Memorandum submitted by Leicestershire Food Links (SFS 42)

 

Our organisation works within Leicestershire promoting locally produced food. We run 5 farmers' markets working directly with local producers.

1. How robust is the current UK food system?  What are its main strengths and weaknesses?

The main weaknesses are:

Increased reliance on imports means that home production has decreased substantially and the infrastructure has suffered. Depletion of orchards and market gardens. The number of farmers and farm workers is decreasing due to business failures, low profit margins, poor wages, supermarket practices, transport issues and lack of financial and knowledge based support.

Reliance on oil. Fertilisers, transport, etc causing an increased demand bio fuels limiting food production.

Mediocre distribution networks in some areas.

Climate change - flooding, drought, - failures have large impact on the whole sector

Consumer attitudes - supermarket dominated retail environment with all year round range of products, disassociation with rural issues and knowledge of food and its production and preparation, reliance on perceived cheap, quick food, low levels of food education and loss of skills. Businesses have a strong desire to buy local, however they are not willing to purchase locally unless prices are competitive.

Consumer eating habits -Predominance of meat rich diet large amount of land used for animal feed less land for development of vegetable crops. Dependency on soya, sugars and bulking agents in diet, overconsumption.

Problems with development versus growing land.

2. How well placed is the UK to make the most of its opportunities in responding to the challenge of increasing global food production by 50% by 2030 and doubling it by 2050, while ensuring that such production is sustainable? 

 

Insufficient information to comment.

3. In particular, what are the challenges the UK faces in relation to the following aspects of the supply side of the food system:

- the provision of training -

Re-introduction of more apprenticeships and specialised part-time courses at colleges for those intending to farm and/or produce food. A new breed of smallholders/hobby farmers/market gardeners lack access to support and training depending on locality.


- trade barriers

Market Charters restricting Farmers Markets. We have experienced problems setting up new markets in Leicestershire because limited permission and/or the fees charged under Local Authority Rival Market policies or because individual Charter holders running a monthly market have refused to hold another during the month. As a not for profit organisation we have not felt that we could risk the expense of legal action on a test case.

Allotment regulations restricting sale of produce.


- the way in which land is farmed and managed

The UK food system will need a complete overhaul. Decisions will have to be made as to whether we revert to a more traditional holistic sustainable way of farming in increased locations or adopt the idea that GM crops are the only method of providing sufficient food. We would not support the latter and hope that the decision errs towards the former.

Increased number of co-operatives sharing resources and support.

More land in cities and rural locations made available for food production.

We would like to comment on the opportunities for people to grow their own food.

Allotments allocations have been seriously decreased and are now oversubscribed in many areas. Green spaces have diminished in many town centres for housing development etc and new housing developments offer little space for own production due to land costs.

To increase the level of support given to smallholders who are currently penalised with planning laws for farming small acreages.

Introduction of consumer involvement in food production, Community Supported Agriculture, Community Orchards, Abundance projects etc.

 

4. What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the food system in the UK, in terms of consumer taste and habits, and what will be their main effect?  What use could be made of local food networks?

Seasonality is supported, with an emphasis on the benefits that local food can bring.

Education on waste of vital resources continued.

Current trend due to economic climate is a marked increase in sales of cheaper basic foods and a decrease in organic sales. This may affect the range and amount of local and organic produce sold by supermarkets and as already seen closure of M & S branches.

Farmers markets will continue to be popular because of

i) environmental issues;

ii) a sense of ownership and community (supporting local producers); and

iii) fresher food and more variety.

However they may experience problems if producers cease to trade or cannot afford staffing and rental costs of stalls with diminishing returns.

 

Our food culture has changed so dramatically over the last 60 years that it will be difficult to effect change immediately as consumers will still expect strawberries in December. There is an enormous range of imported foods we can currently buy. It is of concern that some of these imports are the life blood of workers abroad. However if more food is grown in the UK it will mean that the market is open for new enterprises to fill gaps. The work of local food networks needs to be researched as they vary considerably but they already have local knowledge of local food production and the issues involved. The CPRE are currently trialling a local food mapping project which will be rolled out later this year. If appropriate the Government must decide if they will offer support to these networks to develop good practice and effect change.

5. What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the strengths of the UK food system are maintained and in addressing the weaknesses that have been identified?  What leadership and assistance should Defra provide to the food industry?

We have an industry that appears to be in decline so maintenance is long overdue. The average age of farmers is increasing due to the lack of new entrants. The proposition of working as a farmer is not appealing in the current climate. The past reliance on diversification has already shown that farmers have been struggling for many years. Working on a farm is hard work, dangerous and badly paid, housing in rural locations is normally too expensive and transport links may be non-existent - not a good combination for encouraging new workers. However recent research implies that the majority of people regard farmers with respect and would therefore be keen to support them.

A range of incentives to encourage new entrants to farming would need to be developed to stem the flow from the industry. There needs to be a healthy mix of small, medium and large farms to offer increased choice.

 

6. How well does Defra engage with other relevant departments across Government, and with European and international bodies, on food policy and the regulatory framework for the food supply chain?   Is there a coherent cross-Government food strategy? 

 

Insufficient knowledge to comment.

 

7. What criteria should Defra use to monitor how well the UK is doing in responding to the challenge of doubling global food production by 2050 while ensuring that such production is sustainable?

 

Insufficient information for response.

 

The UK is in a serious position and consumer attitudes to food will have to adapt as each different problem arise whether it is climate change, depleting oil supplies or increased population. We cannot carry on regardless. Many consumers are unaware that there is a problem. The Transition network is in its infancy but is working to explain the issues that Government has to contend with today. Our bank of farmers is dwindling and all necessary steps must be taken to support the industry. Increased legislation and regulations have increased the burden as have planning issues, lack of land for developing businesses in rural areas, limited local services and training opportunities, lack of housing and poor pay. There has been an exodus from the countryside resulting in low levels of knowledge of farming, rural affairs and food origins by many urban consumers. Climate change has already affected harvests and will continue to do so. Oil prices will rise as supplies become less.

 

An end to Market Charters restricting trade for local food over imports.

Increased support for Farmers Markets - a very good mechanism to promote local businesses and activities and to educate and inform consumers.

Changes in the planning laws to support the set up of small scale food production and development of rural food businesses and improvement of infrastructure - broadband connections, postal services, local shops, distribution networks, transport, low cost housing and training and support opportunities.

Increased allotment provision and inner city green spaces.

Removal of restrictions on allotments stopping the sale of vegetables to the public.

Community Supported Agriculture, Market Gardens and community led projects.

More local abattoirs to limit livestock travel time and support businesses.

Increased promotion - Government advocating the consumption and preparation of local and seasonal food with minimum waste to consumers.

Support of dedicated local food networks to set up food webs, organise distribution networks, providing support and training to new and current producers.

A range of incentives to encourage new farmers and local producers.

Stricter monitoring of supermarket practices by Food Standards Agency? Monopolies Commission.

Increased procurement of local produce in schools, hospitals and supermarkets.

Financial incentives for producing food.

Development of partnerships and co-operatives within the local food industries, local government and consumer groups.

 

January 2009