Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England


1. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) welcomes this inquiry, which is timely when economic considerations are having a powerful influence on the decisions consumers make about the food they buy. As an organisation concerned with the economic, social and environmental sustainability challenges faced by both urban and rural communities, as well as the countryside, CPRE takes a keen interest in sustainable food production issues. We are committed to helping reconcile the interests of the public and the farming industry in the management of our farmed landscapes. We have drawn on our current and previous work on food security and food sustainability issues in responding to this inquiry.

Executive summary

2. CPRE believes it would be perverse to deplete the quality of our natural resources and environment in a drive to boost food production. The UK should take a lead in demonstrating that environmental sustainability is at the heart of its food production, rather than relying on short term productivist policies which deplete the natural asset base to the long term detriment both of production and those assets. The globalisation of food production has failed to address the critical issue of ensuring supply and distribution networks deliver food to where it is most needed while avoiding serious environmental degradation. There is a need for caution in determining how much this country can contribute to meeting global targets for food production given its land area and society’s commitment to high ethical and environmental standards.

3. Land use is at the heart of the debate about sustainable food production. Making decisions about how to allocate land for different uses has become more complex as society makes increasing and more varied demands on this finite resource. In terms of food production it is important to establish clear policy objectives to ensure our food is produced sustainably while the character and distinctiveness of our countryside is maintained and enhanced. In establishing new polices to achieve these aims CPRE believes we need to learn the lessons from the unintended consequences of previous drives to increase food production. The demand to produce more food must not lead to even greater environmental damage and further inequalities of food supply and distribution.

4. Greater integration of environmental and food policy measures would help to improve food sustainability. A food and environmental strategy should be developed building on research to bring together farming and food industry initiatives and Government policy measures. The previous Government’s food strategy, Food 2030, was criticised for being unclear about the actions needed to achieve its aims. It should be reassessed and reinvigorated to ensure there are clear actions for the production of sustainable food, with additional indicators to provide information on key aspects of environmental and social sustainability.

5. Retailers should encourage more sustainable production by increasing premium payment initiatives to more farmers who produce food using environmentally sustainable methods. Retailers should then internalise some of this additional cost so that consumers do not resort to buying cheaper but less sustainably produced food. The issue of waste throughout the food chain also needs to be addressed more proactively by both Government , food processors and retailers.

6. Local food networks have an important role to play in educating the public about food sustainability issues . T he se networks should receive greater Government support. Creating healthy domestic agricultural sectors will also require greater investment in providing regional and local food processing and packing facilities, including abattoirs. Otherwise, there will be increased greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the greater distances travelled between farm-gate, processors and retailers. Increased transport costs can add to the production costs of local food producers, which could threaten their economic viability, reducing the diversity of the supply chain. Additionally, there will be a need for not only traditional land management skills but a range of new skills for sustainable production for those who manage our countryside and make a living from producing food.

How can the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we choose to eat best be reduced?

7. More detailed aspects of this question are answered in response to subsequent questions. However, to frame our response CPRE would like to draw attention to the following statements:

‘The political reality is that sustainability cannot be pursued in the absence of food security.’ (The Future of Food and Farming – Challenges and choices for global sustainability, Foresight Report from the Government Office for Science, January 2011)

‘Simply ratcheting up the fertilizer and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th Century is unlikely to address the challenge. It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture such as healthy and productive soils, the water and nutrient recycling of forests, and pollinators such as bees and bats.’ (Achim Steiner, Under-Secretary G en eral of the United Nations and Executive D irector of the U nited N ations Environment P rogramme [ UNEP ] )

Agricultural knowledge, science and technology (AKST) can increase sustainable agricultural production by expanding use of local and formal AKST to develop and deploy suitable cultivars adaptable to site-specific conditions; improving access to resources; improving soil, water and nutrient management and conservation; pre- and post harvest pest management; and increasing small-scale farm diversification. Policy options for addressing food security include developing high-value and underutilized crops in rain fed areas; increasing the full range of agricultural exports and imports, including organic and fair trade products; reducing transaction costs for small-scale producers; strengthening local markets; food safety nets; promoting agro-insurance; and improving food safety and quality.’ (Agriculture at a Cross Roads, The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, 2009)

