Memorandum submitted by The Soil Association (SFS 47)
How robust is the current
Superficially - in reality, not 'fit' for future shocks & challenges.
Achieving agreed 80% cuts in greenhouse
gas emissions and contending with depleting oil requires radical transformation
Government has excessive, unfounded faith in 'global markets'
Dominant methods of food production,
distribution and retailing in the
Healthy soil is the foundation of any
Nation's true food security. Humanity has forgotten this simple fact. Soil erosion and degradation affect some 157
million hectares, 16% of
Lack of labour
Lower-carbon farming systems will require more people working in food production.
Inconsistencies re: agriculture, health and climate change policies
Public urged to eat more fruit and
Public R&D misdirected
Government is failing to provide R&D funding for the 'agroecological approaches' and 'the improved techniques for organic and low-input systems' identified by scientific consensus.
Foundations of a more resilient food and farming system remain in place (just)
More localised food systems are key to
enhancing the resilience of the
Help consumers choose climate-friendly food
With 30% of individual's carbon foot-print coming from their food, being able to choose 'climate-friendly' food - just as they can fridges, washing machines, cars and light-bulbs - offers an easy, everyday action for consumers.
A Food Plan for
Lack of official strategic direction as
to best mix of food types and farming systems for delivering sustainable
Soil Association congratulates the Committee on choosing such a pertinent
issue. The security and sustainability of
1.1 We examined the current situation in our report, 'An inconvenient truth about food - neither secure, nor resilient', published November 2008 and already made available to Committee members.
1.2 We are pleased to provide an updated summary of our concerns, indicating possible policy measures and practical solutions as appropriate.
How robust is the current
2.0 Superficially: Supermarket shelves are stacked high with a wide variety of foodstuffs and few people go hungry. Quite the opposite - with 40% of Britons predicted to be obese by 2025; 70% of girls and 55% of boys overweight or obese by 2050.
2.1 Whilst global rises in food prices, with consequent 'food riots' over cost and scarcities, have occurred in 14 countries, Defra does not appear concerned that any of the underlying causes affect the long-term security and sustainability of UK food supplies. The language is less dismissive than a few years ago, but the Government's view remains broadly the same,
In the brief period since that statement was published, the world has changed dramatically as global financial markets have collapsed. There are strong indications that the global food market, on which Government places so much reliance, is no more stable.
2.2 The Soil Association shares the conclusions drawn in the first version of the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit analysis of food issues:
'...existing patterns of food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future'.
'...existing patterns of food consumption will result in our society being loaded with a heavy burden of obesity and diet-related ill health.'
Those unequivocal statements were
air-brushed out of the final report. The Strategy Unit's original more critical
2.3 The Department of Health urges the public to eat more fruit and vegetables - yet indigenous fruit and veg production has declined - with over 90% of fruit eaten here being imported. Enabling farmers to grow more of the food types highlighted in national and WHO dietary guidelines would improve people's health (see obesity stats above) and encourage production of lower carbon food - less, better-quality meat from grass-fed beef and sheep; wider range of cereals for direct human consumption; more root crops, fresh fruit and veg.
What are the current
3.0 Most methods of food production, distribution and retailing in the UK, and in countries upon which the UK relies for imports of human food and feed for livestock production are inherently unsustainable - as the Strategy Unit concluded, 'not fit for a low-carbon, more resource-constrained future.'
Inquiry's terms of reference emphasise sustainability as a key factor in food
security, but do not sufficiently set this in the overarching context of
climate change and the longer-term inevitability of scarcer, costlier oil. The Government target of 80% cuts in
· Nitrous oxide being the biggest portion: The Scottish
Executive calculated that artificial nitrogen fertilisers made up 57% of
· Manufacturing and delivering 1 tonne of nitrogen fertiliser uses 1 tonne of oil, 108 tonnes of water, giving off 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the process.
· Overall food and farming (excluding soil carbon loss) make
up c.18% of the
European agriculture no different
· Industrial food production uses 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of food energy.
· Food and drink make up 31% of the global warming potential generated across all goods & product categories in the EU.
3.3 'Decarbonising' agriculture is key to our long-term food security. That requires reducing reliance on fossil-fuel based, greenhouse-gas generating artificial fertilisers and moving rapidly to modern rotational and mixed-farming supported by the best science.
3.4 With one-third of each European citizen's carbon footprint coming from what they choose to eat and drink, helping consumers make easy, low-carbon food choices is crucial - and enabling farmers to produce such foodstuffs.
3.5 A life-cycle analysis in 2003 of the Swedish food-chain from farm inputs through to home preparation showed the best way to reduce the energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions embedded in people's food was to shift to a diet of less meat and cheese, more in-season vegetables, locally produced and fresh foods.
Loss of Labour, Lack of Skills
3.6 Lower-carbon farming
systems will require more rather than fewer
people working in food production. An
indication of how many is offered by
3.7 The number of people working on the land has been in decline since the Agricultural Revolution - although 40% of the population were still employed in farming in 1900; falling to 15% by the start of World War Two. Today less than 2% work in agriculture.
