Ministers must get a grip on food policy. Why not continue Labour’s work, asks Tim Lang

Mrs Spelman is in the policy wars.

Last week she u-turned over selling the forests. Days before, the NFU president nigh accused her of incompetence. With a global food crisis looming, and the chief scientist's Foresight report urging action, "where is the Food Plan?" asked Peter Kendall.

The secretary of state's reply was to refer to Labour. "Don't forget we have Food 2030. Would there be any point in tearing it up and writing a new one?"

I pinched myself. The coalition returning to Labour's policy document?! But why not? It made sense. Privately, Tories had said they agreed with it but wanted implementation, and then stopped civil servants working on it, indeed started axing the civil servants!

Less than a year on, that folly is exposed. The UK desperately needs to grow more food, end dependency on oil in its food system, build health at its heart, and re-skill for the future. The naïvety that somehow system change comes without direction beggars belief.

Consumer price inflation, meanwhile is rising, by an annualised 4% at present. Since 2005, general prices have risen 16.9%. According to the ONS, transport costs are 15.3% higher than a year ago, food 6.3% and cafés and restaurants 4.6%. Oil, of course, is a common factor. As a banker said to me a few years back, as though this was a new insight, forgetting the pioneering work of Leach or Pimentel four decades ago, "food is oil; forget food, it's all oil".

Globally, food price inflation is alarming. In January, the FAO global food index surpassed 2008 levels. Last week, the World Bank reported global food prices up 15% since October. Grain rose 16%, only held down by relatively stable rice prices. In the past quarter, sugar has risen 20%, fats and oils 22%, wheat 20%, and maize 12%. Wheat has more than doubled in the past six months. This is serious stuff.

In UK politics, it's normal to view this situation through two wholly different lenses: one as a crisis of global poverty, the other with regard to UK consumers. They are connected. Everywhere more food needs to be grown and consumers must eat within environmental limits.

A bit of good news. The Commons Environmental Audit Committee has launched a sustainable food inquiry. That's what the Food Plan ought to be about. Food 2030 made commitments to sustainable diets.

Welcome aboard, Mrs Spelman.

Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University.