8. CPRE believes that t he statements from these three important reports indicate that the following key actions are required:

Ensure food production systems maintain and restore landscape character and biodiversity

9. In many parts of the world, including in England, there have been serious declines in biodiversity and soil and water quality, and rural landscapes have become increasingly homogenised. CPRE believes that greater intensification, the ill-advised use of some agri-chemicals and drives to improve efficiencies in farm practices at whatever cost have damaged much of the character and quality of the countryside, its wildlife and habitats and its soil and water resources. The pressure to increase and intensify production of crops or livestock should not undo the billions of pounds and years of investment that have been spent to improve the farmed environment to enhance its landscape character and protect important wildlife habitats. In addition, the many issues arising from climate change have further complicated the challenges that need to be addressed to make food production environmentally sustainable.

10. A combination of legislation and a number of policy measures and initiatives have been developed to help resolve some of these problems and challenges including Environmental Stewardship and the Farming Futures and Catchment Sensitive Farming initiatives. Some of these have made progress with at least stabilising the damage that has been done over time and in maintaining some landscape features, although in terms of enhancement and restoration of landscape features and habitats an enormous challenge remains. CPRE is concerned that funding for these important initiatives and policy measures that could help to improve the sustainability of food production is often threatened, and in some cases has been withdrawn (a recent example being the funding for Farming Futures). This creates uncertainty amongst farmers and land managers about long term investments in the actions needed to make food production more environmentally sustainable, undermining progress towards achieving this objective.

Ensure food production systems maintain and protect soil and water resources and contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

11. While much attention has been devoted to water sustainability issues in recent years, less effort has been focused on our soil resource. The Water Framework Directive has driven much of the action taken to address water quality issues. In the absence of a European Union Directive on soils, however, measures to address soil issues have been applied rather haphazardly through cross compliance and agri-environment measures.

12. It is particularly important that the inter-relationship between soil and carbon storage is given more attention. The recent Foresight Report quoted above states that there is nearly as much carbon in the organic compounds contained in the top 30cm of soil as there is in the entire atmosphere. This makes it essential that we improve the organic content of soils and protect those soils, for example peat, that provide the greatest potential to increase the amount of carbon they can store.

13. The Government’s 2009 soil strategy ( Safeguarding our Soils – A strategy for England – Defra – September 2009) reported that over the last 200 years our soils have become degraded due to intensive agricultural production and industrial pollution. Soils in England continue to face three main threats:

· E rosion by wind and rain. This affects the productivity of soils , and also water quality and aquatic ecosystems ;

· Compaction , which reduces agricultural productivity and water infiltration, and increases flood risk through higher levels of runoff ;

· Organic matter decline. The loss of soil organic matter reduces soil quality, affecting the supply of nutrients and making it more difficult for plants to grow, and increases emissions to the atmosphere.

14. Soils have a critical role in filtration, assisting ground water replenishment which in turn can support food production (for irrigation, particularly of vegetable crops) and slow run-off protecting land from flooding.

15. CPRE has welcomed the Government’s commitment to re-examine Best and Most Versatile (BMV) agricultural land policy. CPRE does not believe that current planning policy with respect to BMV land gives adequate recognition to the importance of soils. The planning mechanism for soil protection is weaker since the publication of Planning Policy Statement (PPS) 7 in 2004. Under PPS7 protection of soils was downgraded, making the sealing and loss of agricultural land more likely. Despite some challenges on particular sites, the overall focus of national planning policy to direct new housing development towards previously developed land in urban areas and away from greenfield agricultural land has helped to minimise the permanent sealing of soil by development. CPRE believes that in the future it will be important for land to have multifunctional roles, but the abolition of brownfield targets for housebuilding is also likely to contribute to creating conflicts over land use. The loss of agricultural land at the edges of towns will reduce the opportunities for local food production.

