Speaking at a seminar in London yesterday (Tuesday March 22) organised by the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London, accused the Conservative-led government of effectively “reinventing the wheel”, by embarking on this plan following the Food Matters strategy instigated by the last Labour government in 2008.
Lang applauded the civil servants charged with implementing the current proposals for “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. He added: “Unfortunately, the political brief they have been given is too narrow and not addressing the extent to which the change will have to happen.”
He called for a move beyond the “brand Britain” using agritech approaches and other such “technical fixes”. Apart from the foodservice sector, the UK’s overly long food supply chains are currently dominated by big business, which is “unacceptable to the public interest”, he claimed.
Lang argued for a more diverse food system that “cut out some of the useless ultra-processing with fat, salt and sugar”, which then became an externalised cost to the NHS, he argued.
“Frankly, the 25-year food plan is built around priorities that don’t actually enable us to address culture issues,” said Lang, who was formerly commissioner of the now defunct Sustainable Development Commission. “Competitiveness is fine, it’s the language business likes but it’s not the language that improves public health.”
He argued that the plan continued to assume people would be eating the same bad diets produced by the same flawed food system, which required high energy inputs and embedded water use, while generating high levels of food waste. And all this against a background of a growing world population, limited resources and climate change.
“The evidence suggests we need dietary change,” said Lang, who argued for a change from diets based on environmentally damaging meat and dairy consumption, to one based on plants. “The enormity of the change to the food system that the evidence says is needed is not a tweak here or there.
“That is actually what our problem is. The food system is literally consuming at over two or three planets. This is stupid, it’s folly. Food is a major driver of climate change, but it is not just climate change … we have got to address biodiversity; we have got to address land use. We have got to address the material flows that the circular economy thinking is dealing with.”
Lang also called for a far greater share of the food and drink supply chain’s revenues to flow back to farmers than was currently the case.
He also noted that the bulk of employment in the food chain was actually concentrated in foodservice sector, which isn’t even covered by the 25-year Food and Farming Plan, he said. “It’s all about agritech, all about food manufacture. This is completely missing the reality of the modern food system.”
Lang recognised that different frameworks were necessary and referred back to the proposals contained in both the Cabinet Office’s Food Matters report of 2008 and the Food 2030 launched in January 2010, which he said began the process of engaging with the enormous challenges facing the world.
Meanwhile, don’t miss reading about the three key targets, which the 25-year plan should achieve within five years, according to the National Farmers Union.