Thursday, July 31, 2014

Call for major changes to food and farming policy

A coalition of NGOs including the RSPB and the National Trust working with the Centre for Food Research have called for UK food and farming policy to be reoriented around ecosystems and the promotion of healthy food in a report entitled Square Meal.. You can read more about the report and download it here: Square Meal

They state in a press release, 'The organisations involved have joined forces to highlight the overwhelming evidence that demonstrates the need for major changes to national food and farming policy. Square Meal aims to start a collaborative discussion in the run up to next year’s general election and to influence future government policies on these issues. [One suspects that the report is really addressed at a possible Labour Government]. It calls for stronger government leadership in planning the future use of land, food policy, farming and conservation in England and for wider public engagement on issues that affect the whole of society.'

One interesting question is how far these issues are within the domain of national politics. The increasing demand for a sugar tax clearly is, but many practical farming decisions are influenced by the CAP. This has a substantial emphasis on protecting the environment, but does not tackle health related issues.

On the CAP, the report says, 'The Common Agricultural Policy spends €1 billion a week of taxpayers’ money across the EU31– a vast amount that could be doing so much more to support and incentivise those farmers doing the right thing for society and the environment and push up standards across the board. But only a tiny proportion of this expenditure represents good value for money by being targeted at sustainable farming. Much of the rest ends up in the coffers of big business or capitalised in agricultural land prices, delivering little more than private profit or too often is supporting unsustainable farming systems, stifling innovation and hampering competitiveness.'

It is open to question whether large farms do stifle innovation, particularly technological innovation. The tone of the report is very critical of the market economy and praises regulation. It may be, however, that some of its objectives could be achieved within a market economy, or at least by using market based policy instruments. The UK's track record at exercising leadership on the CAP, which is called for in the report, has not been impressive so far, despite valiant efforts to secure reform, in part because of the vested interests of member states.

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