Environmental Audit Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 879

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Environmental Audit Committee

on Wednesday 11 May 2011

Members present:

Joan Walley (Chair)

Peter Aldous

Neil Carmichael

Martin Caton

Katy Clark

Zac Goldsmith

Simon Kirby

Mark Lazarowicz

Caroline Lucas

Ian Murray

Sheryll Murray

Caroline Nokes

Mr Mark Spencer

Dr Alan Whitehead

Simon Wright


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Professor Philip Lowe, OBE, Director, Rural Economy and Land Use Programme, Centre for Rural Economy, University of Newcastle, Professor Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy, City University London, and Mark Driscoll, Head of One Planet Food programme, WWF-UK, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: If you are all ready, we can start. What I would like to do is give you a very warm welcome to what is, in fact, the first session of our current inquiry into sustainable food. As you can see, we have a very good turnout from the Committee, which I think gives you some kind of indication of the importance that we attach to sustainable food.

What I would like to do by way of opening this inquiry, and in view of the expertise that the three of you have, is just give you an opportunity first of all to perhaps set out for us what you see as the important issues, how you see sustainable food policy in the context of the global food issues and the issues raised by the Foresight report. We are here to hear what you have to say about the importance of this inquiry and also to give us some steer, if you like, on the headlines and issues that you think our inquiry ought to touch upon and what we can do in terms of UK policy on sustainable food. Perhaps, Professor Lang, if I invite you to go first.

Professor Lang: Yes, happily, thank you, and thank you very much for inviting all of us, but certainly me. The nature of your inquiry is enormous. You could go on for years. This is the food system. This is 200 years of British culture on trial not quite knowing where it is going and this word "sustainability" is suddenly bandied about; it means all things to all people.

One of the things I would like you to do is to clarify what the British Government means by sustainability. We need to know. Is it just low carbon, or is it the sort of things that I would stand for-and I suspect my colleagues too, knowing their work-which is a much broader approach? I think carbon is very important as embedded in food, but so is embedded water. Water is probably one of the most important driver of future food systems, if not the single most important. We are drinking bottled water here, which uses more water than tap water. Food has huge amounts of embedded water. So it depends what we mean by sustainability, whether it is just a narrow definition or a big definition. That is the first thing I would like you to do.

Q2 Chair: We would like you set out for us the most important environmental issues that relate to food production. Then we can perhaps go into detail with you.

Professor Lang: Okay. It shows what a boring academic I am or have become that I am now going to refer to something that I wrote. I hope you have had made available the last report that I did as commissioner on the Sustainable Development Commission, because in a sense that was a summation. It was my attempt, because I was lead writer on it, to try to hand over the conch to you.

My argument, and it is an argument, was that during the 2000s an understanding has gradually bedded down into the food system and into government, but not into consumers yet, of the complexity and diversity of criteria by which we need to reframe what we eat and what we produce-not just in terms of carbon, but also water, biodiversity, and soil use. I put into one very simple chart, which I can certainly make sure you have if you do not have it, the six headings that I think matter.

First is quality: no one should ever be talking about any sort of food, let alone sustainable food, unless we are talking about good quality. The great success of the British food system of the last 60 years has been about jacking up and tightening up quality standards. There are arguments about what they should be and whether they matter and whether commercial interests have distorted some as opposed to others, but the need to have a set of tough criteria for quality has to be part of the consumer interest in food. By quality I mean, obviously, taste, freshness, whether people like it, its authenticity-those sorts of things.

Then there is a whole wave of environmental issues that attract the interest of the Committee-not just climate change but water, land use, soil, biodiversity and, probably the issue that has rocketed in importance in the last three years, waste. Actually, we are producing huge amounts of food. There is more than enough food to feed the world at the moment, but about 30%, 40% is being wasted. We, in Britain, are lamentable in that respect. We overproduce food at the point of sale and we then waste it in a huge way, but some very good things are going on to try and address that.

Social values matter, including trust, choice, identity and pleasure. Then there is health. I know it is not paramount for you as an environmental audit, but a sustainable diet must be about the integration of environmental criteria with health-I know that Mr Driscoll agrees with me on that. You have to eat in order to live. You also eat in order to get pleasure and so on, but unless health is dovetailed into the environment there will be potential conflicts.

Then the fifth area is clearly affordability, the economics issue. We might be able to say we will get sustainable food, have a sustainable diet, but it will be unaffordable. Only the rich-only rich professors like Philip Lowe and myself-could possibly afford it, but we can argue about that. There is an issue about allocation of costs, who pays for it and what is not being paid for. There are long arguments about externalities that we can go into.

Then the final issue, the sixth heading that I proposed, was about governance. The last 20 years of British food policy, and indeed Politics with a capital P-in Parliament and in Government-were dominated by issues of trust and governance, whether or not policy was driven by evidence, science, technical feasibility, whether it was transparent, whether information was getting through to consumers and so on, and other issues of governance.

To summarise, for me the framework of thinking about sustainable food, whether we are talking about production or distribution or consumption or diet, has to be about those six criteria: quality, social, environmental, health, economy and governance.

Q3 Chair: Just in terms of the Foresight report, which is really looking toward some kind of global crisis-

Professor Lang: The food futures one, not land use? For me, there are three Foresight reports that contribute to this.

Chair: The Foresight report on global food and farming.

Professor Lang: The land use one is equally important. I know Professor Lowe will want to refer to that, or I suspect he will. Also, the obesity report, which is still running, is critical within that, because we are overproducing food. There is a calorie excess, which is both a land use issue but also a cardiovascular issue. I declare I am in a public health department, so I have to remind you that sustainability is about health too.

Q4 Chair: I also want to ask you about how we can get some kind of mechanism for getting a timeframe in which some of the issues highlighted by those reports can be addressed through policy matters here in the UK.

Professor Lang: My colleagues will be equally as good on this as I am, but I will happily kick it off. In my Looking back, looking forward report, which I strongly recommend you to have a look at, I wrote as someone who was outside government but on the fringes. I was asked to review the adequacy of British government systems, and we have a mess actually. We have divisions between the Department of Health, Defra and BIS, with the Treasury sometimes piling in, particularly over the Common Agricultural Policy. We have differences between England and, in particular, Scotland and Wales, but Ireland occasionally, where very articulate positions are being expressed.

I made in my report some recommendations of what I thought was needed. I personally regretted the demise of the Cabinet sub-committee on Food. While I understand why that went-the Government obviously does not want hundreds of Cabinet sub-committees-the Cabinet Sub-committee on Food that was set up after the Food Matters report was a very important move. That report was a Cabinet report in 2008, on which I was an adviser from my university, not as SDC. It was the first time since 1955 that we had a top level co-ordinating body with parallel civil servant representation which was also multi-jurisdictional, so in other words relating to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. That was very important and it has gone.

I have consulted with many of my colleagues before coming to you today, but I also ran, through the SDC, a survey of nearly a couple of hundred food experts, the results of which are in the report. The overwhelming finding that came back was of a sense of drift, that there had been slow and reluctant engagement by the Labour Government. I am not defending what it did.

Chair: No, but what we want to look at is where sustainable food policy should be in the future.

