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The seeds of a new system

The seeds of a new system Gordon Robertson / Flcikr

Earlier this summer, before we all departed for sunny breaks in the English countryside, the much-anticipated People’s Food Policy (PFP) was published. Coordinated by five organisations including the Land Workers’ Alliance and the Ecological Land Co-operative, and with input from many more, it sets out a long-term view for a better food and farming system.

The PFP rightly identifies Brexit as a major juncture in how we produce and consume our food. Whatever your view of the EU as a whole, the Common Agricultural Policy which we have been party to since 1973 has few defenders. There is now a once in a generation opportunity to design a far better system that meets the needs of both people and the environment.

Without a change, the direction we are heading in is certainly a worrying one. A key theme running through the PFP is the continued consolidation of the agri-food sector, which is also the subject of CPRE’s latest food and farming foresight report, Uncertain harvest. One-fifth of English farms have disappeared in the last decade, with the impact most acute at the smaller end: almost one-third of farms under 50 hectares have gone over the same period. The PFP adds some further concerning findings. 64% of farmers earn less than £10,000 per year (now lower than the UK personal allowance level) and farmers receive less than 10% of the final consumer price of their produce. Meanwhile, 95% of the food retail market is controlled by only eight businesses.

All this can change, but we need a serious public conversation about our food and farming system rather than just a ‘copy and paste’ job from EU to UK policy. Indeed, there are encouraging signs that the new DEFRA Secretary, Michael Gove, is paying attention to ideas beyond the usual agribusiness lobby. England could also learn a lot from the experiments going on in the other UK nations. In Scotland, a landmark Good Food Nation Bill aimed at linking together agricultural, health and environmental policy, is currently under consideration. In Wales, the Well-being of Future Generations Act 2015 is attempting to shift policy into a longer-term and more sustainable mode.

With the Agriculture Bill that will set the parameters of post-Brexit policy due out next year, the PFP is a timely intervention in the public debate. In his foreword, Olivier de Schutter, the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, describes it as ‘an important and welcome step’ to a new food and farming system. CPRE heartily agrees with that assessment, and we look forward to being part of the conversation in the months and years ahead.

Find out more

People’s Food Policy (PFP)

Download our report: Uncertain Harvest

We need a serious public conversation about our food and farming system

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