The G8 has been interesting for food policy. Forget what we do at home. It’s the global economy, stupid.
First there was the Food Security Summit where G8 countries, African countries, food transnationals and NGOs signed a Global Nutrition for Growth Compact, promising $1bn of new investment to reduce 50 million child deaths a year through better nutrition, via the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. When I checked the UN’s website, there was no data on progress for the New Alliance. But One, the celebrity-led development NGO, gives donor figures and ‘Letters of Intent’.
Then, at Loch Erne, the UK championed controls on tax havens, attacking transnational corporations over transparency. I pinched myself. Had mass amnesia broken out? Is this the same UK that welcomes billionaires and legitimates its own tax havens? Is this the UK whose own food security worsens? Mmm.
“Telling others to grow food but not doing it ourselves is hypocrisy”
And yet I clung to my illusion there’s some good news as I attended a roundtable with business leaders before the summit. And again at an all-party Parliament meeting hosted by the big IF campaign. And again joining 45k people at the IF Hyde Park rally on 8 June, hearing Bill Gates and Archbishops say we can solve world hunger.
I’m glad the UK continues aid commitments but wonder if they’ll last. My worries resurfaced reading Defra’s new stats on our own food performance.
Worry one: the food trade gap (imports versus exports) is now enormous - a £19.4bn deficit in 2012. Food mountains in hillocks out. Why when we can grow apples and pears are we importing? Telling others to grow food but not doing so ourselves is hypocrisy and market failure.
Worry two: steady food price rises squeeze the poor. The ‘new’ African strategy offers technical fixes - supplements and vitamins. Will that come here?
Worry three: the PM received plaudits on aid, but listening to Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s recent FDF speech extolling UK food exports, I wondered what planet we’re on. Paterson talked as though UK food is hot trade when Defra statistics say otherwise. We’re going backwards. Are Defra politicians now in Canute mode?
Tim Lang is professor of food policy at City University, London