Professor Lang: We don’t know what is happening right now, and that loss of governance is a critical issue for the Committee when trying to come up with recommendations-not that I am telling you what to do, but I am giving you my suggestion.

Chair: I think your colleagues wanted to add to that.

Mark Driscoll: Can I perhaps run through some of our perspectives from a WWF perspective? WWF, obviously, is a global organisation. We work in 60 countries globally with producers both in the UK and in other parts of the developed and developing world. We work with different actors within the food system, so we work with some of the key food retail sector and other civil society organisations.

I certainly believe that global food security linked to food sustainability is going to be the key global issue in the next five or 10 years and that food is probably at the core, at the heart of almost every environmental challenge that we face. Like Professor Lang, I support this inquiry looking at the whole food system, not just part of the food system-so looking at the role of agriculture and agricultural efficiency all the way through to processing, food retailing and final end consumption. I think that is inherently important.

We are all conscious that the food system is enormously complex and there are real opportunities for us to work collaboratively to identify some of the key levers. Hopefully, this Committee can start looking at some of those key levers and challenges.

At the end of the day, we all want to move towards a fair, equitable, sustainable food system. We all know the figures: 9 billion people by 2050. I would also recommend that this inquiry looks not just at the UK challenges, but at some of the international context to food security in the UK. After all, we import 40% of the food that we consume, so 40% of UK consumers’ food is from other parts of the world. We have to address some of the sustainability issues and environmental impacts, both within our shores and in other parts of the world.

Chair: We are going to go on and look at some of those in detail. I am going to ask Caroline Lucas to perhaps home in on some of that.

Q5 Caroline Lucas: Before I go on to the set question, on that point you were just raising about importing 40% of our food, it is a fairly staggering figure. Can you just reflect how that has changed over time? Is this a high point or is it an average point?

Mark Driscoll: It has changed over time. It has varied. That figure post-war-and I think Professor Lang can probably elucidate on some of the-

Professor Lang: I can. I know it backwards. Basically, we went into World War II in 1939 producing 30% of our food, and we raised it to 60% by 1945. In 1947, the Agricultural Act committed us to not going back to 1846 for repeal of the Corn Laws, which is what we are talking about. Basically, under the system of subsidies production rose slowly. We joined the Common Market, as it then was, in the mid-1970s and production reached its peak in 1982, when it was 82%. It is now back down to 60% and still dropping-slowly, but from my point of view worryingly.

That is the percentage share. If you look at absolute production, it has risen, because the population is higher, so it is a slightly more complicated picture. Indeed, for some commodities, there is overproduction. For cereals, we have 115% self-sufficiency, but for fruit, it is 10%. Fruit and vegetables are catastrophic. We produce 10% of the fruit that we consume-and we should be consuming more-and about 50% of the vegetables, and again we should be consuming more.

Q6 Sheryll Murray: You said that it peaked at 82% after we joined the then Common Market. Is that 82% figure from a UK domestic perspective or from a European perspective?

Professor Lang: No, those are the UK figures. Defra produces excellent figures through the statistics division at York and those are current figures, but they are gently dropping. It is about 60%, but it depends whether you are talking about indigenous products. We cannot grow mangoes and papayas, but we can grow apples and pears, and we are importing 75% of them.

Q7 Peter Aldous: I just want to pick up on food and the reasons for the decline in food. I would suggest that climate has actually played a role in that. Well, certainly, on mangoes and papayas, we are not yet there, are we?

Professor Lang: On apples and pears, I do not think climate has anything to do with it. It was heavily to do with subsidies in the 1970s to encourage Kent producers to grub up their fields and grub up their orchards. That was actually the problem. It was finance-induced.

Professor Lowe: It also has a lot to do with the growth of exotic tastes in fruit, which we can’t grow here and which has hugely increased.

Professor Lang: Bananas are our favourite fruit.

Q8 Peter Aldous: I am getting very parochial. Where I come from, Waveney Valley, North Suffolk, we had Waveney apple growers and there were apples all the way up the Waveney Valley. Why is that? Is that because consumer taste has changed and they didn’t like British apples or price or what?

Professor Lowe: It is complicated. Certainly, there has been growth in exports within the European Union. Some apple growers in other contexts have been more efficient, clearly, than British apple growers have. Certainly, we have sucked in huge amounts of apple imports from France.

Professor Lang: If I can chip in, I think it is a lot to do with supermarket buyers, and the need to feed mass markets. Producers like those in Waveney were small mixed farms in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s-I have talked to some of them. They went out of business because they could only produce small amounts. The concentration of the buying chains by the supermarkets was also a factor. It was not about climate change, as I understand it.

Chair: I think we will be coming to local versus general retailing, but I wanted to get back to Caroline’s train of questioning, if I may.

Q9 Caroline Lucas: We have already talked about the Foresight report, particularly the report on global food and farming. One of the things that the report says is that there are strong environmental reasons for limiting the amount of expansion of agricultural land. It puts forward a proposal that we should have what they call "a sustainable intensification of production", which is a slightly strange term. I wonder if you could define what you think sustainable intensification means and whether you think it is the right approach.

Professor Lowe: The issue is, again, where we have come from. In the UK we tried to be efficient in a very narrow economic sense through the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and then it was declared that we had too much food production. We introduced milk quotas and set-aside and things like that. To a certain extent, we accommodated other things in the countryside, like biodiversity and landscape, because we felt that we had too much food capacity. We stopped pursuing what you might call economic efficiency. To a certain extent, we pursued other sorts of objectives. We left economic efficiency, essentially, to market forces but within a protected Common Agricultural Policy.

We have had a great growth since the mid-1980s in paying farmers to not maximise production. That is what agri-environment schemes are about.

Q10 Caroline Lucas: Is it a contradiction in terms? Sustainable intensification to me sounds weird.

Professor Lowe: Yes. We went for economic inefficiency to allow scope for both food production and the environment. We have now decided that no longer do we produce too much food, certainly on a global level. We want to return to economic efficiency, but that old economic efficiency of the immediate post-war period was very ecologically inefficient. It used vast amounts of natural resources; it was very oil dependent; it knackered the countryside where it could. There is a sense of how do we return to economic efficiency but not lose ecological benefits. To me now it is a pursuit of two things, economic efficiency and what I would call ecological efficiency, to make sure that the gains that we make in terms of increased food production are not at the expense of the environment. That is the critical thing. It is trying to get the food-producing focus on the dual aims of economic efficiency and ecological efficiency.

Mark Driscoll: Caroline raises a really important point. The term needs to be defined. It conjures up all sorts of connotations, depending on where you sit within the food supply chain, what type of farming systems you use. To us at WWF, the important thing is not only definition but what are the key principles behind whatever we mean by sustainable intensification. For us, particularly for crop-based systems, it means basically increasing production in a given area while reducing key environmental consequences and increasing what we call the flow to key environmental services. We are talking about key ecosystems and the services they provide.

To us at WWF, the food system provides not only food, which is fundamental, but a wide range of public goods, public services, cultural and landscape benefits. We can list dozens of them, but sustainable intensification has to include that key range of public goods and services. So this is not just about minimal environmental impacts or trade-offs even. It is about adding value to the natural environment, to natural capital, and it is really important.