16. In a localised planning system there are risks that short term development gains will weigh more heavily than soil protection for a local planning authority, and that significant amounts of high quality land could be lost if national policy is not strengthened to balance more localised development objectives. Fertile soil needs to be seen as a strategic asset in an increasingly volatile world. For example, where appropriate, Grade 1, 2 and 3a land will need to provide areas of wildlife habitat that enable the carbon and organic content of the soil to be recharged to help to maintain soil quality and biodiversity and to contribute to efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

17. The Agricultural Land Classification System (ALC) was established in 1966 and took no account of climate change and its effect on soil capacity. CPRE believes there is a need to reassess the potential of land and its soil resources to produce food, fuel and other commodities. We look forward to the Government’s detailed proposals for reviewing BMV land policy as part of the National Policy Planning Framework.

What are the land-use trade-offs that affect food production and supply and how should these be managed?

Food production and the provision of environmental public goods

18. Following the Second World War both the CAP and national agricultural policies in the UK sought to increase food production. Although ultimately successful in this aim, these policies caused widespread damage to the rural environment. Over the last twenty years, a gradual shift in policy, regulation and funding has started to slow and in some cases reverse this damage, with very little reduction in the quantities of food being produced. The issue of food security and sustainability raises questions about the level of resilience of UK farming businesses to world competition; the export of environmental damage through the raising of environmental standards at home; and whether these standards pose an opportunity or a threat to the viability of our own farming communities.

How can the Government help to deliver healthy food sustainably, whilst also delivering affordable food for all?

19. The need to consider both healthy and sustainable food in responding to this question raises many and complex issues (including food quality, nutritional value, primary production, and processing), and makes providing a comprehensive response challenging. CPRE urges the Committee to focus on the following key issues.

Reform the CAP to focus on rewarding farmers for production of environmental public goods and ecosystem services

20. CPRE has previously identified the strong inter-relationship between economic and environmental and social sustainability. There is no question that by its very nature agriculture perfectly encompasses the three pillars of sustainability. The Living Landscapes research CPRE undertook with the NFU in 2006 made it clear that a weakness of the UK’s food production system is the reliance of many farmers on payments from the CAP for their businesses to remain economically viable. The cessation of the Single Payment is likely to have a profound impact on the profitability of some farming businesses and therefore on rural communities. Some beneficial land management activities that maintain landscape features and habitats will become less easy to accommodate within farm businesses’ calculations, potentially adding to the loss of landscape character and biodiversity.

21. We would like to see the CAP evolve into a European Sustainable Land Management Policy. The policy should reward farmers for the full range of environmental public goods and ecosystem services that are produced through farming activity, while also allowing sufficient provision of high quality food and renewable energy. Such a policy would help with the price volatility issues faced by farmers caused by extreme weather, global or regional economic instability and political events that could disrupt supplies.

22. There is also a need to examine the basis upon which payments can be made for public goods and ecosystem services, including welcome animal welfare obligations and ecosystem service provision within globalised trading rules. Means need to be found that permit sufficient incentives to be provided to ensure that the provision of public goods and ecosystem services can continue. Otherwise, there is a risk that indirect costs to society from food production, in terms of damage to soil and water quality and condition, as well as to landscapes and wildlife, will escalate in the long term. Upland farming could provide a good starting point for developing a basis for providing payments for delivering ecosystem services. Good management of peatland soils delivers a range of ecosystem services, including landscape character, biodiversity and carbon storage and storage and management of water; maintenance and enhancement of these services should be rewarded. This multifunctional approach to land use could encourage more mixed farming and diversify income streams to make upland farming more economically viable.

Promote and support local food networks

23. In 2006 CPRE joined a partnership led by the Plunkett Foundation in submitting a bid to the Changing Spaces Programme of the Big Lottery Fund. The full portfolio of projects is entitled ‘Making Local Food Work’. The programme aims to show how the needs of land and people, producers and consumers are interdependent, and that community enterprise can make these connections in a mutually beneficial manner. In particular, the programme is developing and supporting models of community food enterprises such as community supported farms and shops to increase access to local food. Further information is available from

24. CPRE’s contribution to the programme is a project supported by Sustain - Mapping Local Food Webs - which has equipped community groups in 19 towns and cities to survey, map and document their local food networks or ‘webs’. We will shortly report on and disseminate these findings to local, regional and national policy and decision makers to promote supportive policy changes. For the project a food web is defined as the network of links between farmers and growers, processors, suppliers , local food shops and other local food providers such as farmers markets, box schemes, community - supported agriculture and food cooperatives, through to consumers.

