Examination of Witnesses (Questions 580
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
580. Finally, before others ask their questions,
your suggestion for national re-localisation concentrates on research,
pilot projects and the use of ICT in supply chains. Could you
briefly give us some details of how those elements would contribute
towards your overall aim that you have described? You have touched
on this but if you could just give a concrete illustration of
what it would look like to do this?
(Mr Allen) One of the classic examples, I suppose,
is that we are exporting and importing identical produce between
different areas of the EU. Lamb is one example where almost identical
weights are moving between different areas. If information and
communications technology could be utilised to make a system available
where if you are looking for a particular product you can see
where the nearest producer is and then build a dialogue with your
nearest producer then it makes sense to try that avenue before
you explore bringing it in from Finland, Iceland or Belgium.
581. Would that be more expensive for the consumer
(Mr Allen) No, not at all, primarily because of the
externalities, the things that nobody pays for. You could argue,
as many people do, that you pay three times for your food: initially
in subsidies, then over the counter and, again, paying for the
externalities that are left behind, such as the foot and mouth
crisis. If all the externalities are internalised then local produce
will come out very well financially.
Mr Öpik: Thank you very much.
582. I would like to ask some questions about
the critical reactions to your proposals. Some of them, no doubt,
will be known to Mr Hughes from reading the press. On an objective
basis, thinking of my own family, we never had any problems during
the fuel crisis getting a wide range of foods. Frankly, I think
there has been a gross exaggeration of the problems, certainly
in my part of the country there were none at all during the foot
and mouth crisis. I think there was one day when my wife said
that there was something not there, but that happens anyway when
one goes to the shops sometimes. Is it not objectively a fact
that despite what you read and hear about the scare stories, the
western consumer has access to a wide range of foods, foods are
safer than ever before and healthier and better protected than
in the past? Is that not the actuality of where we have got to?
(Mr Allen) Speaking from our point of view, perhaps
at the end of the supply chain in rural Machynlleth there were
shortages during the fuel crisis, partially as a result of lack
of supply and partially as a result of panic buying. If we envisage
perhaps a fuel dispute that lasts considerably longer that is
out of our hands then I think if the shops do become empty the
farms around the shops will still be producing milk but there
will not be the bulk tankers to pick it up to drive it into the
West Midlands to the creameries who will then drive it back out
packaged and processed. We do not have the infrastructure of milk
churns any more that can simply bring the milk from the farms
into the towns. I understand from talking to some of the local
dairymen that that would actually be an illegal practice now,
what was a perfectly acceptable practice as recently as the 1950s.
I would not make the argument that we are suffering at the moment
but what we have created is a system which is perhaps more fragile
than we realise it is.
583. So you are really arguing for an insurance
policy type of approach?
(Mr Allen) There is very little argument against selective
re-localisation, that there is any problem with it.
584. Some would say differently. No doubt Mr
Hughes has seen an article in the Financial Times by Martin
Wolf of 4 April?
(Mr Hughes) No, I have not. Is Martin Wolf from Elm
Farm Research Centre?
Chairman: He is an economic commentator for
the Financial Times.
585. If I can just quote from his article. He
says "the view that we must now move to organic, small-scale
farming and local trade is a romantic folly". Given the opportunity
on the record today, what would you say to critics like him who
think that you are basically, I suppose, trying to drive us back
into a romantic past that had no reality?
(Mr Hughes) You are making a link between organic
and local and there is not necessarily a link between the two.
586. He was.
(Mr Hughes) We are not making that distinction. As
a Centre we prioritise local/organic and sometimes we may purchase
things which are local over organic, it depends on the individual
circumstances. That is a choice we make as a Centre and as a business.
(Mr Allen) Certainly we are not envisaging a return
to a plethora of small holdings surrounding Liverpool. What we
are looking at is perhaps to designate a food shed for Liverpool
and to look at the food producing ability of the area around Liverpool
and then to try to build a relationship between the urban consumers
in Liverpool and the rural producers. I think as a society our
urban/rural dialogue is very weak in Britain at the moment. There
is no link, there is no partnership, between producers in rural
areas and consumers in urban areas. Re-localisation would help
rebuild that bridge, which I think is an important bridge for
a healthy society. There is no reason why we should be thinking
about returning to small scale farms, in fact it could be quite
large farms, it is simply not driving the food all the way from
Düsseldorf to Liverpool when it could be produced identically
much nearer. There is something about that that just seems sensible
587. I find it rather strange that so much produce
disappears down to London before it comes back to Norfolk. Could
I ask about your approach in terms of achieving your objectives
because there I detect a degree of romanticism myself, the idea
that simply by informing the consumer they will possibly pay more
or do different. I think you have tied yourself to persuasion
rather than any element of compulsion in the way forward. Did
I understand that correctly, that you believe it has got to be
persuasion, or do you see a role for tax changes for the nation
looking to find someone to hit with what you have referred to
as the external costs?
