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Time to rethink food

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food policy, Brexit, immigration, A People’s Food Policy, manifesto, rethinking food, rethinking farmingGiven the current uncertainties, legislative framework and a food act is needed.

A manifesto outlining a people’s vision of food and farming in England and supported by over 80 food and farming organisations, was launched earlier this week.

The manifesto, ‘A People’s Food Policy’, draws on 18 months of extensive, nation-wide consultations with grassroots organisations, NGOs, trade unions, community projects, small businesses and individuals.

The result is a set of policy proposals and a vision for change that is rooted in the lived experiences and needs of people most affected by the failures in the current food system.

The current food system is in a state of crisis, characterised by:

Food insecurity – an estimated over eight million people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland experience food insecurity and struggle to eat even one meal a day;

Low paid farmers – 64 per cent of farmers earn less than £10,000 a year;

Corporate dominance – eight supermarkets control almost 95 per cent of the food retail market, and farmers receive less than 10 per cent of the value of their produce sold in supermarkets;

Poor working conditions – for people in the food and farming sectors;

Lack of support – for new entrant farmers or funding for farmers producing food on less than five hectares of land; and its

Contribution to climate change – industrial agriculture continues to produce a tenth of all greenhouse gases (GHG) in the UK as it is dependent on unsustainable inputs of fossil fuels and chemicals.

It is also widely acknowledged that agriculture is one of the sectors that will be faced with the most uncertainty as a result of the UK leaving the EU.

Rising food prices is an issue that has already been repeatedly reported on in the context of Brexit, while migration restrictions are set to have an enormous impact on the availability of workers in the agricultural sector.

In the face of this uncertainty, the report argues that policy, legislative framework and a food act is needed that, ‘integrates the compartmentalised policy realms of food production, health, labour rights, land use and planning, trade, the environment, democratic participation and community wellbeing’.

“From the increasing corporate control of agriculture in the UK, to the price of basic food stuffs outstripping the rises in real wages, through to small farmers being aggressively squeezed out of the market, with over 33 000 small to medium farms closing down in the past decade – the UK is witnessing a series of crises in how we produce, distribute and sell food,” Heidi Chow, food campaigner for Global Justice Now, part of the coalition that developed A People’s Food Policy, said.

“The government’s approach to addressing these problems is at best piece-meal and at worst non-existent.”

“The new Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, commented last week that the UK can have both cheaper and higher quality food after Brexit.

“But the experience of many UK farmers and growers suggests that cheaper food prices must be paid for through lowering environmental and social standards across the farming sector.

“Instead we need to see greater regulation of the food retail sector to ensure farmers everywhere are paid a fair price for their produce.’’

Many countries both in Europe and around the world have begun to adopt progressive frameworks like food sovereignty, agroecology and the right to food in their regional and national legislation in an effort to create a more stable and just food system.

A People’s Food Policy is an extensive report, extending to 100 pages, with 9 thematic chapters covering governance, food production, health, land, labour, environment, knowledge and skills, trade and finance – each with an in-depth analysis and policy proposals for transforming the food system in England.

It was developed by a coalition of representatives from the Land Workers’ Alliance, Global Justice Now, the Ecological Land Co-op, The Centre for Agroecology and the Permaculture Association.

The aim is to have a food system where everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough good food at all times, without compromising on the wellbeing of people, the health of the environment and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.

The aim is for food that is nutritious, healthy, good quality, local, culturally appropriate, fresh and sustainably produced.

In this vision we have the power to shape the decisions that affect our lives, shape the way our food system functions, and put in place the policies and practices we need to build a fair food system for all.

Dee Butterly, a young tenant farmer and member of the Landworkers’ Alliance, and the coordinator of A People’s Food Policy, said: “The lack of a coherent, joined-up food policy framework in England is becoming increasingly problematic.

“In this country we have shameful levels of food insecurity, with food bank usage rising year on year, and an estimated over eight million people now in a state of such financial precarity they can’t afford to eat.

“[Recently] Unicef released a report ‘Building the Future’, with evidence that the UK has some of the highest levels of child hunger and deprivation among the world’s richest nations, with one in five children under 15 years old currently food insecure.

“The way our food system functions and is governed needs to radically change.

“We need to develop a national food policy in the coming years that transforms our food systems and that puts equality, resilience and justice at the forefront.

“As Brexit negotiations begin, we urge politicians to seriously consider this blueprint for a progressive national food policy which supports a food system where everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough good food at all times, without compromising on the wellbeing of people, the health of the environment, and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.”

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