Predicting the future is imprecise at best. But as our 12 Food Ethics Council members are all experts in food and farming, I thought I’d ask them which food and farming issues they thought were likely to be prominent in 2015.
Nationally, with the general election looming and the economy still under a lot of pressure, our members said that food poverty would continue to be a focus point. They pointed to the Fabian Society’s investigation into food and poverty (chaired by Geoff Tansey, Trustee of the Food Ethics Council), which is due to publish its findings in July.
Whilst all our members agree that shining a spotlight on food poverty is a good thing, some sound a note of caution. They are alarmed by an emerging narrative in the media and politics that suggests food poverty can be ‘solved’ by co-opting food waste.
Feeding the hungry with food that would otherwise go to waste solves nothing in the long term. Wasted food is a scandal in its own right. In an ideal world there would be no surplus food to be thrown away (or feed the poor). Nor would there be people who can’t afford to buy a healthy meal. This ‘easy’ solution lets politicians and food businesses off the hook from tackling serious social and environmental injustices.
Another national story that we’re likely to hear a lot more about this year is the sustainable food city movement. From Cardiff to Carlisle, cities and communities across the UK are coming together under the Sustainable Food Cities banner to share challenges, explore practical solutions and develop best practice on key food issues. Fed up with waiting for governments to help them create sustainable food systems, a growing number of towns and cities are joining the movement and doing it for themselves.
In Europe we started the year with a vote in the European Parliament on giving Member States the option to ban GM crops. This sets the scene for fierce debate across Europe and closer to home, as the Scottish and Welsh governments are likely to turn their backs on the novel technology. Arguments for and against GM are all part of a wider discussion that many Food Ethics Council members believe needs to happen about whether and how agricultural science and technologies can be a force for good in our food system.
Internationally, there is going to be a big focus on soil health. Across the world our soils – the very foundations upon which civilisations rest – are being overused, covered over and eroded. The UN has designated 2015 as the year of soils, and our members predict that there will be a whole host of NGO action on soil health both in the UK and around the world.
Healthy soils mean healthy food, and some of our members are hopeful that there will be an increase in activity around the link between food and environmental issues. The Square Meal report of which the Food Ethics Council was a co-author highlighted that crucial link. Watch out for more Square Meal activities during 2015.
Finally, climate change will be a huge influence on our environment and our ability to grow food in the years to come. The Paris climate change talks (COP 21) in November and December is a key event. Will the world’s nations reach an agreement on measures to slow down CO2 emissions? We can only hope they will.