It is a bit like the discussion that is still happening now about how we define sustainable development. It still means totally different things to different people. I think this is crucial. If it is based on those principles, we believe that sustainable intensification, as Foresight says, is a really important part of that story, but in the context of some of the consumption changes that are also required. It is part of the picture but not the entire picture.

Q11 Caroline Lucas: I wanted to just come back and say is there not a danger that it will be used as a Trojan horse for those who want us to have lots more biotech and GM and so forth? To that extent, is there a potential conflict between how this idea might be used and the future of small-scale farming, for example, in this country?

Mark Driscoll: Yes, and again, people interpret that in many different ways. To us, technology has an important role to play. What type of technology is interesting but it must contribute to the reduction of adverse social, economic and ecological consequences. Yes, it does conjure up all sorts of connotations. To us, agri-environment schemes are really important in that context.

Q12 Zac Goldsmith: Just quickly on that point, there was a report, it was either a year or 18 months ago, put out jointly by UNEP, the UNFAO and I believe the World Bank, looking at this issue of productivity. The conclusion they reached pretty clearly was that small, diverse and more traditional farms are more productive per unit of land but less productive by unit of labour, obviously. Given that livelihoods and jobs are a key part of this as well, is it possible to interpret sustainable intensification as in fact being more of a return to smaller scale, diverse, more traditional?

Mark Driscoll: Yes. For example, in our own uplands, many would argue that in some parts of our uplands there are too many cattle or sheep and you could say that reducing the number of sheep or cattle is part of the sustainable intensification picture. You have a really important point. At the end of the day, there will not be one system that will resolve all those issues. Small-scale farmers are a really important part of that for many reasons, but other agricultural production systems also have a role to play.

When we are looking at sustainable intensification, again we can talk about just the UK, but if you look at the global picture, parts of Belarus and Russia have incredibly fertile soils in land that has been abandoned, and we should also be thinking about supporting those regions in making the most use of abandoned land. There is not one system fits all and small farmers have a really important role to play.

Q13 Mr Spencer: Obviously, you would look at that in a global context, wouldn’t you? There would be little point to introducing a more extensive system in the UK if you then just imported product from another part of the world to fill that gap in the market.

Mark Driscoll: I can speak for WWF, but perhaps I will let other colleagues. I think we have to look at it in a global context, but I also think it is an interesting one when you look at land use. We are not very good at land use planning in the UK, many would argue. Perhaps Professor Lang would argue that actually the most productive use of our uplands could be extensive farming or it could be trees. Is it right that we have dairy farms in East Anglia that could be more suited to crop production, for instance? That is just an example. I don’t have the answer.

Professor Lowe: It is a difficult set of trade-offs, because for me sustainable intensification means that we have to produce more from the land, but more of what? More food, yes, but also the other things that land produces. The notion that this has to be done within a finite land base comes from a sense that land conversion itself can be quite damaging, can release a lot of carbon, for example.

The question is how you do it and where you do it: do you do more food production in Britain and less environment or do you do more environment in Britain and import more food? All these things have to be worked through. I suggest that the Committee might want to say, "This is our understanding of sustainable intensification and what it should mean within the UK", before the scientists define it too technically. Don’t get the impression because it sounds so techie that someone knows what it means exactly. There are choices to be made and you are pretty early in the game. I sense that defining what you might want it to mean or what it should mean could well contribute great clarity.

Chair: Did you want to come in on that, Professor Lang?

Professor Lang: They have both said it exactly: don’t take sustainable intensification as given.

Q14 Mr Spencer: I am fairly simplistic, to be honest. Sustainability to me means if we come back here in 200 years time will we be well fed and will we have done that without killing the planet or each other? It seems fairly simple to me. If that is my definition of sustainability, what can we do to make sure UK food production increases its sustainability in those terms?

Professor Lowe: There is a question of how much of Britain’s food supply do we want to grow at home and that is a critical issue, because our overriding concern has a set of hierarchies. We want food security. We want sustainable environments. On each of those the UK has national responsibilities and international responsibilities.

Q15 Mr Spencer: Are there technologies that at this moment in time are not available to us that will assist us in becoming more sustainable, or are there skills that we are lacking as well?

Professor Lowe: There are technologies and skills available to us that we don’t use. So already there are lots of things on the shelf that we could use a lot more of.

Q16 Mr Spencer: What are they specifically?

Professor Lowe: Our lack of interest in agricultural systems over the last 30 or 40 years means that we have not invested much in research and skills. We have run down our farm support systems, we have run down our farm advisory systems. Much of the improvements in productivity that you could look for both within countries and between countries would be just by bringing the average up to the best, or bringing the worst up to the average. There is a lot of science and technology out there that is pretty humdrum, but if you look at the range of productivities you could increase enormously the production of local food systems, and regional, national and international ones.

The people who are the most productive are not necessarily the ones who are bashing the environment most, so you could certainly learn a lot by spreading existing good practice.

Q17 Mr Spencer: Should we continue to strive to produce as much food in the UK as we possibly can, or is that not what we should be doing?

Professor Lang: It depends what it is. If it is mangoes and papayas, no, because you would need to build biomes everywhere, but if it is apples and pears, yes. If it is tomatoes in season, okay here, but if it is tomatoes out of season, don’t grow them here. It goes back to the set of six headings and different criteria by which you judge what a sustainable food system is. If you give priority to carbon, it cuts across a lot of aseasonality. There is a lot that would improve by being more seasonal. If you are trying to produce strawberries in October-November, you are going to be using a lot of plastic, a lot of heat and a lot of fertiliser. That is not very sustainable, if you have the complex set of criteria that we have.

Q18 Mr Spencer: Could we do more by educating consumers rather than changing the actual production of the food? Is that what you are saying?

Professor Lang: I wanted to pick you up earlier. I agree completely with what Philip Lowe said and I think we all do-indeed, we were talking outside. I think there is an issue of colleges of agriculture and skills. The infrastructure to support the raising of worst practice to the level of the best practice, as Philip Lowe was mentioned, is urgently needed. We don’t have good mechanisms in Britain for raising worst practice to best practice.

Mark Driscoll: The question about self-sufficiency is an important one because it comes up all the time. Like everything, there is just not an easy answer. It partly depends on the kinds of products. If you are looking at the environmental impacts of particular products, a tomato grown in the UK could actually have a higher environmental footprint than a tomato grown in Spain and flown in, because it has better climatic conditions. It might depend on the time of year, that kind of thing. I think we have to be very careful. I certainly think that with temperate fresh fruit and vegetables where there is a lot of waste driven by importing those particular crops, it is nonsense to import apples that we can grow in the UK from New Zealand, so that is an issue.

We also have to be very careful of the social dimension. In Africa, 1.5 million people rely on the UK or exports to the UK. There is a really important social dimension. We have to look at the global environmental impact picture. It does depend on production methods and systems. It depends where they come from and how they are grown, but you can’t ignore the social dimension. There is an issue for the UK about us being vulnerable, if we are depending on just totally home-grown produce, to extremes of climate, and all sorts of other issues in a relatively small country, so I just wanted to flag-

Q19 Neil Carmichael: I just want to quickly make three points. Number one is that I completely agree with Professor Lowe about the need to improve agriculture, both in comparison to between ourselves and others but also historically, because we simply haven’t done a huge amount of research and development over the last five or six decades. I think that is fair.

