It’s been one year since Christine Tacon took up her role as Groceries Code Adjudicator. The Food Ethics Council’s October Business Forum heard from Christine about what the GCA has achieved and is hoping to achieve.

We also heard from our second keynote speaker, Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, on how corporate power in the food system has changed over the past few decades.

Listening to the expert opinions of our speakers, and to those of the guests around the table (food business leaders all) it struck me that food systems are forever in a state of flux.  From the moment that humanity enclosed land and domesticated animals, the gift of feeding a population has rested variously in the hands of the many and the few.

Although you could say that market and political power in today’s food system has become concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of organisations, you could argue – given recent news about the woes of a major supermarket or two, and the rise of other food distribution models – that we may be about to see further power shifts within the system.

Whether these shifts will redress balance of power issues remains to be seen. However, I would argue that relationships between retailers, suppliers and consumers continue to be less than fair. I would also argue that there is an important role for Government here, especially when we’re facing huge potential threats to food production around climate change and land shortages.

The Groceries Code Adjudicator was set up after many years of lobbying by farmers’ groups, NGOs and others to give suppliers a little more power in their relationships with the major supermarkets.

The GCA plays an important role and I’m pleased that it has been given tools to tackle some of the inequalities that exist in our food system, at least at UK-level. As good a job as is being done by the GCA, it has a very specific remit – which is both a strength and a weakness. The GCA isn’t able to, and indeed wasn’t designed to, address the external factors that have led to these inequalities.

Those external factors are many and varied, and require equally creative solutions. From reconnecting people to where their food comes from to redefining our relationship with the ‘market’, I’m left thinking that a fundamental shift towards a fair food system is possible, but requires leadership and commitment.

 I left the Business Forum with a number of questions. What other mechanisms do we need to address issues resulting from power imbalances? Should indirect suppliers and farmers be included in an extended GCA? As one participant in the Business Forum suggested, should the GCA have its reach extended and be renamed ‘Food Power Adjudicator’ – to acknowledge that we should perhaps look further along the chain and at foodservice too?

Please do read the full report of October’s Business Forum and let us know what you think.

Learning from the Groceries Code Adjudicator experience