Defra is consulting about its Green Food Project. This is bizarre given it has supposedly championed ‘greening’ the food system since 2001. Defra launched Food2030 26 months ago, when a then shadow, now real minister told me: we need action.
I am disappointed that the government thinks more consultation is needed. The prime minister in May 2010 promised the “greenest government ever”. A year later, Jonathan Porritt, former Sustainable Development Commission chair, reviewed the commitment and found action, not necessarily progress, on only six out of 77 fronts.
Come on, ministers! Fast-forward this project, if it’s worth keeping at all. At a City University meeting recently, we felt the tasks and targets are abundantly clear: cut water, carbon, waste, poor land use. Reshape what’s meant by efficiency. Start preparing consumers for big change, something even mighty food retailers fear overtly doing but know is coming. Set sustainable diet guidelines. Get a grip on UK food production’s continuing slide. Prioritise horticulture. Create a skills strategy from schools to colleges and universities. The shape of policy is broadly known. We now need detail.
The Green Food Project claims its basis as the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper, which outlined the coalition’s focus as protecting eco-systems Laudable but obvious. The issue is how to change food’s devastating impact. If we want good eco-systems, food systems have to change radically.
Defra translates this as three core food goals: (1) improve growth & competitiveness in farming and food (2) increase UK food production, noting global food security (3) protect and enhance natural environments
These goals don’t add up. Take competition. The notion that British food commerce should ‘compete’ is empty rhetoric. We need to bend competition around sustainability. This requires new frameworks, some of which need co-operation, not naive competitiveness. If we want to protect eco-systems, it probably requires drastic change in meat and dairy production and consumption. Fifty per cent of grain is fed to animals. Not more consultation but change, please!