I was going to test you though on your belief that we had an economic food production system up until the 1980s. Of course, what really drove that was the Common Agricultural Policy with its price-fixing mechanism. I do think that needs to be borne in mind in terms of the way in which we think of food production. I would link that to something Mr Driscoll said about upland farming. The real reason why upland farming is supported as it is is not anything to do with sheep or land, but society. That is the real driver behind the Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowance scheme. If it was not there, you simply wouldn’t get any farming there at all. I do think that those sort of policy issues need to be considered when we are discussing whether or not we are going to go down the production route or the other route.

I just want to hear your thoughts about this. I think the key is to pursue best practice, but sketch it in terms of efficient farming with a proper husbandry of the environment. That is the direction of travel that agriculture needs to be encouraged to pursue. I am just wondering if you think that training and so forth would be the key thing or do you think that we need to be tinkering with the policy mechanism in the form of the Common Agricultural Policy to achieve these things?

Professor Lang: I would like to respond, but I bet we all would. You go first.

Professor Lowe: The point I was making was about this shift in 1980s when Margaret Thatcher decided to reform the CAP.

Neil Carmichael: No, she didn’t. That was a decision made by the mob in the Commission.

Chair: I don’t think we have the time to really go into these avenues.

Professor Lowe: The critical thing was the introduction of milk quotas, 1984, and that signalled to everyone a sense that the end of the post-war emphasis on efficient expansion of UK production had come to an end. We went from 1984 to just a few years ago where the agenda was either we produce too much food or we had surplus food capacity in the UK. That was linked to obesity and overeating. We shifted in about a five or six year period to now concerns about food shortage. I think the pendulum is swinging in the right direction. It might swing too far.

Five or 10 years ago, you would have got economists in here who would have said, "British food capacity doesn’t matter. It is a global issue, global trade, and in any case, we have too much food. We’re all too fat". That is what they would have said. We are redefining this because we are conscious of climate change, we are conscious of running out of oil, we are conscious of the fact of population growth, but that is the issue that I meant.

Q20 Simon Kirby: Coming back to your point about consumer choice, we can have the most efficient cabbages grown and the most wonderful asparagus and local apples. If people choose to have mangoes and pineapples and beans from Africa, surely that is the most important thing. I am playing devil’s advocate here. Are we not missing the point entirely?

Professor Lowe: I think people want exotic fresh fruit and that can be grown quite efficiently and can be brought into England. That should be entirely a question of consumer choice. The problem to me is I would like to see more fresh fruit grown in Britain, but I would like to see people, more critically, eating more fresh fruit. I wouldn’t want to restrict them because of what can be grown in England. We could grow a lot more and make superfruits more healthy if people were willing to have a lot of polytunnels everywhere. They give you the capacity to produce healthy fresh fruit that you wouldn’t need to import, but a lot of your constituents would not be happy about lots of polytunnels everywhere, so that is one of the trade-offs we have to make.

Q21 Caroline Lucas: What about the price though? Isn’t it about the price you are going to pay for your mangoes? By all means have the option of buying your mangoes, but make sure the price of that mango properly internalises the environmental costs of getting them from country A to country B, which currently they do not.

Mark Driscoll: Yes, it is about the cost of the mangoes and it is about those mangoes reflecting the true external costs of producing those mangoes. The same applies with the entire food system. I don’t know whether we will be able to get on to this subject, but to us valuing those external costs and incorporating them into the costs of the food we buy is absolutely fundamental, whether it is mangoes or cucumbers or whatever. That is a really important element. Ecosystems, ecosystems services and the value of pollination services are not costed in to the economics of our food system, and that is really important.

Just a quick second point-and I know you want to get on-many consumers, 70% or 80%, value environmental issues, but they don’t have time when they are running around the supermarket to make those decisions when they are choosing a product in two seconds. One is clear and concise labelling to help inform consumer choice but, number two, I suggest there is a role for retailers. Should retailers edit out unsustainable choices for consumers? If you ask consumers, they will partly expect that.

Chair: We are coming on to this later. We have strayed off our briefing at the moment. Peter, was it on that point previously that you wanted to come in?

Peter Aldous: Yes, it was on the point that I think Professor Lowe mentioned, which was along the lines that British farming is less efficient today, has poorer backup and advice. From my perspective, 30 years ago as a mixed farmer in the east you had MAF, you had the MLC, you had British ADAS and whatever providing advice. That structure no longer exists. Some people would say it is still there in the private sector. You would say at universities, if you want to go into food science there are still opportunities. But is the system not there? Is it too expensive?

Professor Lowe: Well, it has all been privatised, and to a certain extent you have private systems of advice that have replaced the public system. It is very patchy, and one of the net effects of that is that, compared with 30 years ago, the spread of productivity is huge. Government has been prepared to back what you might call public good advice, environmental advice, but we are now piling a range of issues on the farmer: produce more, have regard to biodiversity and landscape, remember water quality, and don’t forget climate change adaptation and mitigation. Should we leave that all to just the independent initiative of the farmer? One of the classic things that our work suggests is that if farmers get together to do things, not just on the production side, but co-operate to deliver landscape benefits or climate change benefits or water quality benefits, you will get great advantage. That is where a public advisory system could be a great advantage.

Q22 Martin Caton: If moving to smaller units is a practical form of sustainable intensification, as has been suggested, what does Government need to do to move policy in that direction, because it is reversing what has been happening over many, many years? What can they do?

Professor Lang: I am going to fudge it by saying my report gave you six pages on that. There is no one thing that is going to sort that out. Philip was just pointing it out, just about farmers, but actually the problem is not farmers. I know some of you, and me too, are interested in farmers and farming, but total carbon, total water, total impact is not just at the farm level. 40% of carbon in most food is at or before the farm gate; after it is huge. Whether a consumer gets into a car and drives to the supermarket has a huge impact on the carbon footprint of the diet that they then eat. If I go on my bicycle over there or you go in your Rolls-Royce, it is a very different carbon footprint in the same meal. Never tell MPs what to do, but I think it would be a mistake if the inquiry into sustainable food was only looking at farming. It must look at total supply chains. We need advice in exactly the same way that Philip was pointing out on farming, we need that at point of consumption.

There is a similar parallel, and Mark Driscoll is heavily involved in that, as am I. There is a similar political with a small "p" argument going on around the role and power of retailers in shaping diets and doing the hidden choice editing that he was referring to. That needs to come out into the open. Consumers, frankly, are in the dark. They say lots of grand things about what they want and then don’t know how to do it, not just because of labelling that Mark was referring to, although partly that. It is partly they don’t understand yet, they haven’t been presented with the sheer complexity. How can you have low carbon meat, how can you have low embedded water in meat? Well, it depends how it has been grown, and then you are trading it off with price, because to start improving the embedded water and embedded carbon in meat you are going to have to have less intensively reared, less cereal-based meat production. That is the sort of thing that is very difficult as a message to sell to consumers, but then that is what we are going to have to do.

