3 Improving Accessibility |
Access for communities
29. A range of innovative local food initiatives
are playing an important role in providing people with better
access to more healthy and sustainable food. Local food networks
(or webs) link farmers, growers, community-supported agriculture,
processors and suppliers with local food shops and other local
food providers such as farmers' markets, food-box schemes and
food cooperatives. The Campaign to Protect Rural England has published
location reports showing the scale and impact of local food networks
in six towns and cities.
CPRE argued for policy-making 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. They argued that:
- Smaller outlets, and particularly
butchers, greengrocers and village stores, were vital for smaller
producers to bring their produce to market either directly or
through the wholesale system.
- A local system ensured that there was diversity
of supply, a wider range of choice of produce, good nutritional
quality (as fresh produce was delivered through shorter supply
chains) and provided a 'seed-bed' for new small and medium sized
food businesses to innovate and develop their product ranges.
- Supermarket expansion threatened the viability
of smaller independent stores on the high street and in villages.
When such shops disappeared, the choice of where to shop and access
for those who do not use a car was diminished.
Their research showed that local food webs could
give better access to fresh food, support local businesses, and
add diversity and character to towns and rural areas. Local food
webs played a role in connecting people, through shops and markets,
to their wider community and to the surrounding countryside. Smaller
retailers interviewed for the CPRE research stocked 50% or more
local produce, whereas most supermarkets typically stocked only
1-2% local food. CPRE concluded that, without these smaller outlets,
many local producers would struggle to survive.
30. Sustain noted that a number of localities
were already taking steps towards developing sustainable food
systems, including London.
Others were implementing elements of existing schemes, such as
'Fairtrade Towns' and 'Sustainable Fish Cities'. Sandwell Primary
Care Trust argued that, in a global context, producing more fresh
food in and around urban areas would help improve resilience against
the effects of climate change, increasing global demand for food
and diminishing natural resources such as water and fossil fuel
resources. And in a local context, they were supporting communities
to bring this about, for example through working with allotment
users and community agriculture schemes.
Sustain argued that the localism agenda could help to bolster
such initiatives, and the planning system could also give local
communities more power to make their food system more sustainable.
However, they also noted that localism was being proposed at the
same time as cuts in local government funding, and that the dominant
role of large food and agriculture companies would mean that local
authorities and other local actors would be too small and under-funded
31. CPRE believed that it was important to involve
increasing numbers of people in food growing, not only so that
they could produce their own food, but also so that they could
understand the environmental issues surrounding food production.
Transfer of knowledge in this way contributed to creating a more
informed body of consumers which could in turn help to increase
people's commitment to buying more sustainable produce from established
food retail outlets. Research could examine how low-input systems
for growing food locally and sustainably might be used by community
groups. Some of this work has been done in specific locations,
but more is required to help deliver best practice across the
UK. As Clare Devereux of Food Matters told us, evidence on the
scope for this is now needed nationally, which reflects the difficult
economic situation that many communities now find themselves in.
32. Food Matters wanted to see greater acknowledgement
by Government and local authorities of the value of food in our
culture and society, and in particular the role that it can play
in delivering a range of desirable public policy targets: for
example increasing social inclusion, improving educational attainment,
reducing food waste, delivering skills and training, improving
physical and mental health and creating local employment opportunities.
There was a lack of baseline data and evidence on what works to
underpin the creation of a sustainable food system. More research
was required in a local setting in order to understand what action
on healthy diets and climate change would give the best return
on any investment of time, money and effort. Food Matters saw
such information gathering as a Government responsibility.
33. Some local authorities and local health authorities
have developed food strategies to improve access to sustainable
food and the benefits that come from this in their areas. Some
strategies cover the whole food system; others focus on specific
themes such as health or the environment. The Food Vision website,
published by the Local Government Group and the Chartered Institute
for Environmental Health, holds a list of examples of food strategies
around the country.
This pulls together research and good practice by individuals,
groups and organisations, and takes into account the implications
of food systems on the local economy, community and environment.
