MPs conclude: “Our food system is failing.” So let’s fix that.

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“Our food system is failing” - concludes a report from the Environmental Audit Committee, out yesterday.

We know this. You know this.  And now it seems, so do our politicians.  Again.

The report by the Environmental Audit Committee, a cross party committee of MPs, provides clear recommendations on how to tackle the UK’s ‘unhealthy and environmentally damaging’ food system.

Among the recommendations – which include the cracking down on junk food advertising and teaching of food skills in schools – is a recognition of the importance of local food networks and small-scale production practices.

Government policy must take account of social and environmental impacts of the food system, says the report, and “the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) potentially provides local authorities with more powers to provide communities with better access to local food and to be able to grow their own food.”

All good.  But let’s make sure it’s followed up with action.

This isn’t the first time MPs have called for a rethink of our food system.  In January, Laura Sandys, MP for Thanet South called for mis-shapen fruit and vegetables to be specially promoted and sold in supermarkets.  Last year, the Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming called for “radical changes to the food system.”  The Government failed to act.  We called them chicken.  Now they have another chance.

The situation is urgent and there is no time to delay acting on another report.  Joan Walley, Chair of the Committee, understands this.  “The government is understandably sceptical about anything that seems like nanny-statism, but the evidence is clear - intervention is needed to tackle obesity and fix our food system.” she says.

The good bits.  And how we’re making them better.

Report Recommendation Our Action
New national planning policy guidance for Local Authorities should ensure communities have access to healthy food and land to grow their own produce. Helping link local food producers so they can talk and trade means communities are more likely to source food from their area
The UK does not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices, the report warns. It’s not so much the ‘science’ which is lacking, but the awareness of what’s possible using agro-ecological methods. Information is good.  By providing a platform for businesses to talk, trade and share, people are more informed about what’s possible, help those who are doing great work, and make better decisions.
Government Buying Standards for food must be improved on meat and dairy and extended to cover hospitals, prisons and schools. Helping organisations and institutions procure good quality local food, and help smaller producers work together to deliver the volumes required by larger contracts.
We cannot rely on markets to identify and to direct where research is needed. Again, it’s more ‘effort’ than ‘research’ since we really don’t have time NOT to implement the excellent solutions we already know; but with Sustaination’s food-web analysis, we can help cut down on the waste and surplus an unchecked market creates, and highlight opportunities for innovation and development.

More bits we like:

  • Food skills such as cooking and gardening on the school curriculum
  • Stricter limits on advertising of junk food on all media including the internet
  • National planning policy guidance to give communities access to healthy food and land to grow produce
  • Government buying standards on food to be extended to cover hospitals, prisons and schools
  • Change the Office of Fair Trading’s remit to allow supermarkets to co-operate on sustainability initiatives
  • Simple and consistent labeling on sustainability of food products
  • Until there is clear public acceptance of GM and it is proven to be beneficial, the Government should not license its commercial use in the UK nor promote its use overseas

What we want to see next:

  • Building on the recommendations of the Common Agricultural Policy 2013. Let’s draw up a budget so we can get the report proposals moving,
  • No numbers = no action.  Let’s work towards the targets that have already been set, and get some concrete actions in place,
  • Let’s keep the pressure on.  There needs to be action – we don’t have the time to leave this report on the shelf.
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