(Mr Allen) For a start, if you are shipping food around
by air you are not paying for the planet's carrying capacity to
deal with that pollution and to rebalance the atmosphere, nobody
is paying for that. They are not even paying the tax on aviation
fuel. There are a lot of external costs that really need to be
internalised before we can genuinely talk about
588. What practical proposals would you have
for actually seeing some of the external costs of aircraft flights
(Mr Hughes) A tax on kerosene is an obvious one.
589. Do you think that in the global market
that could be done unilaterally? How would you see that put in
(Mr Hughes) I think that remains to be seen. It has
not happened so far but it does not mean it cannot happen.
(Mr Allen) As we increasingly realise that the global
ecosystem services provided by the planet are of a finite capacity
and that we are unclear how much more headroom we have before
we reach the limits of that capacity globally, I can see the need
to equally distribute the access to that carrying capacity amongst
other countries of the world and a taxation system may be one
means of doing that.
(Mr Hughes) Obviously the taxation point Paul has
mentioned but I take your point that it has to be more than just
publicising and getting that sort of dialogue, there have to be
other mechanisms for pushing that or for encouraging it. It could
be targets, I think that remains to be seen. That may come out
in any kind of research that is done. Maybe that highlights another
need for research, to find out what mix works and what mechanisms
need to be applied to make it happen if you want that element
in your local economy, which is more robust, to exist and to continue
(Mr Allen) I also feel that the general public do
not have any mechanism for currently finding out how far their
food travels. There was a very interesting study on Week In,
Week Out on BBC Wales where they had a piece of lamb that
said "Local Welsh Lamb" on it, they took it in the streets
and said "how far do you think this has travelled" and
most people said between 30 and 80 miles because it said "Local
Welsh Lamb". They followed its path and it had travelled
750 miles to end up 50 miles from where it was actually living.
When faced with that sort of information people, like yourself
I am sure, would think that is not sensible, it does not make
sense for food to be travelling that far. Informing people and
providing viable alternatives will, we hope, put an increasing
amount of resources into the local economy at a time when people
in their hearts really do want to support local farmers. They
are asking us for things that they can do.
590. I was interested in how you define "local".
(Mr Allen) It varies from sector to sector and probably
within agriculture it varies from area to area. It could be what
we think of as tight re-localisation within, say, a 50 to 100
mile radius around the town or some things could be re-located
to the UK and would have a huge impact on reducing the amount
of food miles. "Local" does not necessarily have one
defined fixed meaning, it varies from food to food and from sector
591. Are there any models of localised supply
chains that would meet your parameters which you have observed
outside the United Kingdom that you would like to draw to our
(Mr Allen) None that I have at the moment but it is
an area of very interesting research.
592. Even within the European Union there are
some countries like the United Kingdom, tight, close knit, where
we have very centralised distribution systems for our food, which
I think has helped establish a supermarket mentality, whereas
in other parts of Europe, for example in Italy, there are supermarkets
but small shops, and therefore localised supply chains, have survived.
I think it is one of those areas for further research. You mentioned
research. Who do you think ought to be responsible for trying
to promote some of the answers to the questions that you have
posed to the Committee this morning?
(Mr Hughes) I was going to say it certainly needs
to be multi-disciplinary, there needs to be a lot of people involved
from all sectors. I do not think it should be the responsibility
of just one organisation.
593. For example, do you think that the new
Regional Development Agencies are addressing this issue in a sensible
and practical fashion, or has it just not appeared on their radar
(Mr Allen) I think it is beginning to appear on their
radar. With any local economy there is a section of local needs
met with local resources. As you say, in Europe there are many
places where it is much higher than in the UK. One of the most
important things about that part of the economy is that it is
proving to be the most robust as the de-localised parts, the parts
that relate to inward investment, are now literally unbolting
themselves and moving to new areas where labour is cheaper or
there are new development systems. The parts of the economy that
meet local needs with local resources are proving the most resilient
and, therefore, are catching the eye of the Development Agencies.
594. One of the aspects I did not see covered
in your paper is the question of seasonality. We have become used
to the luxury of cheating the seasons domestically, how would
you approach the question of re-educating the public that they
should not anticipate 52 weeks of the year supply of all the things
which currently have to be moved around the globe which do not
meet with your approval?
(Mr Allen) If we had, say, as has happened with organics,
a large number of top TV chefs all signing up and saying, "I
am not going to cook out of season, that is not the way I want
to do things", it would raise that profile with the customers.