Such strategies can:
- Improve understanding and awareness
about healthy eating, by working with traditional education partners
(such as schools) and also a broad range of community and statutory
- Reduce barriers to healthy eating in terms of
accessibility, affordability and availability;
- Reduce nutrition-related health inequalities
by targeting help on the most vulnerable groups.
34. Planning policy often fails to recognise
the importance of sustainable production and consumption of food.
Sustain and the Local Action on Food network saw a need to incorporate
food in policy guidance for local authorities in the same way
as provided for other essential services, such as water, waste,
energy and housing. They called for food policy guidance from
Government for planning authorities.
CPRE identified areas where local authorities could assist developing
local food networks:
- Creating specific retail and
planning policies to encourage diverse local food businesses;
- Revising local authority procurement policy to
source more local food;
- Supporting and extending existing local markets,
including farmers markets;
- Providing land for allotments.
35. Access to land for food growing is vital
for a sustainable local food system. Food Matters had wanted the
'community right to buy' aspect of the Localism Act to include
explicitly a right for a community to buy land for sustainable
food production. They argued that food growing within cities had
indirect social and health benefits in terms of access to open
space, physical activity and education of children.
Brighton and Hove Food Partnership saw the value of land in the
south east of England is a barrier to the creation of viable small
scale food production such as horticulture or small mixed agricultural
argued that local authority plans should support small scale food
production and related infrastructure (abattoirs, distribution
hubs etc). They welcomed opportunities for more power for local
communities through the Localism Act but were concerned that,
particularly in an urban setting, the interests of development
(housing and industry) could outweigh the need to maintain or
create new land for food production. They urged local authorities
to ensure that their local plans included opportunities for sustainable
local food production.
Angela Blair of Sandwell Primary Care Trust described how they
monitor and seek to influence planning applications:
We look at the planning applications every week.
We see where new hot food takeaways are coming up, any opportunities,
new housing developments and so on. We then use health impact
assessments, screening checklists for opportunities, and within
that there is one on food access, there are things about agriculture
production processing, community voluntary sector enterprise.
We look at how to integrate the preventive health services within
the food policy work and we work with trading standards, environmental
health, food safety, planning, housing, transport on accessibility
36. Sustain believed that the levers in the planning
system on what we eat, how we eat it and our long-term physical
and mental well-being, could be used more effectively. However,
food has not been specifically included in most planning policy
(unlike other essentials of human existence such as water, air,
transport, and housing). The new National Planning Policy Framework
now includes "promot(ing) the health and well-being of the
community" as a key objective. Sustain argued that this could
be important in delivering more sustainable food to more people,
particularly with regards to food shopping and food growing.
The new Framework provides a set of core land-use planning principles
to underpin both plan-making and development decision-taking,
[...] encourage multiple benefits from the use of
land in urban and rural areas, recognising that some open land
can perform many functions (such as for wildlife, recreation,
flood risk mitigation, carbon storage, or food production).
37. The National Planning Policy
Framework potentially provides local authorities with more powers
to provide communities with better access to local food and to
be able to grow their own food. However, the NPPF lacks the detail
that could assist planning authorities in drawing up local plans
to provide for this. The Government should make clear in the subsequent
guidance it provides for local authorities that for Local Plans
to be consistent with the NPPF they should take account of communities'
access to sustainable food and ensure that they are provided with
alternatives to unhealthy food options. There should also be provisions
in Local Plans to ensure that communities are provided with open
spaces to grow their own produce, including for example options
for communities or co-operatives to buy land for these purposes.
To help develop such guidance, the Government should also identify
best practice from leading local authorities in this field and
quantify the benefits of developing local food strategies.
Access for producers
38. Local food networks provide a less conventional
but growing route for producers to supply food. One example is
community retail or cooperative projects that buy food in bulk
direct from suppliers, enabling their members to benefit by getting
good food at a more affordable price and providing producers with
access to local markets. More supermarkets are developing and
updating their sustainability strategies which are providing benefits
for local producers and are selecting more sustainable produce
but there are still a number of barriers to further improvement,
as we discuss below.