25. The project has engaged local volunteers directly with interviewing local food outlets and producers to develop understanding of where and how food is produced and sold within local areas. It has brought local residents, businesses and councillors together in workshops to explore problems related to the availability of local food. By using the data collected to document and produce maps of the local food webs we aim to increase knowledge and awareness among the wider public of where food comes from, how it is produced, distributed and sold and the benefits that can arise for the community, local economy and the wider environment. The project should encourage people to support their local food networks through where they shop and what they buy and help secure the long term viability of local food businesses from retail to primary production, and through this, benefit the management of the countryside. CPRE would like to see more Government support for establishing and sustaining local food networks.

Clearly define the meaning of sustainable intensification and devote resources to research into agro-ecological farming practices

26. Following on from the publication of the recent Foresight Report, CPRE believes the Government should more clearly define what it meant by the term ‘sustainable intensification’. This will be particularly important if the Government is to make good on its pledge to work in partnership with consumers to ensure the UK leads the way in developing this concept. In parallel, we would like to see more attention devoted to the opportunities presented by agro-ecology, as the food sustainability debate is becoming increasingly focused on issues of scale, and characterised by the polarising perception that farming is no longer ‘agri-cultural’ in nature but agri-industrial. The recent Nocton ‘Mega Dairy’ proposal in Lincolnshire is an example of what some might consider to be termed sustainable intensification. However, despite the claims that such developments would in some ways be more sustainable than traditional dairy farming, there were concerns in other areas, most notably, in the case of Nocton, around water quality. CPRE is disappointed by the seeming lack of Government enthusiasm for an analysis of what the rise of large scale agricultural production units such as Nocton and Thanet Earth, in Kent, might mean for the economic viability of smaller and medium sized farmers, for the environment and the character of our landscapes.

Fund research into developing sustainable production practices that minimise environmental impacts and over-reliance on technological inputs

27. The intensification of land use and increased use of agri-chemicals and biotechnology may have increased global food supplies but this has often been at the expense of the broader environment , due to high external inputs of inorganic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides which are re sponsible for damaging ecosystems and result in greenhouse gas emissions in their manufacture. This approach has also failed to prevent significant numbers of people experiencing continued starvation and malnutrition. In some areas pollution by agri-chemicals and the erosion of soils and depletion of aquifers has exacerbated these problems. Future increases in production must avoid the use of environmentally damaging methods. Some production systems will need to be maintained where they are essential for the continued quality of important habitats and landscapes, for example extensive livestock grazing in the uplands. However, making these systems both profitable and environmentally sustainable will require the use of support measures including agri-environment schemes and the development of payments for the ecosystem services that are being provided. There is also a need to continue to promote the Integrated Farm Management approach that LEAF has championed for the last 20 years.

28. CPRE believes the provision of agricultural training programmes that include both production and environmental land management skills will be vital to delivering sustainable farming in the UK. There now appears to be a polarisation, however, between training in agricultural skills and traditional land management skills, where once these would have been one and the same. Measures in the Rural Development Programme for England should be used to help to provide the training that is needed.

29. Research and development should not focus purely on new technologies but also examine how low input systems for growing food locally and sustainably could be used by community groups. CPRE believes it is important to involve increasing numbers of people in food growing, not only so that they can produce their own food, but also so they can learn more about the process and appreciate the environmental questions around food production. Transfer of knowledge in this way contributes to creating a more informed body of consumers which could in turn help to increase people’s commitment to buying more sustainable produce through established food retail outlets.

How can consumers best be helped to make more sustainable choices about food?

Empower consumers with the information they need to make meaningful and balanced decisions about price, nutrition, quality and sustainability issues when choosing what food to eat

30. As a society we have become very separated from how our food is produced and unrealistic about the price we pay for it. For example, we assume we can eat what we want whenever we want to eat it and, regrettably, if we don’t want to eat it, simply throw it away. This presents a considerable challenge for Government in promoting sustainable food production. There are many factors to consider in defining what constitutes a sustainable food consumption choice according to the accepted definition of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. For example, the degree of sustainability could be determined by: price, i.e. products which might pay a premium to some farmers for milk or organic produce to increase their economic viability; health, by buying low fat or low sugar products; seasonality, for freshness and flavour, which in turn is affected by availability; quality; environmental impacts, which encompass an enormous range of choices; animal welfare; and, provenance, which can include decisions about buying British and/or local food products. The choices presented will also be affected by Government policies for planning, agriculture, international trade, the environment, transport, the requirements supermarkets place upon farmers and the ability of farmers to meet these requirements.