When visitors come to our centre and they have been on the course,
if, for example, an out of season fruit should appear in our restaurant,
because people have the awareness they will point that out to
us. We would like to think it could become one of the things which
just is not done any more to serve at a dinner party out of season
foods. Serving local, in season, would be something which would
be seen as stating who you are and what you believe in.
595. We live in a highly developed country in
terms of our dependence on urban systems. One of the advantages
of the current food supply network is that it spreads risk globally,
if one moved in your direction how do you deal with the question
of risk of supply? Let us assume ten, 15 years down the road we
have disaggregated these global mechanisms and we are returning
more to the Victorian picture, which is the one you describeand
I remember those concentric circle diagrams we used to get showing
the local supply chain outside the cityand an area suddenly
gets inundated with flood, how does your model deal with the risk?
(Mr Allen) We are not advocating a monopoly for relocalised
suppliers, we are saying the two systems do exist side-by-side
but currently the mix is wrong, there is far too much globalised
food and far too little localised food. We would suggest that
the mix is redressed but we are not looking for a monopoly for
localised food. One of the things about localisation is that it
is compatible with globalisation, the two things can exist side-by-side.
In some ways they have to, nobody would want to see globalisation
taken to its 100 per cent inevitable conclusion, there will also
always be a mixture of local and global but what we have to do
is do some research to see how those two things can sit together.
596. That is interesting. I am a supporter,
in fact chairman, of an initiative locally called Keep the Fylde
Farmingmy constituency is called the Fylde, the area around
my part of West Lancashire is the Fylde. One of the problems facing
us though is that, for example, milk producers contribute to Lancashire
Dairies but it is difficult for the consumer to identify that
what comes off the Fylde farms is a Lancashire Dairies product.
That is not quite localisation in your terms but it would be one
way of supporting the local agricultural economy. Who do you think
should be responsible for improving the flows of consumer information
which you mentioned earlier?
(Mr Allen) The Ministry would be one good place to
start. Schools also. We are ending up with generations of people
who do not really know how food is produced because there is nowhere
local to take them to show them. With relocalisation that awareness
begins and schools can build relationships with producers.
597. So you would advocate perhaps the construction
of a localisation index?
(Mr Allen) I would imagine that the Business Development
Agencies in the regions could have an important role to play in
Mr Jack: Thank you.
598. As you know, I think that relocalisation
concepts probably do represent an important element in future
farm planning. The question I have is to what extent do you think
it would be viable to test that hypothesis out in a test area?
I happen to be near the Machynlleth in West Wales, do you think
it would be viable to set up an experimental relocalisation initiative
throughout Montgomeryshire and the Mid Wales area? Is that something
we could do as a pilot?
(Mr Allen) Absolutely. There is no reason whatsoever
why that could not be done. If that produces answers different
from what we think they will be, all the better, we have learned
something we did not know. Also I think regional twinnings are
important, where you have twinning with perhaps an area in Europe,
where relocalisation is stronger, so when locals, farmers, teachers,
development workers, business people go there and see how strong
the localised links are there, they will bring something of that
back with them.
599. I have a vivid recollection that when the
Committee went to the United States looking at world trade we
went to Minnesota and we met Pilsbury, one of the large America
companies, and they had a lady whose job it was to do research
on consumer habits and what the consumer wanted. She told us that
in the United States now the demands for convenience was such
that the housewife was not willing to spend more than ten minutes
in the kitchen preparing anything. They did not mind sitting down
with the family to eat a meal but they did not want to spend their
time alone in the kitchen preparing it. For breakfast food people
did not want to have to put the milk on the cornflakes, that was
a labour too many. With a very high number of women in work, which
is characteristic with the United Kingdom as well, this demand
to push towards convenience was something they had to take into
account. The philosophy and the mechanisms you are underlining,
are they compatible with that sort of sociological trend?
(Mr Allen) I am not sure that that trend is wholly
manifest in the United Kingdom, there is some resistance to that.
There is no fundamental reason why you could not have a more equitable
mix than we have now. I do not think, necessarily, we want the
milk already on our cornflakes, to my mind they would be soggy
mush as soon as you opened them. What we are finding is that we
now have housewives having to think, "Is this really safe?
Is this really what I should be giving to my children". That,
somehow, takes some of the fun away from preparing food, whereas
the systems where you know you can ring up the farm that produced
it, you know that you can ring up and you will get a warm reception
from the person at the other end, and you can even visit the place
where it is produced and buy some there on the farm, that is nice
to know. I am not saying that everyone will take that up all of
the time, but it is something that money cannot buy.