The PM might be busy right now, but it’s still a good time to talk food policy, says Tim Lang

You have five minutes with the Prime Minister on UK food policy. What would you say? Which five things to do by 2020? Now read on.

My final food report as Sustainable Development Commissioner is published this weekend. It reviews developments since 2000, and looks to 2020.

You might think that worrying the PM about food policy just now is indulgent, when another war front is opening in Libya and when the Fukushima nuclear accident threatens Japanese food land. Food, war and energy are in fact intimately connected. Wars break the status quo. Energy is what current food systems assume is endless. Nuclear meltdowns remind us of risks.

So what's the situation with UK food policy? The SDC says there's been progress, but it's been slow. The Blair-Brown era talked of "joined-up" policy but took too long to get going.

Most change came when oil prices and global commodity prices rocketed in 2007-08, kicking major reviews, much as farm policy began to change after Sir Don Curry's review and foot & mouth disease's big bills (£8bn). HM Treasury attention clicked with rocketing obesity costing £16bn to society in 2007, rising to £50bn by 2050.

What emerged in the 2000s was a realisation that food policy is more than just farm policy. Urban populations don't eat raw but processed and trucked (even flown) food. Tastes have changed. Power lies down supply chains not with Farmer Giles. The picture emerging was of a 21st Century food system which is unsustainable.

Where to now? The SDC offers 6 headings: Quality, Health, Environment, Social Values, Economy and Governance. Each is complex. Quality isn't just cosmetic but about identity. Environment isn't just climate change but biodiversity. Economics isn't just price but decent labour. Governance is more than evidence.

Now five things for the PM (plus one for luck):

(1) commit to produce more food here in the UK (be tough on retailers and public);
(2) set a new framework for sustainable food (the new business level playing-field);
(3) concentrate on hotspots (cut the meat & dairy footprint by going for grass-feeding where possible; expand horticulture; plant orchards);
(4) blitz (a suitable word) food waste;
(5) shift consumer culture by replacing nutrition guidelines with eco-nutrition advice; and
(6) start skilling workers for sustainable food.

Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University.