31. What has been termed the ‘Tyranny of Choice’ can be unhelpful when it comes to developing sustainability labelling, not only because of the range of different brands for the same type of product, but because also of the complexity of the environmental and other sustainability trade-offs consumers are expected to make decisions about. For example, should a consumer buy a locally but intensively reared chicken rather than an organic, free range chicken reared 100 miles away?

32. Consumers’ choice as to how sustainably they eat can be mediated by the context in which they shop. Choice will be affected by the location and types of shops people have access to as well as on choices within those shops and outlets. This in turn depends to a considerable extent on the wider policies which shape the planning of towns and the food retail outlets within or close to them. Much will therefore depend on who is presenting consumers with choices, as this will define the extent of the choice to be made. It is important to reflect on this point because to have what could be called an ‘authentic choice’, real alternatives must be provided. It could be argued that the consolidation of food purchasing into the hands of a few major retailers narrows consumer choices (both in terms of where food is bought and the type of food bought) due to the economic rigours of their operating model.

33. Supermarkets often claim that what they sell is dictated by the consumer, so if people want to eat strawberries at Christmas, they must respond to that demand. But there is a question about whether people really decided at some point that they wanted to eat strawberries at Christmas or in fact they choose to buy them then because supermarkets started supplying them in the middle of winter. In any case people have become accustomed to strawberries being available all year round and it is unlikely that supply will ever again be limited to a few months in the summer. The example of all year round availability of strawberries illustrates the complexity of the choices consumers might make in terms of sustainability; there is some consumer awareness of issues around air freighting of some types of produce, but concerns over environmental sustainability are countered by aspects of social sustainability such as the creation of jobs and providing hard currency for the economies of developing countries. Horticultural producers in the UK have also responded to the demand for all year round availability of produce, for example by increasing the use of polytunnels to capture some of the market share.

34. Choices are also complicated by the fact that trade rules can make promoting goods on the basis of the sustainability of their provenance difficult. For example, promotion of domestically produced foods must be based on distinguishing production criteria that do not infringe trade agreements. While in some ways this makes sense, as just being a British product doesn’t necessarily automatically guarantee better sustainability, it does add a layer of complexity to the ability of the consumer to make choices about sustainability based on provenance. For example, there are debates over whether New Zealand lamb is more sustainable in climate change terms than British lamb, and whether Spanish tomatoes are less energy intensive (in terms of heating and lighting use) than British ones. But these two examples are judged more sustainable on only one measure of sustainability.

35. Realistically, given the range of sustainability choices consumers might be provided with it is clear that it will be impossible to provide labelling on every aspect of sustainability alongside existing health and ingredient labelling. Even if we assume that price is not the predominant factor influencing purchasing behaviours in supermarkets, many consumers have often made purchasing decisions based on marketing and brand. To overcome this, a new, single indicator label is needed that indicates the overall environmental sustainability of a product, taking into account a range of factors (to take the Spanish tomato example again, these might include, among other things, energy use, transportation emissions, water use in arid parts of Spain and landscape impacts). This will require agreement on what indicators should be used to determine a food’s overall sustainability, recognising that not all will be able to be used in all cases.

Continue to develop sustainability indicators so that Government, consumers and those who produce, process and sell food are provided with the range of information they need to improve sustainability

36. For all the criticisms levelled at it, as the first Government food strategy for fifty years, Food 2030, published in January 2010, was a welcome attempt to address the challenges of producing food sustainably. The use of indicators for monitoring progress in delivering a sustainable food strategy should be continued to help food producers, processors, retailers and consumers through the complex maze of choices about sustainability.

37. In our response to the consultation on Food 2030 CPRE suggested a number of indicators that could help to identify progress on improving the sustainability of food production, processing and consumption. These included, among other things, indicators for food freshness and quality. An indicator could be developed which monitors the number of school or community education programmes or initiatives for improving diet or cooking skills which would be important to determine whether enough is being done to educate the public about the connection between health and food sustainability. In summary, we would welcome a re-examination of indicators for food sustainability.

