No strategy better than a bad food strategy?
Everything that goes into putting food on people’s plates really matters. A new food strategy should help ensure everyone has access to good food, forever. Many have long argued the need for a joined-up food strategy – with a clear vision to unite people, to give a sense of direction in an uncertain world and to drive us towards food systems that are fair for people, animals and planet. A good food strategy should be shaped by people and empower them to act – from farmers to abattoir workers, from canteen chefs to food company bosses, from the Treasury to us as citizens.
Today we have a new government food strategy. However, we are not celebrating the announcement. Others will do the line-by-line analysis (and point to potential positives of a new land use framework and of possible moves to strengthen public procurement). Our take is that the government food strategy is not just piecemeal and weak, but is unethical. Why? Three reasons:
Firstly, the (so-called) government food strategy is a betrayal of trust in terms of how it was put together. Henry Dimbleby and team had a Herculean task in developing a National Food Strategy. While not perfect, it at least sought to connect up different parts of food and farming, to highlight uncomfortable truths and to give specific recommendations that would shift us in a better direction. Crucially many people invested huge amounts of time, money and effort in the process – in Defra, other government departments, key stakeholders, public dialogue and more. That was necessary and important – a strategy should not be imposed top-down. There is intrinsic value in involving the public and others in shaping a strategy and a plan – and there is already considerable active public engagement with food issues. In contrast to the considered analysis in the independently commissioned National Food Strategy, the new government food strategy is a hotch-potch of initiatives, primarily for the agri-food sector. The UK government has pretended to listen.
Secondly, the government food strategy lacks any kind of clear, compelling vision for everyone to buy into and is seemingly devoid of the values our food systems need – like respect for fairness, compassion and dignity. Instead it is predicated on values that treat food just as a commodity predicated on cheap labour and exploitation, that must be efficiently grown. It then passes the buck onto us to decide how to manage our food choices. It has narrowly focused on papering over the cracks of a crumbling industrial food system. It fails to recognise the power of food to bring communities together, the right that everyone has to be able to access sufficient, nutritious food and the urgency to address climate, biodiversity and obesity emergencies.
Thirdly, it strengthens industrial food systems and props up the status quo. Measures announced will not go close to breaking the junk food cycle, reducing diet-related inequality, making the best use of our land or creating a long-term (positive) shift in food culture. The new strategy risks further intensifying our farming systems, particularly when coupled with the Genetic Technologies (Precision Breeding) Bill currently being rushed through Parliament. The government food strategy may even create barriers to those wanting to transition to farming with nature, to those food brands wanting to do the right thing and to the public wanting healthy food options, not an obesogenic food environment. We should avoid creating or locking in barriers to a better biodiverse and fairer food system.
We find ourselves asking whether no strategy would have been better than this so-called strategy. We must regroup and push for something much much stronger.
Our Executive Director, Dan Crossley, commenting earlier today, said:
“The new government food strategy is primarily titbit proposals for the agri-food sector, not a strategy that will address long-term injustices in our food systems.
If the dream was a gourmet feast that nourishes everyone, protects animals, restores the planet for future generations and supports farmers and food workers, the government response to the National Food Strategy leaves us wanting. Instead we need something much stronger that everyone in the country can unite behind.”