What should our food policy look like?

I just don’t get it. We all eat. Every day. More than once. Yet we rarely talk about that food, where it’s come from and what it means to us.

Actually that’s not true. I’ll start again.

I’m a bit confused. We all need to eat. Many people are lucky enough to eat three times a day. Some people are less fortunate. No matter where you live, what you earn, and what you believe, you’ll have something in common with the person you pass on the street because you all eat food.

YOU, (yes that’s you reading this, now) are part of the food chain.

Were you aware the Agricultural Bill was published last week? Do you know what it is? Something to do with farmers, right, not to do with you?

It makes me want to weep. The biggest shake up in our food policy for over 40 years and the general public are not even engaged. There’s barely any talk apart from those who are in the industry. And they could just be accused of protecting their pockets. The reality is, because they DO work in the industry – they get it. As in, they get how important food is and how its supply from gate to plate is balanced by oh so, so, so much.

On Tuesday night last week when I knew the Agricultural Bill was due to be released I was excited: a sort of ‘this is it’ moment. I was pleased to see the environment prominently featured but disappointed at the lack of reference to food production.

However, I was even more disappointed at the lack of coverage on the news. I thought there’d be a buzz. Yes, it featured in the main slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today, there was some stuff in the papers the next day, the industry press covered it, but given we wouldn’t have a country if we didn’t eat there was shockingly low interest.

Some people believe we are walking into the biggest food crisis the UK has had since the Second World War. It’s just over six months to go until we leave the EU, yet the food industry doesn’t know what’s going to happen. How would you plan for that? In the event of a no-deal the NFU says we’d be able to feed ourselves until August (four months after we leave the EU). Logistics and haulage experts describe lorry queues over 15 miles long for checks at the border.

Because we, as a nation, have such a poor understanding of our food chain and such little appreciation of what it takes to just get the fresh food to the shelves we are mostly unaware of the ‘three-to-five’ day ‘just in time’ delivery system we survive off. Not sure what that means? It means supplies are delivered in small quantities at a regular frequency. Basically your local supermarket doesn’t store supplies because those supplies are on their way, in the back of a truck, possibly stuck in a traffic jam.

If it feels like I’m digressing, I am maybe a little.

Actually, no I’m not. Because to talk about food means to talk about logistics. It means to talk about trade, migration, technology, regulation, environment and health. I won’t cover them all here: it’s a complex web beyond my Sunday afternoon mind.

But I will be talking about it, or at least facilitating others to talk about it, on Tuesday evening at the Labour Party Fringe. I’ll be chairing a panel debate put on by the NFU and the FDF. Do join us or follow on twitter #foodandfarming @NFUPolitical and @FDFCorpAffairs.


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