Support and promote initiatives that educate the public about food sustainability issues

38. There is a long-standing need for greater education of the public about how their food is produced, and there are some notable campaigns to improve the level of understanding and knowledge, including LEAF’s annual Open Farm Sunday, the Year of Food and Farming in Education and Eat Seasonably. We were pleased at the recent announcement that Environmental Stewardship grants for visits to farms for under-16 year olds would be maintained. However, more must be done. We believe it is essential that continued effort is dedicated to increasing public understanding of the sustainability issues around food production and consumption. Retailers also have a key role to play and some have made a welcome start, for example the in-store and online information campaign run by M&S in conjunction with its Plan A initiative to become ‘the world’s most sustainable major retailer’, and the use of the LEAF Marque by Waitrose and others.

39. Given the proliferation of celebrity chefs and the much increased public interest in food and cooking, the development of food and culinary knowledge and skills within education should also be given more attention. The rise in consumption of convenience food and ready meals is perhaps evidence of a lack of confidence by people in their culinary skills. An important element of social sustainability is that people have adequate knowledge of what is in their food and how to prepare and cook it so they can choose to avoid processed foods. This issue is linked to health awareness, for example the ‘5 a day’ guidance, obesity issues and the ability to feed oneself well at low cost.

Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food industry?

Food chain waste both during its production and processing and by consumers

40. UNEP’s 2009 report, The Environmental Food crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises, found that up to 50% of food produced in the US is wasted, while a third of food purchased in the UK is never eaten. Food 2030 identified that to 3% of total annual UK greenhouse gas emissions originates from food wasted by households . T he current level of waste also costs households an average of £480 a year. CPRE believes the Government should urgently address the issue of waste in the food chain and identify measures to reduce it . It would seem logical to do this before taking any action to increase production. We recognise that i n response to the Foresight Report the Government has said it will ‘showcase’ best practice on reducing waste but , given the extent of the problem , a more proactive approach may be needed.

A negative view of the role of regulation in improving environmental sustainability

41. EU environmental and animal welfare legislation, agri-environment schemes and cross compliance are often alleged by some in the farming lobby to restrict the competitiveness of food production in the UK. This suggests the alternative might be for farmers to produce food to lower quality and environmental standards. Quite apart from environmental considerations, CPRE is not convinced that this would be an economically sustainable route as it would reduce the opportunities to benefit from the marketing advantage of added value and a reputation for quality.

42. We welcome the recent establishment of the Farming Regulation Taskforce and reassurances that its emphasis is on improving rather than radically cutting regulation. Reducing environmental regulation excessively in an effort to cut costs for farmers risks creating a race to the bottom that UK producers are unlikely to win. They will nearly always be undercut by countries with lower animal welfare and environmental standards. In addition years of effort that have gone into making food production more sustainable and establishing the credentials of UK farmers as producers of high quality produce that incorporates the highest environmental and animal welfare standards will be undermined. The reputation of farmers as custodians of the countryside, as well as producers of high quality food, should not be thrown onto a bonfire of regulations, and we do not believe that the majority of sensible farmers would support such an approach.

How might the changing powers of local authorities and the localism agenda hinder, or be used to encourage, more sustainable production and supply of food?

Seize the opportunities presented by supporting local food networks

43. In the current economic climate there is a risk that cost and ‘value for money’ decisions based solely on price, which result in the lowest cost option being chosen, may be the least socially and environmentally sustainable. For example, a Local Food Links initiative in Bridport provides an excellent case study that demonstrates the perversity of the procurement policy for schools in Dorset. The county council addressed the requirement for hot school dinners by commissioning a company in Nottingham to supply ready meals to schools in the county. Meals were delivered by road from Nottingham to be micro-waved in school canteens. In response schools in Bridport worked with Local Food Links to develop a project to provide fresh meals made from local ingredients which are delivered to schools in insulated containers. This means the schools are provided with high quality meals, local producers are supported and local jobs are created. An indicator on the amount of fresh, local produce that is being procured for the public sector could assist with assessing sustainability.