Put it this way, if there was a third world war, God spare us, and there was rationing, it would be doing it for us. But we are not in that situation, we are in a situation where the retailers ultimately at the moment are struggling with this. They are doing huge amounts behind the scenes and out of sight. I have had meetings with three of the top five-no guesses who-of the retailers in the last six months. They are shaving out carbon, indeed beginning to address embedded water and altering land use in their dairy and meat supply chains, not telling consumers about it, but there is a limit to how much that will affect consumers, unless consumers cut down the amount of meat they eat. So we are in a very paradoxical situation at the moment where a lot of people in big, powerful positions in the food system are acutely aware of the need to start getting more sustainable but are ultimately worried that it means confronting the consumer. That is why we have to address the issue of sustainable diets.

Q23 Sheryll Murray: I think you have strayed on to what I was going to ask you about.

Professor Lang: Forgive me, then.

Sheryll Murray: I was going to concentrate on supply. To what extent are we paying a fair price for the food we eat? For example, are we paying enough to ensure it is produced in a low impact way, and that the producers are fairly paid?

Professor Lang: I think the answer to your first question is no, generally.

Q24 Sheryll Murray: How might we achieve a fairer price?

Professor Lang: This is a big one. I would like both Mark and Philip’s views on it. My personal view from my centre, my university job, is that we are not paying enough for food. The great success-you will find it in my report-of British food capitalism, and Philip referred to it, was the way in which not just production went up and then has declined, but the way in which the price to consumers has dropped. In 1950 25% on average of domestic expenditure went on food. It is now 9%. If you add eating out, it goes up to 12% or13%. But if you look at a reasonably well paid professor like me, it is 5% and that is tiny. That has meant lots more money to spend on cars, holidays, houses, children, TVs, and so on. The entire nature of the economy has been facilitated, the consumer economy-

Q25 Sheryll Murray: I think Mr Driscoll has something to add as well.

Professor Lang: Do you agree with that?

Mark Driscoll: Yes, absolutely.

Professor Lang: This is big stuff. If you are telling consumers they have to pay more for food, that means less on other things. But that is the reality.

Mark Driscoll: I perhaps want to make three points. I agree, over the last 40 years the developed world has spent less and less of the monthly pay packet on food. Basically, that has been of huge benefit to us, we have stocked supermarket shelves full of choice.

Professor Lang: As consumers.

Mark Driscoll: As consumers. I would like to make possibly three points here. One partly relates to a previous question reflecting the true cost of food. The food system at the moment doesn’t truly reflect the true external costs of the food that we produce and consume, and that is a real issue. Farmers need to be paid a fair price to reflect those external food costs. That is one key point and CAP has a very important role to play. I know the UK Government, through its Natural Capital Initiative, is looking at valuing ecosystems and the services that they provide. We wholeheartedly support that approach. It does have its drawbacks. There is another question that comes in here, and that is the relationship between the food retailer and the food producer, because at the moment food producers, perhaps, have an unacceptable burden of risk, passed down from the food retail sector to the food producer, and we very much support the role of the Groceries Adjudicator to ensure there is more-

Chair: We are going to come on to that in a minute.

Mark Driscoll: Okay. But that is essentially about the benefits being not just retailer benefits or consumer benefits, but paying a fair price to farmers. That is a key mechanism. The other one is about how we support farmers. CAP is obviously going through reform at the moment and 2014 will be a key date. So it is about paying farmers a fair price, not just for the food that they produce but for the public goods that they produce, without going into detail.

Sheryll Murray: Professor Lowe, did you have anything to add to that?

Professor Lowe: Just that point-I don’t think we do pay enough. Certainly, wealthy, middle class consumers in Europe could afford to pay more. One of the factors arising from us not paying enough is that we exploit the environment, we exploit the farmers. We exploit the farm animals too.

Q26 Martin Caton: In your first answer, Mr Driscoll, on valuing ecosystem services you gave the example of tropical fruits and that the environmental cost of that is clearly not being reflected, but in the answers you have all given now you are saying that all food is underpriced. Surely, if we are going to get this change in consumer approach then there have to be some very clear differentials. Those foods that are lower in environmental costs have to be much, much cheaper, relatively, to those that are high. Can you not envisage that some food prices might even go down?

Mark Driscoll: Yes, absolutely. I think that is a key point. We do have to value ecosystems and ecosystem services and make sure that we pay the real cost of food. It is absolutely right to say that some will go down, some will go up. There is a big issue about mechanisms for that, in terms of do we focus on market value or do we look at taxing high impact food, through, for instance, a nitrogen tax or a feed tax? Because of the amount of red tape and bureaucracy, ecosystems and services are very complex things. It could add extra financial burden through that process in itself, so we have to look at very key mechanisms to be able to address those issues.

Q27 Martin Caton: Do you have a view on what is the best mechanism?

Mark Driscoll: Because of the particular burden to both producers and consumers, the easiest would be to tax things like nitrogen inputs, particular feedstuffs, rather than try and embed it into the market value of foods going through the system.

Professor Lowe: From one of our study projects, we have looked at healthy eating: what would the countryside look like if we ate healthy diets? One of the things was looking at the mechanisms for promoting healthy eating and we did extensive survey work. It was evident that a tax would work to a certain extent. You could have a sort of neutral tax that taxed fatty food and gave you tax remits on healthy food. The problem with that is that the poor, whose diets are the poorest, would get hit hardest by it. Then we looked a lot at the experience with the different approach of social marketing, giving people tailored marketing messages. The trouble is that the social marketing gets through best to what you might call the worried healthy and not to the unworried unhealthy.

Q28 Simon Kirby: On that very point, it is all very well valuing ecosystems but what should I say when I return to Brighton Kemptown and the 25,000 people who live on large council estates who genuinely struggle to buy food as it is? What do I tell them?

Professor Lang: The track record of health education is that it doesn’t overwhelmingly work. The people who think they are doing it are not doing it in the same way. The short answer is it depends where you are going to spend your money. It is an issue. Earlier, one or two of you were raising the issue of consumer choice. This is what, in my academic terms, we would call the cultural issue. How do you value it? Do you value the health of your children, your family and yourself and your life expectancy by putting more of your money into good diet and less into a TV or subscription to Sky? That is an issue of values. There is great sensitivity in public health about telling people what to do, but that said, everyone knows that we have a massively divided, diet-related ill health problem. That is why I was referring earlier to the Foresight obesity report. I was an adviser to that and still sit on the expert advisory group of the Department of Health on obesity.

We know acutely-and Philip Lowe is absolutely right-all the money at the moment is going to go into social marketing. It is a very lite-L-I-T-E-approach to government. We need multiple levers. No one answer we know can help shift people away from an unsustainable diet or an unhealthy diet. Prices, aid, advice, role models-a whole complex array can be useful, but also we know diets change rapidly in crisis. It can be national crises like wars, shocks, oil prices, dislocations, but also it can be your mother dies of a heart attack, it shakes families up. We are not using that enough, but this is a different inquiry. We need to be reminded of that.

Chair: I think it is useful to go down that public health behavioural track but I have a lot of people wanting to come in and we are time-limited. Mark, on that point do you want to come in?

Q29 Mr Spencer: Yes, it was about food prices specifically and I just wondered if you thought that successive Governments basically have benefited by the suppression of food prices and inflation being held down by those food prices being very low.

