25% of UK farmers live in poverty; food groups call for holistic solution to broken food system

A new report Square Meal was published on July 14 2014

This summary from www.farming.co.uk

Tuesday 15 July 2014

A new sustainable food coalition, comprised of ten food and farming groups, has compiled a report to inform a conversation on food in the UK. The report, published on Monday, illustrates the need for immediate efforts to “fix our broken food system.”

The organisations – representing a range of positions on food – said their collaboration was established with the aim of connecting important and diverse issues, and starting a conversation on food ahead of next year’s general election. The report’s publication comes just days after environment group Friends of the Earth called on the government to introduce a cross-sectoral food policy to provide a roadmap towards a sustainable food future.

The report, Square Meal, also takes a holistic look at food and farming issues, seeking to find ‘a new recipe for farming, wildlife, food and public health’. The Food Research Collaboration, which compiled the report, includes the RSPB, National Trust, the Food Ethics Council, Sustain, the Wildlife Trusts, the Soil Association, and Compassion in World Farming.

Four interconnected areas form the main focus of the report. These are:

  • Improving Health: Getting a grip on a growing crisis. 33% of under 18’s in the UK are overweight or obese. There are soaring costs to the NHS due to diet-related ill-health. More must be done to tackle health inequalities, promote healthier sustainable diets, ensure food and water safety and enable people to reconnect with nature.
  • Good food for all: Food prices have risen by 12% over the past six years, and more rises are expected. On 913,138 occasions in the year to the end of March 2014, people in crisis across the UK were provided with three days emergency food by the Trussell Trust alone. Tackling poverty and inequality must be a priority – alongside ensuring transparency, traceability and fairness in supply chains – so that we all see the benefits, from field to fork.
  • Sustainable Farming: 75% of the protein fed to our livestock in the EU is imported. 25% of all UK farmers live in poverty. Investing in a resilient farming system is crucial to securing our food supply in the face of the shocks to the system likely from climate change, rising populations and dwindling resources.
  • Enhancing Nature: In less than 50 years we have lost over 44 million pairs of breeding birds. We need to bring back colour to the countryside by protecting the soil upon which we all depend, creating a strong and connected ecological network and championing effective regulation and rural and urban planning policies.

The organisations involved in the Food Research Collaboration said there is overwhelming evidence to demonstrate the need for major changes to national food and farming policy.

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London and himself a former hill farmer, has been selected as Chair of the Food Research Collaboration. The professor has long called for a cohesive food strategy, one that takes environmental and social factors into account, to ensure people and production are protected in the long-term.

Lang commented, “The evidence of food’s impact on health is overwhelming, but not enough questions are being asked about whether UK food and farming industries are part of this problem. It’s often put down to consumer choice. But is it?

“Half of UK cereals are fed to animals. We grow ridiculously small amounts of fruit and vegetables when our shops and markets ought to have mountains of good fresh produce. Square Meal raises big questions: what would the UK food system look like if it was designed around health and eco-systems, not just economics? The answer is surely: well, it wouldn’t look like it does now.”

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, added on Monday, “It is a scandal that in a world where we produce more food than we need, hundreds of millions of people are going to bed hungry at night, and even more are suffering from diet-related diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes that give the lie to ‘cheap’ food. Ensuring transparent, traceable and fair supply chains, investing in environmental sustainability and taking a long-term view are all crucial steps to achieving sustainable food and farming systems. And acknowledging the links between poverty, inequality, the environment and poor nutrition is another crucial step in providing good food for all.”

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