Address the power of the supermarkets and their effects on local economies

44. It is well known that there has been a serious decline in the numbers of traditional independent small food shops – butchers, bakers, greengrocers and fishmongers – which has gone hand in hand with the continuing expansion of supermarkets and latterly superstores and hypermarkets. There have been undoubted benefits to shoppers from increased access to a wide range of foods, including convenience for those wishing to do a one-stop weekly shop and prices driven down by competition between national supermarket chains. However, CPRE argues that there is a strong need for policy at local and national level to ensure that local and regional food networks can coexist with national scale retailers which operate with largely national and international supply chains. There are a number of reasons this is imperative.

45. Supermarket expansion, especially into out of centre large retail sheds, threatens the viability of smaller independent stores on the high street and in villages. When such shops disappear, the choice of where to shop and access for those who do not use a car is diminished. Secondly, smaller outlets, and particularly the specialists such as butchers and greengrocers and village stores, are vital for smaller producers to bring their produce to market either directly or through the wholesale system. This alternative system to national supermarket chains ensures there is diversity of supply, a wider range of choice of produce, the highest degree of freshness and nutritional quality (as fresh produce is delivered through short supply chains) and, not least, a ‘seed-bed’ for new small and medium sized food businesses to innovate and develop their product range before taking on the challenges of national markets. The potential loss of this alternative system through unconstrained supermarket expansion could therefore entail damage to the viability of smaller producers and diversity of farming, and undermine the opportunities for new entrants to farming and food production if there are fewer accessible markets for their produce. This could lead to the loss of smaller scale farms, and affect the long term sustainability of the farming industry. We welcome the Government’s intention to re-introduce the ‘needs test’ for out of town retail development and look forward to the publication of Government proposals to create a supermarket ‘adjudicator’.

Support community involvement in agriculture

46. CPRE’s food web mapping work has identified Community Supported Farms (CSFs) in many of the mapping locations. We are also partners with the Soil Association in the Making Local Food Work Programme which funding support and advice to people wishing to set up and develop new CSFs – see Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a form of social enterprise where a food producer spreads their risk by offering shares in the harvest to ‘members’ from the community. There are numerous associated benefits for the members, farmer and the wider community where the CSA is located. For members these schemes offer people the chance to learn about food production, to connect with the land and to obtain fresh local and seasonal produce directly from the producer. For the producer there are benefits from a fair, steady and secure income from members, the opportunity to raise further capital from the community and also to improve communication and understanding between the community and farmers. For the community and the wider environment CSAs offer opportunities for local work, reduced environmental impact of food through less packaging, more sensitive production methods and reduced transport of food, as well as wider social benefits of better understanding of food and farming. There are numerous other forms of community based provision , some of which are supported by the Making Local Food Work Programme , such as cooperative farmers markets, home producers selling through Country Markets and local shops, community - run village shops and buying groups and food cooperatives, which can contribute to more diversified, localised and sustainable forms of food production, distribution and retail.

How could Government procurement practices be improved to promote better practice across the food sector?

Provide public sector bodies with clarity about tendering requirements for food supply contracts

47. CPRE believes the £2bn spent by the public sector on food procurement could make a considerable contribution to supporting smaller producers selling into local markets, providing them with a significant outlet which could improve economic sustainability. Supporting local food enterprises can have a number of benefits in terms of social cohesion and providing local jobs. This would also help to improve the diversity of farming businesses, by supporting smaller scale production and potentially encouraging more sustainable forms of production. Such production could prevent the consolidation and agglomeration of farms which tend to supply larger food processors and retailers and would contribute to improving the diversity of locally produced foods. There seems to be a degree of confusion, however, about the competition rules for public procurement contracts among those putting these out to tender. The Government needs to take a lead in clarifying what is permissible and ensure that price considerations do not completely dominate decisions about suppliers by taking into account wider economic considerations and the positive role that new local food enterprises can play. In this respect we welcome the Government’s work on: Government Buying Standards for food; the Collaborative Food Procurement Programme; the food and catering category under the European Commission’s Green Public Procurement (GPP) initiative; training for Sustainable Food Procurement: and, develop ing a specific sustainable food - based training module for public sector food procurers. We look forward to these work streams improving the quantities of local food purchased by the public sector.

31 March 2011