FAIR PRICES FOR PRODUCERS
39. Some producers told us that there was a failure
in some parts of the food supply chain to pass financial returns
fairly to primary food producers, leaving some sectors economically
unsustainable. This could have long-term ramifications for the
continued ability of suppliers to source produce from UK farmers
and also for the well-being of local communities.
Ultimately such a state of affairs exports our production base,
to countries where food may be produced to lower environmental,
health and welfare standards, increasing rather than alleviating
the 'unsustainability' of the food system.
40. The Competition Commission reported in 2008
that UK grocery retailers were in many respects delivering a good
deal for consumers but recommended the establishment of a Groceries
Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) and an ombudsman to oversee its
NFU believed that where markets were failing to provide fair returns
to farmers, and thereby making farming unsustainable, the Groceries
Code Adjudicator should intervene for the benefit of consumers
and for food security.
The Food Ethics Council welcomed the creation of the Adjudicator,
though were concerned about its effectiveness:
We do have some concerns about whether it is going
to be as effective as many of those in the supply chain would
like it to be. We do need to ensure that they can conduct effective
inquiries themselves and that they do have some sanctions that
if the Codes are not being kept to that they can levy fines, for
example. We don't want it to be a toothless watchdog.
41. The Government published a Draft Groceries
Code Adjudicator Bill in May 2011, to establish the ombudsman.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence
from food producers, who told them that a 'climate of fear' would
deter producers from making complaints. The Food and Drink Federation
told that Committee that the low number of complaints demonstrated
that "the GSCOP will only work fully if there is a proactive
Adjudicator in place to police it".
The NFU made a similar point and explained that complainants would
only come forward if an Adjudicator could guarantee their anonymity.
The Committee wanted legislation to be amended to provide for
third parties to be able to make complaints to the Adjudicator
on behalf of suppliers. They also recommended that reserved provisions
to provide the Adjudicator with a power to levy fines against
retailers be brought in immediately.
In response, the Government stated that:
Our position remains that it is more appropriate
for complaints to be lodged directly or indirectly by suppliers,
but we are open to considering further arguments on extending
the range of those who can trigger an investigation. [...]
The draft Bill provides the Adjudicator with the
power to name and shame retailers that are in breach of the code,
and we believe that, in a highly competitive market, retailers
will not risk reputational damage from unacceptable behaviour
42. Food systems are more likely
to be sustainable if food reflects value or cost of the environmental
impacts of producing it; an area we identified as needing more
research (paragraph 18). In the absence of such mechanisms food
prices have been relatively low particularly when supplied through
supermarkets which are able to bring economies of scale to bear.
The Groceries Code Adjudicator's role in delivering fairer prices
to producers will be vital in helping all food producers to achieve
a fair price for their produce and with the means to invest in
less impacting methods of production. The Groceries Code Adjudicator
should be established so that it is able to begin investigations
following representations from third parties, and it must have
the power to fine retailers for breach of the Code.
43. 'Choice editing' involves retailers limiting
the range of products they make available to customers. Supermarkets,
for example, might be able restrict the sale of produce with high
environmental impact, for example, by reducing the numbers of
some out-of-season and imported goods. The Food Ethics Council
has argued that retailers pursuing choice editing strategies are
likely to be at a competitive disadvantage.
With the exception of a minority of businesses that position themselves
specifically as leaders in the 'ethical' market, businesses that
raise the prices of their products or reduce choice risk losing
customers to their competitors. They concluded that, in the absence
of regulatory intervention by Government, only a coordinated effort
by the major businesses across a sector could get past this obstacle.
By co-operating and adopting similar choice editing strategies,
supermarkets would be able to reduce the risks of pursuing such
strategies. However, such collaboration would potentially contravene
competition law and expose those involved to challenge by the
Office of Fair Trading or by the European Commission. And any
regulatory regime with similar aims could also be construed as
interference with EU Single Market rules. This barrier would also
apply to public procurement through Government Buying Standards
(paragraph 45). The Food and Drink Federation's preferred approach
was therefore for industry to continue its efforts to make its
products as healthy and sustainable as possible, while offering
consumers appropriate choices.
