Food 2030 – spin not substance


Venue magazine asked me for my view on Food 2030 for its Feb 3 issue. That got me thinking:

The government’s food strategy for the next 20 years sounded like good news.

“Britain must grow more sustainable food,” went the Guardian headline as farming minister, Hilary Benn, launched Food 2030 at the Oxford Farming Conference.

Hilary was using all the right words: climate change, food security, homegrown food.

Hilary even included this rallying call:

“People power can help bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold.”

That sentence could have come straight from the planet-friendly Soil Association. Hold on a minute. I think it did. I remember writing something similar when I was editor of the organic charity’s magazine, Living Earth.

So, has the government finally got the green message?

Look, I hate to be cynical but there is an election coming up.

The fact is – and you might as well know sooner than later – New Labour (and Conservatives when in power) are as wedded to the dominant global food system as ever.

Food 2030 pretends to be open-minded about GM but I am not convinced.

According to Hilary Benn’s performance at the Soil Association 2008 conference, the minister does not inspire confidence.

(Watch out for Hilary at the Soil Association conference in February).

So Hilary tries to reassure us that the government is on the case because it is spending £90m over the next five years “to fund innovative technological research and development” with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Sounds like quick-fix technology to me – good for corporate finances but not for us mere mortals.

You can bet that not-much of that £90m will go on researching already-existing healthy farming models such as organic farming or permaculture.

Food 2030 pretends to be looking for solutions but instead dumps the burden on consumers and farmers.

(Reminds me of that ghastly government advert on climate change where the little kid sees a picture of a puppy dying in the rising tide. O, so kids must feel guilty while the government carries on with business-as-usual? No, minister, that is not what I would call positive action against climate change).

Back to Food 2030 and Hilary’s big push against food waste. Yes, we waste food but hold on a minute. Why focus on what we citizens keep rotting in our fridge when supermarkets throw away far more food than we do?

And as for telling farmers to produce more local food when – hello? – council farms are being sold off.

Benn’s only vaguely substantial idea was to be more honest about labelling meat’s country of origin.

But then that was a Tory idea anyway.

So, sorry – not impressed.

Are you?

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Stop press (added 03.05.2010): The Soil Association has produced a report investigating the big fat lie that the UK needs to double food production by 2050.

18 responses to “Food 2030 – spin not substance

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Food 2030 – spin not substance « Real Food Lover -- Topsy.com

  2. Any move which even pretends to promote sustainable food is welcome; it’s better than nothing at all, which is all else we have.

    The Government – whether Labour, Conservative or other, has to juggle their budget well enough to keep *most* people in the country satisfied. It is impossible to do the best by everyone – none of us could. Unfortunately, this is backed up by the fact that most people just don’t seem to care where there food comes from – the ethics involved (see “Chicken Out!”) or the sustainability of its source (think about how people complain about reductions in the allowed fishing of cod).

    By highlighting sustainability of all resources – whether food, the “environment”, coal, oil, or other, the Government is making the population more aware, which *should* have a knock on effect of making the population more willing to allow action to be taken (remember the government simply reflect the populations wants and needs within a limited budget).

    The sad fact is that in today’s modern economic world action is taken far too late when resources become scarce – but, in the end, action *is* inevitably taken, if only to ensure sustainability of the market itself (see “Resource dependancy theory”).

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    • That made me stop and think! Yes, you have a point. Sometimes pretence IS better than nothing. At least pretending to be sustainable spreads the eco-message.

      The downside of a pretend message is that people feel beaten on the head by these vague eco-rulings about which they feel (rightfully) confused and suspicious.

      My other worry is climate change is being used to push forward risky technologies such as nuclear and GM.

      It is so annoying because organic and biodynamic farming and permaculture can already show they provide sufficient food – AND conserve valuable resources such as soil carbon, soil and water. We don’t need to pretend!

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  3. i totally agree with you in supporting organics and permaculture rather than quick fix ideas or expensive television campaigns that achieve virtually nothing. i think the key lies in education. most people probably just don’t know enough about the ramifications of their combined actions to care about change. i’d love to see urban farms, city rooftop farms, community education farms, places where people can learn about collecting rainwater, managing waste and growing their own food for free. if everyone could just realise the resources that they have at their very fingertips already, i mean imagine if we could begin to make real changes at household levels and teach people to be frugal before it’s too late..

