submitted by the Food Ethics Council
1. The Food Ethics
Council is an independent research and advocacy group that
aims to make the food system fairer and healthier from farm to fork. The
Council is chaired by a farmer and its members include consumer advocates and
leading academic researchers.
2. The Council welcomes the Committee's inquiry and
this opportunity to comment. We have limited our submission to four brief
points that may be useful to the Committee at this stage in their inquiry, but
would be glad to provide further evidence on request.
or weaknesses? Ensuring security of supply entails proofing food supply
chains against possible threats. Since these are at best uncertain and at worst
unknown, resilience depends on diversity. As Defra has emphasised, the UK's
supply chains are diverse inasmuch as our food comes from many countries.
However, they are anything but diverse inasmuch as they depend heavily on oil
and other non-renewable resources, rely on a narrow range of plant and animal
breeds, use the same bulk ingredients to produce an array of different
products, and rely on consolidated purchase and distribution systems. Our May
2005 submission to the Committee
discussed some of these challenges in greater detail and we have since produced
publications on specific challenges including water scarcity, livestock production
and consumption, and food distribution.
4. UK or
global? Whether food security is framed primarily as a global challenge or
as an issue for the UK
has a profound bearing on how policy should support it. The starting point for
any global approach must be that our food systems are catastrophically insecure
right now - we do not need to look forward to 2050 - in that close to a billion
people live in hunger. We believe it is morally incumbent on the UK government,
and consistent with its commitment to a 'one planet' approach to sustainable
development, to see food security primarily as a global challenge. Taking such
an approach requires the UK
to get its own house in order, but also means that any credible commitment to
improving food security must be backed by a step increase in international
development support and by commit-ing the UK to an international
development-led stance in international trade negotiations.
or injustice? Decades of research and intervention to address food
insecurity globally have underlined that it is more fundamentally a problem of
injustice than of absolute scarcity. This implies that although pressures on
supply will increase and government has a pivotal role to play in helping to
meet those demands sustainably, the front line in promoting food security is
actually to help manage demand. This is as true in the UK as it is
internationally - the difference internationally is that many of the poorest
'consumers' derive their economic entitlements from agricultural production.
For the UK this implies a policy focus on: managing demand by improving welfare
provision and public health intervention to tackle food poverty; and managing
supply by introducing fiscal and regulatory measures to protect the workers,
the environment and natural resources, and investing in innovation to cater
sustainably for changes in demand. These points are elaborated in our
publication on the Food Crisis.
or innovation? Just as concentrating on a 'supply push' for food might
increase production with improving security, so a 'supply push' on science is
unlikely to deliver the innovation to underpin sustainable and secure food
systems. This is the message from the International Assessment of Agricultural
Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), directed by Prof
Bob Watson, now Chief Scientific Advisor at Defra.
As the largest, most rigorous and most inclusive assessment of its kind ever,
dwarfing any process past or planned in the UK, it deserves to be taken very
seriously. The UK government must invest more to support sustainable innovation
in agriculture and supporting the science base is a crucial part of that;
however, unless it radically overhauls that science base such investment would
be squandered from the point of view of ensuring food security. One part of the
challenge is to make basic science more independent, cushioning public interest
research from the pressures of intellectual property markets. The other part is to invest more heavily in
problem-driven research - in a sense less independent - driven by the needs of
target beneficiaries such as farmers pioneering sustainable production and
management systems, and consumers experiencing food poverty. These points are
discussed further in the IAASTD report (www.agassessment.org), in 'Just
Knowledge?' report and in submission to the Royal Society.
 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee's Fourth Report of
Session 2006-07, The UK Government's
"Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy", HC 546-II, Ev 176
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