3.8 Despite this exodus, the foundations of a more resilient, stable food and farming system remain in place (just) - with some encouraging 'green shoots of recovery':
· Around 10,000 mixed-farms (organic and non-organic) remain, providing the basis for more sustainable, lower-carbon forms of farming relying on crop and livestock rotations to build fertility, rather than oil and chemicals.
· As the number of farms and farm labour has declined, so has the
infrastructure needed for more resilient, localised food and farming economies.
1000 independent butchers, greengrocers, bakers etc. closed every year during
the 1990s and the number of
figures for organic farming offer a model for the likely labour requirements of
a lower-carbon farming system: Based on actual comparative, farm data, the
3.10 Against the trend of an aging farming sector (average age of British farmer = 56), organic farmers are seven years younger; a higher proportion are new-entrants, and three-times as many are involved in direct or local marketing than their non-organic counterparts. 
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?
conclusion that we need to 'double food
production by 2050' is too narrowly focused. The world produces enough food to feed everyone
on the planet - WHO states that 2200-2500 calories are needed per day to
sustain an individual in productive health. Globally more than sufficient
calories are produced - whilst nearly 1 billion people are malnourished in the
South; 2 billion are clinically overweight in the North. The issue, the UN and the
· One-third of the
· 70% of all EU livestock feed is imported, underlining the inherent unsustainability of intensive meat production - and its vulnerability should developing countries decide to grow food to feed their own people rather than our livestock.
· More morally questionable is the diversion of grains to feed
not humans, however indirectly, but cars.
In 2006, the
4.1 On climate
change, human health and food security grounds, the
healthier, low-carbon diet as outlined in paragraph 2.3 above could be
delivered through a wholesale shift to organic farming and in sufficient
quantities to feed the
In particular, what are the challenges the
5.1 A key indicator of soil quality is organic matter levels. Over 30 years ago the 'Strutt report ' concluded that, 'some soils are now suffering from dangerously low organic matter levels and could not be expected to sustain the farming systems which have been imposed on them.' 'Organic matter' means crop residues like straw, the root masses of previous crops, naturally deposited and mechanically-spread manures, as well as the myriad organisms from microbes to earthworms that inhabit a healthy soil - the building blocks of healthy, resilient soil structure and fertility. The most recent data from the National Soil Inventory shows that organic matter levels have continued to fall: in 1981 22% of our soils contained more than 7% organic matter, by 1995 only 13% did.
5.2 Less organic matter means
less carbon storage. According to the National
Soil Resources Institute,
5.3 Healthy soil is the foundation of any Nation's true food security. Soil husbandry needs to be made a paramount priority, with farmers given incentives to increase organic matter and the soil's capacity to store carbon. Good soil management should be rewarded through the Single Farm Payment scheme.
is the greatest user of water globally, accounting for 70% of water use. Under
climate change, the
suffering greater water-stress than the
UN's Food & Agriculture Organisation estimate 75% of the world's fish
stocks are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted. For the
response, fish-farming has become the fastest growing animal-food producing
sector, making up 30% of fish consumed.
Mainstream fish-farming relies on fishmeal made from small, wild fish -
not eaten by humans, but the food source for myriad marine species. Apart from impacts on wildlife, fishmeal
conversion rates to human-edible fish protein are poor - generally 3-5kg of
wild fish to each kilogram of farmed fish produced.
7.2 Healthy eating guidelines recommend one portion of oil fish weekly - but eating fish in moderation, closer to a serving of oily fish every three weeks would be more sustainable. There is good evidence that milk from organically-raised, grass and clover grazed cows produces significant levels of the key nutrients found in oily fish (omega-3 fatty acids). More research is needed to verify and develop such land-based substitutes, as well as increasing the amount of fishmeal produced from crop plants.
8.0 Government is failing to provide sufficient research funding for the 'agroecological approaches' and 'the improved techniques for organic and low-input systems' that the consensus of international scientists say are needed to curb climate change and deliver food security globally. 
8.1 Defra's overall spending on R&D related to organic farming was a mere £1.6 million between 2006 and 2007. Available evidence shows public spending on straight organic farming research has been about £2.2 million per year over 1997 to 2006. In contrast, public spending by the Government on agricultural biotechnology research was at least £49 million between 2006 and 2007 and £50 million between 2005 and 2006. This doesn't include spending via individual grants from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), for which data is not available.
8.2 This bias in
the direction of publicly funded research contradicts public preferences as to
the food they want to eat. In 2004, when the Government officially asked the
public, 86 per cent said they would not be happy to eat GM foods. By contrast,
sales of organic produce rose by 22 per cent last year. Unlike organic crops,
no GM crops are grown commercially in the
8.2 Public research funding should be redirected to:
· Developing modern, mixed-farming systems.
· Decarbonising the food system.
· Delivering and increasing fertility without fertilisers.
· Improving understanding of and productivity from the use of rotations.
· Placing soil science, management of soils for fertility and carbon sequestration at the top of agricultural scientific endeavour.
