to get ¾ million pounds.
When I mentioned this at a Local Food Event (in Durham) saying we should direct CAP money to ‘sustainable issues’ rather than paying landowners to “shoot grouse’, the other speaker (Lord Curry, he of the excellent Sustainable Food/Farm Report of 2003) remonstrated strongly. The PM berates the EU for being wasteful, yet does his best to protect the richest landowners get richer – for doing nothing. According to a DEFRA Spokesperson “The UK Government is opposed to capping payments as it would be complicated for farmers and difficult to implement.” Does this imply your brains stop when you own over 2000 acres?
Social Something else the Coalition government say is complicated is the farm workers wage structure.The government’s aim is to help the arable ‘plantation’ owners in the east, who employ hundreds of migrant workers. DEFRA's own impact analysis predicted a transfer of 1/4billion from workers to farmers, so not suprising the NFU back this (As they do the uncapping of CAP, above). After a v short consultation, they propose to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. This smashes up the vehicle used for last 50 years to control wages and conditions for 150,000 permanent farm workers and does nothing for many small farms in the pastures of the west. Reflecting this, the Welsh Assembly is refusing to do their bit to abolishing the England and Wales AWB. See Welsh Government, ‘December & October’ & Save the AWB
There may be help for suppliers. Grocery Adjudicator (latest from BIS) is introducing fines for retailers who abuse suppliers - if the suppliers tell the Adjudicator.
The government is allowing Academy schools, when they opt out of local authority control, to also opt out of their responsibility to implement the national school food standards made law after Jamie’s campaign a few years ago. See May for more.
The Which Report A taste for change, just out, shows "that the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal is currently failing to deliver on its promise that by challenging businesses to lead the way it would achieve faster and better results than through other approaches, such as using legislation."
For the greenest government ever, there is very little investment in greener food. The Green Food Project (see July) will “capitalise on comparative advantages we have as a result of our historic farming legacy and climatic conditions”. Does anybody know what that means? Perhaps: ‘The Empire strikes back”
DEFRA has been cut by 30%. But surely somebody there thinks that our future may depend on our soils? DEFRA couldn’t find anybody to send to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agro-ecology Soils Day this month. Look out in the new year for the results of DEFRA 2 year long assessment as to whether our soils have lost 12-15% of the carbon in the 20 years to 2000. If this loss is real, it would amount to all the carbon dioxide saved by other means and would affect our contribution to IPCC targets massively.
Local Initiatives: Following the Making Local Food Work Final Report (September), what will the future hold for local progress to more sustainable food? A recent Symposium at City University bought together the key players. While recognizing tight budgets, we could see the potential in ‘bending existing budgets’ and ‘developing curricula’ to address food issues. After all, food is not separate but completely integral to our lives. So we make more sustainable food integral to everything.
This a new ‘google’ site that allows you to join in if you want to add/help/edit, or to make comments – especially if you can find anything good the government is doing!