In Partnership with Food, Farming & Countryside Commission
The World Health Organisation says that one of the greatest risks to planetary and human health is a globalised and poorly regulated agri-food system. Whilst people in the UK pay some of the lowest prices for their food in Europe, the cost of that cheap food has been paid for elsewhere in society, now and for generations to come.
Global farming and food businesses argue that they have improved global health and prosperity by making more food available, more cheaply, in more places than ever before. They argue that integrated vertical supply chains bring consistency and control into a highly dispersed sector; that processing and packaging makes food more safe and secure especially in poor and isolated communities; that trusted brands help people choose food they can rely on and that many people can afford to buy the widest variety of foods ever available. They argue there is no alternative to these methods if we want to ensure that nine billion people can be fed, safely and affordably.
But the evidence is now clear that this strategy has come at too high a price. The food system has become geared towards selling cheap, ultra-processed convenience food at the lowest prices, with serious implications for people’s health and wellbeing. The costs of diet-related illnesses are not just borne by patients and their families; they are borne throughout society, from the cost to the NHS, (Type 2 diabetes alone costs £12bn) and working days lost (£15bn) through to the cost of removing the drugs that treat them
from the water supply (currently incalculable). In the UK, one of the wealthiest countries, nearly 6 million adults are experiencing food insecurity and 1.7 million children live in households that are food insecure. Food insecurity in this case is not caused by a lack of food in the system, but by the inability of people to access and afford that food, especially healthy food.
This consultation brought together diverse and complementary voices across the food system to explore and debate the mechanisms and rationale for developing food systems that deliver multiple benefits. We want to ask, what is the rationale for supporting food systems with closer relationships to the places they are located? What powers do communities need, to be able to act on their local food contexts? What policy objectives create the right conditions for these systems to flourish on a level playing field? What policies are needed to ensure that the right things happen in the right places at the right time?