“A sustainable food policy”

Posted on 24-06-19 by Malcolm Cowburn Number of votes: 0 | Number of comments: 0

Just a few random and rapid thoughts on the above consultation. I have only recently been made aware of this consultation. The comments that follow are derived from a 14-month Oral History project that I led in north Devon (March 2018-May 2019); the data collected is qualitative and has not been analysed systematically. However, here are my observations:

The introductory paragraphs of the consultation document recognise that '... our food production and distribution systems are deeply flawed.' The tension between local needs and 'transnational companies and retail giants' is also highlighted. However, perhaps the changes in food production in the last 50 or so years need to be considered; from my oral history interviews, I would like to highlight the following factors:
• Small (self-sufficient) farms and small holdings have disappeared in the latter half of the 20th century. National and international conglomerates have bought up these farms with a view to maximising profit in the production of food.
• Governmental policy concerning the use of land – fluctuating between policies that seek to maximise food production, and environmental policies – have facilitated the changes mentioned in the first bullet point.
• The consequences of 'food policies' only focussing on production related issues can lead to ignoring the social impacts on communities; at least four areas are worthy of further exploration:
o Intensification of 'production' methods has radically changed the shape and form of agricultural land – hedgerows have been removed (and later restored); cattle herds have increased in size and dairy produce has become automated, with cattle, in some cases, being contained within large sheds throughout their life.
o Changes in the means of production has also impacted on human communities: agricultural manual labour(er) is almost obsolete. From the oral history interviews, it is possible to trace the reduction in numbers of people employed in the land from the 1950s through to the 1990s and beyond. Traditionally, some agricultural labourers lived in accommodation 'tied' to their employment; with the loss of labour, accommodation was also lost.
o Population shifts – particularly in relation to wealthy people (from South East England) buying properties (for letting as holiday rentals or second homes) have further compounded the withdrawal of local people from their communities.
o Linked to the two previous points, rural villages have changed; where once they were almost self-sufficient units with a range of shops and active local commercial and social life; villages have now become places without social or commercial centres. Food policies have contributed to these changes.
• This brief contribution is meant to strike a few notes, not explore issues in scholarly depth. I conclude by asking the consultation to look wider than 'means of production' – whilst this has relevance because of the current situation in rural settings – and consider the social impacts of prioritising cash and capital. Some ordinary people are priced out of their communities, and villages become anonymous centres of holiday lets and second 'homes' with few local resources.

Referring to: Environment, Energy and Culture

The Environment, Energy and Culture Policy Commission is tasked with leading Labour’s policy development on the environment, food and rural affairs, energy and climate change, and culture, media and sport.

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