Professor Lang: You are absolutely right; I think you would find us all agreeing that. That has been the unwritten British food politics. It is what I teach my students: leave it to Tesco et al. That has been the deal. That is why Blair sent for Walmart to buy Asda to try and inject some high level notional competition in the oligopoly between Tesco and Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.

Q30 Mr Spencer: How do you make it politically acceptable for food prices to rise, if that is what you are advocating?

Professor Lang: That is absolutely the big question. We are all interested in that. It is recognising the consequences of the diet we eat.

Q31 Caroline Lucas: If benefits at the moment are linked to the average price of a notional basket of food and if that basket of food is going to cost more, benefits should go up more and we shouldn’t be using cheap food as a way of keeping those kinds of welfares and things low. It has its own set of implications as well but it seems to me you can’t expect people on poor incomes to be paying more on food right now.

Professor Lang: Exactly. I personally am intrigued academically by what the Americans did from the 1890s and we didn’t, which was to cost different diets. The US Department of Agriculture still produces diets for low income households, middle income households and more affluent households. We need something like that, and I made it a recommendation of my report that we need to have a set of indicators coming out of Government about a notional basket of sustainably produced foods, what a sustainable diet would cost for rich, middle and low income consumers. The USDA publishes a regular indicator, which I think also we need-to go back to a previous question-of who makes the money from food. We concentrate heavily on farming but most of the money is made beyond farming.

The issue of the cost of the food to the consumer must not be confused with how much money the farmer is getting, but that too is a complicated issue because sometimes a longer chain can end up being cheaper for the consumer, although in terms of reducing carbon we want shorter chains.

Q32 Sheryll Murray: Is there a role for added value then to make sure that the prime producer will get a fair price?

Professor Lang: I bet you would find all of us agreeing on that. I think behind us are cohorts of academics and NGO think tanks who would broadly say yes, but the issue is consumer acceptability. It goes back to what I referred to as food culture. In Britain, remember that in 1846 one arm of British industry won over the landed interest, and for 165 years we have had a culture based around celebrating cheap food as a good thing rather than quality of food as a good thing. I think we all know in the 21st century that culture is going to have to change and it will be imposed on consumers. It has already been choice edited without them really knowing it and it is probably going to be choice edited even more dramatically. But at some point, not far off, consumers are going to have to be rapidly educated into the realities that food prices are going to have to go up and they are going to have to change what they eat. The ubiquitous high fat, high calorie diet is going to have to probably modify. In public health we think that is a very good thing.

Q33 Dr Whitehead: The Government has announced that it is going to urge manufacturers to scrap sell-by dates and move to display-until dates. I must say my view that this will eliminate food waste is not that advanced, but what is your view of the extent to which that is going to work? Also, are there other factors in food waste? I know there are, for example, a number of pinch points in terms of production, the extent to which food production is edited by, say, overriders in supermarkets requiring food producers to chuck away a lot of food that is produced. So what are the particular pinch points in terms of food waste? Is it really post-consumed waste that is the main point?

Mark Driscoll: If I can have a stab at answering that. Waste differs whether you look at a developing market or the UK. Food waste in the UK is wasted throughout the food chain, usually about a third, roughly, in the agricultural production process and harvesting process, a third through processing in the food retail sector and about a third, I think, at a household level. If you look at the developing world, interestingly the predominant food waste is post-harvest losses because of the lack of infrastructure or the lack of storage facilities. So in the UK, yes, food waste is really important. I think the display-until date is an important step but it is not the only part of the story. WRAP has done quite a lot of work that shows that we waste food worth about £680 per family in the UK; 8 million tonnes of food is wasted.

There are a number of other issues, I think. One of the issues I just want to flag. I think it is crazy that non-animal food waste from things like schools and prisons is not fed to livestock. That came in after obviously the BSE crisis. I would encourage the Government and the Committee to look at that aspect, but also other aspects in terms of working with the food retail sector through the Courtauld agreement that set key targets in terms of reducing food waste. So you do have to look at food waste across the piece. Some of the behavioural change aspects, the Love Food Hate Waste campaign from organisations like WRAP, are important mechanisms.

Professor Lang: If I can come in on that. They have raised it very effectively but they haven’t transformed behaviour at the point of consumption yet. I would like to just add to what Mark said there. Don’t forget the way in which the sell-by dates and so on were all introduced, as you said, as issues of food safety. There are microbiological issues. Now that we are focusing much more upon waste, we must not forget those. I don’t think that the Department of Health has been good at this, frankly.

Chair: We are coming up to the magic hour of 4.00pm and most of the Members will have to leave to go on to other sessions, I do want to bring in Zac Goldsmith if I may and then perhaps if there is anything to tie up at the end, if we are still quorate, I am very happy to do so.

Q34 Zac Goldsmith: I have to leave at 4 pm unfortunately. I have two questions that are linked, as all these issues are, but they are not immediately linked. The first one is do you think it is possible for the Government to encourage local food networks without curbing the reach of the supermarkets? Is there an inevitable conflict between the two?

Professor Lowe: No, I don’t think so. I helped set up Northumbria Larder, which we set up after foot and mouth. Before then, there had been these efforts to encourage little, small scale food producers, and with foot and mouth, because we closed farmers’ markets, their outlets disappeared and they were all going to collapse, so we set up Northumbria Larder as a collective of small scale food producers and we got some money from a quango, Food from Britain. That money continued under the regional development agency and now Northumbria Larder has, I don’t know, 50 or 60 small food producers and new niches have developed. So things that you didn’t use to be able to buy in Northumberland, like Northumberland cheeses, are now thriving.

Q35 Zac Goldsmith: But are you saying then the trends are already being countered, or is that an insignificant blip in terms of the overall direction of -

Professor Lowe: In terms of local food and small speciality food producers, it has been a great growth over the last 20 years and it has been a great renewal. Some of it is middle class food trendies, some of it is CAP support for farm diversification and a lot is to do with the choice eating habits of the middle class.

Q36 Zac Goldsmith: Can I ask Tim to answer before you go on, because I have another question, and I want to be as quick as possible. Sorry to be pushy but the minutes are sweeping by and I would love to hear Tim’s views on that.

Professor Lang: I agree with what Philip said. I am a trustee of Borough Market, I should declare an interest, and that has been the archetype of the middle class consumer. Our profile is right across the classes, so don’t underestimate the degree to which there is a cross-class interest on that.

Secondly, I think Philip is absolutely right. What he has done in Northumberland has been echoed everywhere. We are in a period of extraordinary experimentation with local food hubs and local food identities, but they are still very small. But magically, always looking for another percentage growth opportunity, the big retailers are also in there. Asda, I think rightly, says it is the biggest local provider of local food systems and it has created more diverse local supply chains. It is not my version of localism, but it is a bit like sustainable intensification; local means different things to different people. The big companies have got their version of it and we have got the democratic experimentalism, which is how I would see what Philip was referring to.

We are at a very interesting moment in British culture where there is an appeal of that. You know as well as we do. You are interested in this and I am with you. I don’t see much support from Government for that. The RDAs were running with it but now we don’t know whether that will do it.

Professor Lowe: A lot of public money did go into it.

Professor Lang: It did go into it, yes.

