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January 5 2010 ~ Defra Launches Government's Food Strategy 2030
At the Oxford Farming Conference today Hilary Benn unveiled the Government’s food strategy, Food 2030. The 24 page pdf summary is here (worthy phrases and photos) while the full report is here (2.9 Mb)
As we report below, there are aspects we do find worrying.
The news that
"the Food Standards Agency is taking forward a programme of consumer engagement which will provide an opportunity to discuss with consumers their understanding of GM, their understanding of the benefits, and their concerns" reminds us of the traditional pro-GM stance of that organisation and their recent controversial "report" on organic food, soon refuted by French scientists. Then the claim that
"choosing local produce over imports can reduce the prosperity of communities in developing countries" - a very questionable assertion (see below) The report makes much of its claim that
"Livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally"without pointing out , as did the recent Times article,
that although the prodigious methane output of cattle may be bad for the environment, grazing on grass will soak up carbon.
January 4 2010 ~ "the report will urge consumers not to insist on buying locally-produced food, because doing so would reduce the prosperity of farmers in developing countries."
DEFRA's forthcoming food strategy paper will - extraordinarily - dismiss the Professor Tim Lang's concept of "food miles" - reported the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. It also ignores what NGOs have been saying; i.e. how very far from increasing the prosperity of farmers in developing countries buying practices with overseas suppliers still are.
In the Competition Commission Inquiry into the Groceries Market - in the section entitled '3rd Party Submissions from NGOs and Charitable Organisations', evidence given in this letter from 12 NGOs shows that workers in exporting countries are getting a wage - but a very poor one. The letter speaks of
"detrimental impacts of such buying practices on farmers, farm workers and suppliers in developing countries, as well as on levels of poverty more generally, are well documented. They include lower pay, longer hours, poor health and safety conditions and increased use of temporary contracts for workers, as well as increased vulnerability and barriers to entry for small producers."
A separate matter is the increasingly fragile nature of these long distance supply lines. As we reported in 2008, when the prices of oil and commodities shot up, the shutters came down in some of the exporting countries in the developing world. On the whole, in this sort of crisis, governments prefer to feed their populations rather than have food riots.
January 4th 2010 ~ DEFRA report will tell us to accept GM
The Sunday Telegraph says that DEFRA's comprehensive food strategy for the next 20 years, to be unveiled this week, will tell the public that it "must accept genetically-modified food." Again, this ignores what many experts are saying.
Last July, the Sustainable Development Commission's recommendations to Government Food Security and Sustainability: The perfect fit (pdf), led by Professor Tim Lang, said of GM that some people regard
" .. technologies such as genetic
modification and a new era of hi-tech
industrialised farming as the way forward,
dismissing more sustainable lower-input
agriculture as irrelevant.
But the systematic
International Assessment of Agricultural
Science, Technology and Development
knowledge, co-initiated and led by the current
Chief Scientist at Defra when at the World Bank,
suggests that more ecological solutions, based
on engaging and supporting small farmers could
yield the most dramatic change. Reliance on
single technology solutions is unlikely to resolve
the complex array of problems ahead, which
are partly social, partly environmental and
partly about control over food systems"
January 4 2010 ~ "how to deliver optimum
levels of home production, sustainably"
In last July's Sustainable Development Commission's recommendations to Government Food Security and Sustainability: The perfect fit (pdf), DEFRA was recommended to "undertake specific sector
assessments for grain, meat and dairy, fruit,
vegetables, fibre and forestry, assessing them
for their contribution to home consumption,
environment, employment, economy and
health, and indicating how to deliver optimum
levels of home production, sustainably." We remember Dr James Bellini, a year ago, telling us on Radio 4 to make some very radical lifestyle changes in the next fifteen or twenty years if it's going to have any effect at all - not importing or genetically modifying our livestock and crops, but getting back to traditional seasonal food grown locally. The loss of fossil fuel energy and fertilisers is going to make the UK vulnerable to food shortages for the first time since the Second World War. The government is finally waking up to this - but many would say that some of the solutions suggested in its food strategy paper are suicidally foolish. The Sunday Telegraph also reports on the fact
that five months ago Government negotiators opposed mandatory labelling in talks held with European Union member states.
"Leaked papers from the European Council reveal how 11 countries, including France and Italy, called for mandatory origin labels on all non-processed food. The amendment, put at a meeting on July 31, was defeated by the UK and nine other countries. "
Nick Herbert is quoted ".. Ministers have been caught out promising action to British farmers and consumers while their officials have been voting against the policy in Brussels."