We might sometimes regret our elected representatives. Parliamentary democracy can be messy. Watching the slow car crash of current UK policy, I remember Churchill’s dictum: “Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” How wise!
“We concluded that Scotland’s food system needed radical change”
In one corner, it’s argued the UK would be better out of the European Union. Forget that 25% of UK food comes from the EU. In another, Scotland is voting on independence. If this happens, it’s the end of the UK as it’s been since 1922 when the Irish Free State seceded. Ireland actually only fully severed links in 1948 when it left the Commonwealth, only to link up with the UK again when both joined the EU in 1973.
Scottish independence would create uncertainty about currency, food logistics and law. With Treasury links altered, Scotland’s dependency on finance, alcohol and meat exports would come to the fore.
Whether in or out of the EU, the real challenge everywhere is for land use and food culture to come into line with health and sustainability. New indicators can help: more people fed per hectare, less carbon, more nutrients, less diet-related disease, more sustainable diets. These are what 21st-century food economies must aspire to. This hasn’t yet featured in the Scottish debate. In 2005-06, I chaired the Scottish government Review of the 10-year-old Scottish Diet Action Plan. We concluded that Scotland’s food system needed radical change. It wasn’t joined up. Trade in meat, biscuits and whisky warped a good diet and food culture. Good things were also happening, but diet-related ill-health scarred the Scottish body politic. Reviewing data since, that remains true.
This week, the EU’s Sustainable Food Communiqué was out. This sets the tone for future EU food policy: reducing waste and carbon, building the circular economy, resource efficiency. This is where real politics lie. The EU is pursuing an interesting line on waste reduction, but food systems are still high carbon, and diets unsustainable. Ironically, both in Edinburgh and London, the national food policy leaders are more interested in exports than health or land use. Shame on them.
Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University, London