Professor Lowe: When you look at the history of a lot of the farm diversification activities, quite a bit of public money has gone in.

Q37 Zac Goldsmith: The second and final point, and this is a huge one I’m afraid, when we talk about cheap food-going back to Professor Lang’s points about re-education, about trying to shift the consumer fashion when it comes to choosing what to buy, what to eat and so on-is it mostly not about education but more about honest economics? If you look at what we mean by cheap food, usually it is only cheap because we are paying twice for it. You pay over the counter and you pay indirectly through subsidies, which can take any number of different forms, partly by not including the cost of environmental pollution, for example. If you had an honest pricing mechanism so that cheap food is less cheap and some of the niche stuff that you were talking about in the context of Borough was perhaps less expensive, would that in itself not be more transformative in terms of consumer choices? Should that not therefore be the priority of Government, trying to create a more honest and, in effect, a fairer and freer market when it comes to pricing food?

Professor Lowe: One would like that to be so but it is drenched with market failure, the system.

Zac Goldsmith: Yes, it is. That is my point. That is what I am trying to say.

Professor Lowe: You have oligopolies in terms of the food retailers. You have small consumers. You have small farmers. You have people who don’t pay for the environment and food miles. The thing is steeped in market failure.

Professor Lang: Yes, it is a mess. But you are right. That is what my table in my report was trying to say: unless we sort out this issue of policy and fairness, all the other things can’t be delivered. There is distortion across those six headings and I think almost all of us who are struggling with this complex picture feel that we don’t yet have the steer from Government or the big companies. The great irony is the big companies are now deeply worried about this because they are getting to the limit of what they can do unless they come out and say, "Consumers have to pay more and diets have to be different". They are locked into servicing an out of control, distorted consumerism, which is why gently I have been saying that although we have to concentrate on agriculture, of course, we also have to take supply chain approaches. All of us, I think, would say in different ways we think the analysis of sustainability in food has to be systemic. But the tricky bit, Zac, is really that business about consumers and what they will do. We have had 60 years since the Second World War of an assumption being built in of what progress is, and it is deeply wired. It is deeply wired and it troubles me. I’m a social scientist. It troubles me. How can we change it?

Zac Goldsmith: I would love to have this discussion for hours on end but I really do have to go. I’m very sorry. Apologies.

Chair: I think that Peter Aldous is going to come in a little bit on the systemic strategic approach towards food, and I thank Mr Zac Goldsmith.

Q38 Peter Aldous: We have heard about a variety of policies to encourage sustainable food production, but to what extent do you think the Government is or is not providing a strategy to join up all those policies?

Professor Lang: Very quickly, my report was about a slow growth of policy. I did a table with you in mind, on pages 16 and 17, just showing the way in which it was growing across diverse headings. Reluctantly, after the Cabinet Office report, there was an acceptance that the devolved administrations were leading and England wasn’t yet doing its bit. So the Cabinet Sub-Committee was set up, with parallel civil service governance, to begin that process and then England and the devolved administrations liaison was also being created. That has all been frozen. The Food 2030 report by Defra was aspirational. We all hoped it would be non-party political and it was; the then Conservative Opposition welcomed it. But there has been no follow-on and that is what I think almost everyone in the food policy world feels frustrated about, that we could now move to implementation. Yes, rejig it, but it needs to be implemented and we need to be thinking about the relevant institutions for doing it at national level, devolved administration level and local level. I am not sure whether we have structures that can address it at the local level yet and-I don’t know what Philip thinks-I don’t think LEPs are even on the planet as far as that is concerned in replacing the RDAs. The RDAs were pretty hopeless, let’s not be romantic about them. Do you agree?

Professor Lowe: I think, to a certain extent you have a new framework with this interesting report, the latest Foresight report, which gives you a global perspective. The critical thing there is a hierarchy concept: there is food security; there is healthy eating for all; there is the environment. Critically, we have to decide. The previous debate tended to be immensely parochial. The reframing is a global picture and what I am looking for your Committee to do is on those three elements-food security, healthy eating for all and the environment - What is the right balance between UK’s domestic responsibilities and UK’s responsibilities for the wider world? On each of those headings you could say, "We’ll grow more. We’ll grow less. We’ll protect the environment at home. We’ll let the environment suffer overseas. Healthy eating for all: does that include our development responsibilities?" I look to you guys to say, "This is what it means for the UK", and not to be little Englanders but to say, "In the new global context of this report, this is what a set of UK responsibilities must be".

Professor Lang: The only criticism I have of the Foresight report-I would rather declare an interest because I have said it to Committee Members-was I thought they were strong on production and supply and weak in terms on following through the analysis on consumption. It is partly because, even in academia and science, we are nervous about consumers. We are all focusing upon production. It is sort of there and they acknowledge the report that I led from the SDC called Setting the Table where we tried to articulate, based on work we had done for us from Oxford University, to balance the interests of the environment and health. But the reality is no one wants to or everyone is nervous about saying, "Depending what you want to eat, here is how you are going to have to change it". Until we do that and then say, "What would a sustainable diet look like?" and then, "What would a production system be to deliver that?" that is the tricky bit. So, to Philip’s three I would add sustainable diets as a driver of policy.

Q39 Mr Spencer: Just to say that the problem is that politically they are ranked in the wrong order, in my opinion, in that lack of food security, if we were to experience it, would be highest on the political agenda, followed by the diet aspect and then right at the bottom would be the environment impact-in terms of the effect at the ballot box. That is the real crux of the problem.

Professor Lang: You are up against the reflex of the Treasury versus, if you like, Defra and that is a key dynamic.

Mark Driscoll: I think with the hierarchal approach, there is a lot of interplay between each of those three. If I can just make a point around Government’s role: we see Government as fundamental in this process. They have to take a strategic lead in this process. That is the first point I want to make. The last 12 months has been a hiatus. Do look at the 2030 food strategy. Many organisations, including ourselves, were engaged in that. Food strategy has to be a collaborative process, so all the key actors have to play an active role. It is not just about a Government strategy. It is about a strategy that involves us all and which we can all contribute towards. 2030 did get part of the way there, so don’t lose that. Use that as a frame, refresh it in the light of Foresight and the changes in the external world. So that is a kind of plea.

The second one is what we are expecting is an action plan and a clear delivery plan, and that is crucial and that is what has been missing. We understand the issues are complex. Do look at some of the win/wins within the food system. There are many tradeoffs but there are many win/wins. We can get ourselves too het up about some of the complexities. We have to cut through some of that, bearing in mind it is the system. So sustainable diets would be a key issue. What is beneficial for your health is often beneficial for a healthy planet and lots of our work in WWF-UK on Livewell-I think we have given you connections to that report-started that kind of debate. We as an organisation are really keen to work with Government but Government has to take that mantle on. Retailers are saying to us, "Government needs to define the key principles of a sustainable diet, for instance, we can’t just go out on a limb". So Government has to take a role with some of these issues. So that is a bit of a plea in terms of pushing this forward and don’t forget what has already occurred over the couple of years and build on that.