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    • Cathy, I so agree. Education is key.

      And indeed, there are so many people ALREADY doing wondrous earth-saving things (like my mates at GROFUN) yet are struggling for lack of funds.

      I wish the government message had been: “We will fund grassroot projects which are delivering local food, food security, food education, growing in urban areas, sustainable skills-sharing…”

      Now THAT would get my vote.

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  4. Grassroots projects are where it’s at, I agree with you, Elisabeth. I think you should have written the government policy for Food 2030. I might have mentioned this before, but Havana (Cuba) is the world’s leader in neighborhood organic city farming. Why can’t some of these officials go to Havana and see how it’s done? For starters, they should check out this
    http://sustainablecities.dk/en/city-projects/cases/havana-feeding-the-city-on-urban-agriculture
    Maybe you should head up a foodie delegation, Elisabeth, and visit Havana.

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  5. Thank you for keeping me informed – as always. Education is indeed the key. Is pretence better than nothing? I am not sure, but at least the message is out there. The important thing is to let people know what is really going on – and that is what you do so beautifully – so thank you

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  6. Have to say, I am deeply cynical. Having spent a lifetime campaigning for a sustainable food system, I see no evidence that things are getting better. In fact the opposite is true. Food miles, out of season eating, mass produced chemical foods, big business, small independent farmers melting away like snow in summer, less access to land. modern houses with laughably small gardens – the list goes on and on.

    I grew up on raw milk from Jersey cows owned by a local woman in the village. She had three cows a couple of fields and produced delicious butter and cream as well as the milk – that was her livelihood. Regulation was her demise – she couldn’t afford to upgrade to the all stainless steel dairy that government dictats insisted upon. Now, living back in the same area (many years later) we are unable to find a farm, of any size, that will sell us unpasteurised milk.

    Keen gardeners are no longer able to buy many of the locally adapted or traditional seed varieties. These have now been eliminated by restrictive EC regulations – small seed companies cannot afford the costs involved in registering varieties that are not used by large scale growers. Government legislation supports big business and multinational companies and small independent traders suffer. Sustainable and local food production is an excellent idea but I doubt the Government will truly support it until the economy collapses sufficiently to make it a necessity!

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    • Choclette, this comment really stayed with me.

      The small cheese maker who cannot survive in a world bound by rules meant for big business and obsessed by ‘hygiene’ – or rather the fear of litigation.

      (If we eat real food, our immune systems can cope magnificently with ‘germs’!)

      The seed list is also tragic. How did we allow our heritage to be stolen and controlled like that? Again, the rules are skewed towards supporting big business.

      Thank you. I feel less bad for MY cynical reaction…

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  7. When will those in power ‘lead’ with vision and courage and stop kowtowing to industry and the economy? Thank you for putting some substance to my gut feelings. Just wish I had been wrong.

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  8. Geraldine Winkler

    Hilary says :“People power can help bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold.” Only one problem. Governments are not at all keen on people power, and tend to undermine it. I did not hear much paying attention to people power in the Iraq war. Or in support of PR. Nowadays governments are elected by a minority.

    It does seems invidious of a government minister to rely on people power. Yes, we need individual action, education, consumer pressure, but your job, Hilary, is to legislate.

    I feel pretty helpless about the power I have to chose the food on my plate.

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    • Yes, Geraldine. Good point. The government invoking people power is a bit rich.

      At least I can exert some degree of political control over the food I eat by buying from small independent producers and avoiding supermarkets.

      And the food is way-better quality too…

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  9. I say – Power to the People. The food culture in Britain has been changing over the past 10 years – people are more interested in what they choose to eat and where they buy their food. Farmers markets are growing across the UK, we see a lot of new Farmers Markets opening in London every year. The Real Food Festival is a great annual event to check out small ethical producers and definitely the government should support farmers and producers of ethical and organic foods. But so should the people in local communities. I am positive that people of the UK will learn more to appreciate good food and will choose quality over quantity.

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  10. Why not try growing your own organic fruit and vegetables from seed?

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  11. growing your own food is a good idea! i started last year in my mum’s front yard. now we recycle all our food scraps, newspapers, tea leaves and grass clippings to make into compost which i use to enrich the soil. it’s a fantastic hobby too and has taught me to appreciate vegetables. it sounds silly but i’m actually excited about eating silverbeet now because i’ve watched the rainbow coloured stalks grow from seed 😛

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