When we raised this issue with the Minister, he regarded this
as primarily an issue for industry to judge:
I recognise that the supermarkets are extremely nervous
about competition law. ... We do have periodic meetings with the
senior chief executives of the supermarkets, but it is on a very
clear agenda that makes sure that ... we can't talk about price
or anything that could be construed as collusion. I can see the
argument that they would be very nervous of it, yes. You would
need to ask a lawyer whether in reality there is something in
competition law that says they should not work together on sustainability.
I don't know. That would be for a lawyer to judge, but I am very
conscious of their sensitivity over anything like that.
44. In March 2012, the Government announced proposals
to create a new Competition and Markets Authority that would bring
the Competition Commission and the OFT's competition functions
into a single organisation.
should amend the Office of Fair Trading's remit to take account
of sustainable development while protecting competition, and task
the OFT and the Competition & Markets Authority to investigate
and clarify the scope for supermarkets to cooperate in developing
shared sustainability good practice.
PUBLIC SECTOR BUYING
45. The public sector provides an appropriate
means to increase access to sustainable food for both producers
and customers. In June 2011 Government Buying Standards for food
and catering services were introduced, and came into force for
all new catering contracts from September 2011, to ensure that
Government buys more sustainable food and gives small and local
producers fair access to public contracts worth up to £2
billion a year. The
Standards cover Government departments and their agencies and
non-departmental public bodied, including the armed services and
prisons, but not the NHS or schools.
46. Friends of the Earth found the Standards
for public sector food purchasing weak and argued that the potential
that public food procurement has to transform our food system
has not been realised.
This was particularly evident for the standards on meat and dairy.
Jeanette Longfield of Sustain welcomed the Standards, particularly
for fish, but thought some parts of them were "a bit feeble".
She complained for example that:
The egg standards are rubbish. They have not included
'Red Tractor' even as a basic minimum, which is unspeakably ridiculous.
They have not set high enough aspirational standards for organic
and [Linking Environment And Farming] certified. Fair trade is
pathetic; that should be much higher than it is.
She put these weaknesses down to lobbying from the
large food distributors. The NFU argued that the Standards did
not recognise that UK farmers and growers work to higher legislative
standards, with higher consequential costs, than apply to imports.
47. A number of local public bodies have already
demonstrated the benefits of sourcing more sustainable food and
that results can be achieved with minimal costs. The Cornwall
Food Programme was developed to address the food supply needs
of the NHS in Cornwall.
It works in partnership with local producers, suppliers and distributors
to encourage them to tender for NHS and other public sector contracts
and to purchase and process a significant proportion of Cornish
produce for use in patient, visitor and staff meals. It reports
increased satisfaction with the quality and taste of the meals,
and with 41% of the budget spent on Cornish produce there has
been a 67% cut in annual 'food miles' travelled by delivery vehicles.
A new farm shop at the Royal Cornwall Hospital enables patients,
staff and visitors to buy fresh, local and organic produce and
there are plans to develop a home-delivery food-box scheme using
NHS courier services. This has all been achieved within the constraints
of an existing food budget of £2.50 per patient per day.
48. According to research by Sustain, over £53
million of Government money had been spent in the last ten years
on voluntary initiatives to improve the sustainability of public
sector food, with no demonstrable benefit for health or the environment.
They, and others, including the SDC, called for standards to be
mandatory across the entire public sector.
The Minister explained, however, that the Government did not want
to force local bodies to adopt the Government standards:
We don't want to make it mandatory [...] We take
the view that the localism agenda means exactly that and that,
we therefore have to leave it up to local discretion. But we would
strongly urge, and hope everybody else would urge, local bodies
to follow the Government buying standards.
49. The Government Buying Standards
for food should be extended to cover the wider public sector,
to ensure healthy and sustainable food is made accessible to more
people and to help establish new markets for producers. Though
it is proven that the Standards can be adopted for minimal cost,
voluntary measures to promote them have not achieved the necessary
improvements across the sector. The Standards must be extended
to require local authorities to adopt them across schools and
hospitals. It should also continue to raise the Standards further,
to reflect existing best practices in particular for eggs, dairy
and meat. Effective public food procurement standards could also
allow Government to lead by example, and make any new food strategy
(paragraph 68) more credible.
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