The only really secure food system is one that is built on sustainability, says Tim Lang

Political heat is rising again on food security. Not just on this government but the next. This week, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), the government's official adviser, published its position paper on food security. The report of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee is due out next week. Another follows shortly from the Royal Society. And the Chief Scientist's Foresight Programme review is well under way, looking at food supplies.

The UK is a rich country, can afford to buy on world markets and favours open markets. A theme I suspect will be common to the new round of reports is that this doesn't capture the complexity of what faces the UK, food companies or the world.

The SDC report (on which I was lead commissioner) takes issue with the government's working definition of food security. It is no longer a matter of the three As - access, availability and affordability - but of sustainability. The only really secure food system is one that builds the food economy within environmental limits, minimises waste and has a culture that keeps people healthy and well. On such measures, the current UK food system is not sustainable. So it's not secure.

The SDC identifies seven steps governments should take. First, improve on the working definition of food security. The three As set the wrong agenda for the food chain.

Second, reverse the decline in UK production, not out of petty nationalism, but because food production will have to rise globally.

Third, conduct strategic reviews for key commodities - grain, meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables - to map clear directions.

Fourth, prioritise better soil management. Appropriate land use means being environmentally benign.

Fifth, review food labour, too often low waged and migrant when there are opportunities for jobs and skills growth.

Sixth, give coherent consumer advice on what a sustainable diet is. Should we eat fish? Yes for health but no to protect fish stocks. Which is it? Cross-government co-ordination is failing here.

Finally, CAP reform. For too long, all governments have played to the gallery, CAP-bashing to get out of political difficulties. What's needed is a push for sustainable food across Europe - a common sustainable food policy to replace CAP.

Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University.