From the climate emergency to the cost of living crisis, our food problems are urgent, systemic and in need of long-term policy change. But when it comes to political leadership in the UK, we’re in a state of limbo and food has failed to cut through. Jostling for power in Westminster and regular cabinet reshuffles aren’t conducive to the sort of long-term planning that even industry is calling for – as the UK government’s lacklustre policy response to Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy demonstrates.
But while trust in the government and democracy itself is suffering at the moment, the Food Ethics Council is still optimistic about the role that the government can and should play in fixing our food problems – and in using the lens of food to unlock the big social and environmental challenges of our time.
The government has always been worried about attracting voter backlash with attempts to dictate what people eat. But it needs to wise up to the fact that we need an entire ecosystem to be galvanised around our big food problems – and it’s best placed to play that role. Why not listen to former member of the Food Ethics Council Geoff Tansey and talk about the “caring state helping people eat well” rather than speaking about the dreaded nanny state? Involving the public more directly in policymaking around food and farming – for example through citizens’ assemblies – will help restore trust.
Once a sense of normalcy is restored and we have a new cabinet in place, we’d like to see the government look at the root causes of inequality that are making food banks become so widely used.
As the business of getting Brexit done continues, the UK government needs to have a strong position on food and farming standards and a view on where our red lines are before we rush into trade deals.
The UK’s tech sector is re-imagining what the future of food could look like, but how can the government make sure we balance innovation with precaution, and direct research investment to the most important places?
And how can we incentivise every part of the food system to reduce their environmental impact, from farmers to retailers, while instilling a sense of urgency and a sense of moral responsibility?
These are just a flavour of the issues we’d like to see at the top of the new government’s to-do list.
We’re not here to scaremonger. And by holding the government to account we’re in no way diminishing the role of communities, grassroots organisations or industry-led initiatives. But the government can’t shy away from the fact that food is too big, too important to leave entirely to the market, or individuals. Let’s not resort to a game of pass the buck.