Towards the end of 2014 I asked Food Ethics Council members what they thought would be on the agenda in 2015. As a bunch of experts on food systems, you’d hope they’d have their fingers on the pulse – and it seems they did.
Many of our experts predicted that food poverty would continue to be a big issue this year, and they hoped that the debate might become more nuanced, with discussion about the rights and wrongs of ‘fixing’ food poverty by redistributing wasted food. The Fabian Commission on food and poverty has done a lot to push that up the agenda, and its report published in November was well received by food poverty and social justice campaigners, if not by the government.
Soil health was predicted to be a hot topic in 2015, especially with this year designated the ‘year of soils’ by the UN. There has been a lot of activity amongst the NGO and farming communities around soil, but sadly this has not appeared to percolate more widely into the public consciousness.
Sustainable cities, on the other hand, were celebrated, with Bristol being European Green Capital, and the launch of the Sustainable Food Cities initiative. And at the COP21 climate change talks in Paris civil society gathered in force at the talks to help thrash out what we hope turns out to be a lasting and historic deal that limits CO2 emissions. How that will affect our food and farming systems remains to be seen.
So what do our experts predict will be on the agenda in 2016? They tell me that there will be more focus on food poverty as government cuts to local councils and in work and out of work benefits kick in.
We’re likely to see an intensification of consolidation in the food supply chain, which means that more information and power will rest in the private sector. This will throw up some really tricky dilemmas around data, knowledge and transparency.
Debate over how far governments should intervene in what (and how much) citizens eat will continue, with fiercely contested claims and counter claims over sugar likely to take centre stage.
As we saw in 2015, some of the things that ought to have been on the radar ended up on the cutting room floor. Some of the issues above might similarly find themselves cast into the wilderness. It can be difficult to get people interested in topics like data and transparency in the food chain, the reduction of publicly funded research in food and farming and TTIP. They’re less immediately easy to grasp than biodiversity loss or the health of our seas.
A question for everyone working on sustainable food and farming is how we can engage citizens, businesses and governments in these tricky but crucial issues that ultimately affect the health of people, animals and planet.
I don’t know the answer, but it’s something the Food Ethics Council is committed to doing over the coming years. That sounds like a good New Year’s resolution to me!