9.0 'Shedding labour' has been seen as an inevitable and conventional agronomic 'efficiency'. But to achieve secure, sustainable food supplies over the next 50 years, we will need more people in agriculture - yet there is a serious shortage of available labour and skills.
9.2 County Council tenancies traditionally provided a key 'first rung on the farming ladder', but successive Governments have encouraged or forced Councils to dispose of their farming estate. The acreage of council tenancies declined by 7,558 acres, with 202 farms no longer available to tenants over a three-year period between 1999-2002.
9.3 Government should introduce measures to encourage young people to take up a career in food production and support farm labour, as has been done with the teaching profession. The Soil Association runs a modest 'Organic Apprenticeship' training scheme providing on-farm work placements and training for young people and new entrants. Funded by the Soil Association and apprentice contributions, this merits support and extension by Government.
10.0 The statistics cited above show that our current food production system in the main is not sustainable, nor guaranteeing our long-term food security. An accepted definition of food security in the past has been that provided by the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation,
'Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.' 
That ten-year old definition doesn't adequately reflect the need for food security to be founded above all on sustainable production, given current understanding of the scale and urgency of the challenges brought by climate change.
'...despite significant scientific and technological achievements in our ability to increase agricultural productivity, we have been less attentive to some of the unintended social and environmental consequences of our achievements.
Business as usual is no longer an option...Policies that promote sustainable agricultural practices (...) stimulate more technology innovation, such as agroecological approaches and organic farming to alleviate poverty and improve food security
10.2 The 'agroecological approaches and organic farming' that IAASTD calls for have been starved of research and development funding (see para 8.1 above). Consequently, sustainable farming systems are in a comparable situation to the renewable energy sector, where the lion's share of funding was swallowed up by the fossil-fuel and nuclear energy industries, setting renewables back a decade or more. Only when fiscal measures were introduced to stimulate non-fossil fuel energy generation was the necessary investment, innovation and progress made. Similar incentives are needed to drive sustainable and secure food and farming systems.
• What trends are likely to emerge on the demand side of the
food system in the
11.0 As awareness of climate change and evidence of its impacts increases, more consumers are going to seek ways of reducing their carbon-footprint. With 30% coming from their food, being able to choose 'climate-friendly' food - just as they can fridges, washing machines, cars and light-bulbs - offers an easy, everyday action.
What use could be made of local food networks?
12.0 More localised food systems are
key to enhancing the resilience of the
The Soil Association is the lead
partner in the Food for Life Partnership which is working with a core of 180
flagship schools across
• What role should Defra play both in ensuring that the
strengths of the
13.0 Produce a 'Food Security Plan for
13.1 Lead by example: as the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Defra and all government departments and food procurement contracts which they oversee should specify seasonal, fresh and low-carbon food - encouraging local producers and suppliers to tender as permitted under European law.
• 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?
14.0 Insufficient links between food production, public health, and climate change mitigation policies.
• What criteria should Defra use to monitor how well the
15.0 Simply doubling food production is a crude, inaccurate measure that could drive a return to crude maximised production with minimal human health and environmental restraints.
Criteria would include:
· Reverse damage to
· Develop accurate measurement for individual farm's soil carbon storage/losses -set annual targets for sustaining/increasing soil carbon storage per farm.
· Annual target cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and throughout food-chain (Some supermarkets have already calculated and set targets for individual food items carbon budgets).
· Increase proportion of 'healthy eating' guidelines
foodstuffs grown in
· Biodiversity is not an 'either/or' when it comes to food security, but a key indicator of the sustainability of the system. We can have 'sky-lark friendly daily bread'.
· Increases in employment in farming as a positive indicator of lower-carbon farming.
 Ensuring the
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 Scottish Executive (2004), Scottish Agriculture and Global Change - Nitrous Oxide Emissions from Fertiliser Use. Environment Group Research Report 2004/09.
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Biomaterials, North Energy Associates,
 Ensuring the
 Environmental Impacts of Products (EIPRO): Analysis of life-cycle environmental impacts related to the total fuel consumption of the EU25, European Science & Technology Observatory & Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, April 2005
 'Food and life cycle energy inputs: consequences of diet and ways to increase efficiency', Ecological economics, 44, 2-3, 293-307, 2003
works, providing more jobs through organic farming and local food supply, Soil Association,
 Strutt Report 'Modern farming and the soil, published 1970, MAFF
 Foster C (2005) Fish Consumption and production: The sustainability Challenge. National Consumer Council
 Butler et al (2008) 'Fatty acid and fat-soluble antioxidant concentrations in milk from high and low input conventional and organic systems: seasonal variation', Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture J Sci Food Agric 88:1431-1441
K. A. Ellis, G. Innocent, D. Grove-White, P. Cripps, W. G. McLean, C. V. Howard and M. Mihm (2006) Comparing the Fatty Acid Composition of Organic and Conventional Milk, J. Dairy Sci. 89:1938-1950
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 International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology Development, April 2008.
 Planting Prejudice, How UK Government support for GM crops undermines sustainable farming policies, Friends of the Earth, September 2007
 IAAST, Global Summary, Options for Action, p. 33, http://www.agassessment.org