Professor Lang: A process that did begin in Government-I declare some frustration because I was part of it, as Mark knows-we got from the Setting the Table diet, which I ran at the SDC for Defra, the development of what was called the Integrated Advice to Consumers Project, which was being led by the Food Standards Agency. For better or for worse, the carve-up of the FSA, the shifting of bits into the Department of Health and bits into Defra, has broken that up and the project has closed exactly at the moment when we needed it. Maybe I shouldn’t put words into his mouth, but I think Mark and I would have said it was weak, compared to what he has just been saying, but it was the beginning, in that slow reluctant way that the British state specialises in, to produce something about, "Well, do we eat fish, yes or no? Do I obey the nutritional advice: two portions a week, one of which is oily? If I listen to WWF, the Royal Commission on Environment Pollution, it depends. If it’s global, wow, there is no clarity at all. There isn’t enough fish to feed 7 billion people two portions of fish a week, of which one should be oily".

So where are we going to get the Omega 3s and 6s is a huge issue in my world of public health, but we can’t fudge that. Imagine the scenario if there is a world war 3 and the British state has to introduce some sort of rationing; how do you work it out, given suddenly supplies are collapsing and changing, or there is an oil crisis or something? What would the Government do, because it would be Government that would have to do it? In that sense, wow, is the issue of sustainable diet a critical issue. It is not just WWF marginal professor territory. This is about national security in the military sense. That is why the Chatham House project was put together by the Ministry of Defence. It was the only ministry that was thinking long term.

Mr Spencer: Of all ironies.

Chair: I think, Mark, you wanted to come in.

Mark Driscoll: Yes, just a couple of quick points. Governments globally are struggling with the issues of food security. Nobody has the answer. They are all struggling. In fact, despite the problems, in many respects the debate in the UK, if you look at the global perspective, is quite advanced. So it is not all negative. The debate is quite advanced in the UK if you look at it in a global perspective and there is a real leadership role that the UK Government could play. If we can get this right, governments around the world could learn from this process and learn from some of the experiences. There are issues that we haven’t even touched on today around public sector procurement and the Government taking a lead in public sector procurement through Government buying standards. So there is a real leadership role. Food is a real Gordian knot and it will take something to unravel that but we all-civil society, food businesses and Government-need to play a really important role, because there are some systemic issues and they will be issues that will be painful for some of us but issues that we have to address.

Q40 Chair: That is exactly where we wanted to finish in respect of Government procurement. Perhaps I should declare an interest here as having a Private Member’s Bill that has failed so far to get to even a Second Reading and has had no Government support whatsoever. But I just wanted to ask you-given the views of organisations such as Sustain-how much difference the £1 billion or so of public money that is spent on procuring food in the public sector could make to sustainable food were we to apply some of the principles that we have been talking about. Also, related to that, could you just perhaps, for the record, give your views on why it is that Government has public buying standards that are linked to certain Departments but do not apply, for example, to hospitals right the way across the board where, in the views of some people including myself, they could make a big difference? Is that something that should be looked at?

Professor Lang: I am probably going to be slightly heretical. I declare an interest. I was chair of Sustain. Two of my academic department are on the board of trustees and one of them leads that work as a trustee. So I am totally supportive of it. The heretical bit is that I want us to remember that public procurement is tiny compared to the turnover of Tesco.

Q41 Chair: But isn’t it a question of Government being able to lead by example?

Professor Lang: But it is what Government does and it should absolutely, definitely be doing more about it. There is deep frustration everywhere. I sit as an adviser to the Mayor of London-Mr Johnson, not the City Corporation-and there we have struggled on the Olympics. Sustain has led the commitment to try and get sustainable fish as one of the criteria of the Olympics delivery system. So definitely you are right, absolutely right, we have to use public procurement. But I don’t think we should allow Government-this is my heretical bit-to just think, "Okay, we’re not going to really address this big issue", that I think all three of us have being trying to address, sustainable food, sustainable diets, by just saying, "Okay, we’ll only do it around sustainable procurement". It has to be that big picture and, "Oh, by the way, yes, we’re doing our bit in our own procurement".

The problem is there is a retreat to bad public procurement, weak attempts, patchy attempts to address sustainability in public procurement, instead of the more integrated position that I think Mark was giving of Government taking a lead-I thought you didn’t say this so I’ll say it for you-at the European level. There is a little potential alliance of Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and Denmark and us, with us the most articulate on this, in the European Union, right down to the level of public procurement.

Q42 Chair: I am going to bring in Professor Lowe and then Mark Driscoll and I think we are going to have to bring it to a close.

Professor Lowe: I think the critical objective that you want is innovation in the food chain around these new objectives of sustainability and healthy eating, and public procurement has its role. Equally, bad public procurement could not produce it. So it is the objectives that you are trying to achieve. You must see also to what extent you could have a similar set of objectives about barriers to innovation with the supermarkets and barriers to innovation within other elements of the food supply chain. It is intriguing, we compared the sort of dynamic that Zac Goldsmith was talking about with small scale diversified food processers and food manufacturers. That is entirely operated by little bits of subsidy and going with market demand.

The other areas that I would look at include barriers to innovation. We have not touched on it, but more sustainable agriculture would involve development of biological controls instead of pesticides. There are barriers to innovation there. There are barriers to innovation in farmers introducing things like anaerobic digestion. So there is innovation in the system that could lead to more sustainable practices.

Q43 Chair: What about funding for that innovation? Where should it come from?

Professor Lowe: Well, I think we should channel more of what is left of the Common Agricultural Policy into innovative development.

Q44 Chair: What about other European funding programmes like the Life Plus Programme, for example?

Professor Lowe: Yes, and the European Regional Development Fund. To a certain extent, in an atmosphere of public cuts these are areas that still continue to be resourced. But on innovation in farming systems, I would press for us to introduce a new agricultural advisory system and services. So there are ways of thinking about different approaches to innovation that could introduce novel practices and novel development.

Q45 Mr Spencer: Just on CAP reform, would you expand Tier 2 or would you green up Tier 1?

Professor Lowe: I would do both but my instincts would be to expand Tier 2.

Q46 Chair: I am just going to bring now Mark Driscoll for the very last word.

Mark Driscoll: Can I just touch on public procurement and then perhaps just briefly on CAP? We obviously supported the Sustainable Food Bill and are actually a member of Sustain. So we do believe procurement is a really important lever, although it is a small part of the overall food system. Obviously we have quite a lot of concerns as to why Government dropped the original healthy food mark and are quite concerned about what will come out of the Government buying standards that I think have been delayed slightly. But that aside, I think there are lots of other benefits. A lot of it is about public services, how they engage with their suppliers and how change can occur with some of the suppliers that they engage with. It is an essential part of the whole package to ensure that both sustainable and healthy food choices are made.

To touch on your point, Mark, in terms of the CAP, our approach is there needs to be more recognition of payments for public goods, not just agricultural production. We would like to see a greening of Pillar 1, to link those payments to direct payments that farmers get at the moment over time. We would like to see more resources shift from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2. There is a lot of horse-trading between national governments as to how that will go, but it is a fundamental issue.

Chair: I am afraid time has caught up with us. I know there is a lot of expertise from each of you and we have had a full attendance earlier on. So if we have not covered all the aspects in sufficient detail, I am sorry. Thank you very much indeed for coming along anyway. Thank you very much indeed.

Prepared 10th May 2012