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By Dr Ulrike Ehgartner, FixOurFood Research Associate, University of York

Our food system is in crisis. UK consumers are facing a serious hike in food prices, with 7.3 million adults and over 2.6 million children in the UK experiencing food insecurity. This number indicates a rise of UK household food insecurity by 57%, just from January to April this year, leading to a situation that the Bank of England recently described as “apocalyptic”. Data shows that over the past two years, prices of hundreds of popular items hiked by more than 20 per cent. Also affected are basic staple foods: just over the past year, prices of the UK’s cheapest supermarket rice and bread items have risen by 15%, and for the cheapest pasta by 50%. Also generally, not choosing the cheapest product of a category has become less affordable: in one study, for over two-thirds of the items monitored, the next item was at least 20% more expensive. Given these facts, it comes as no surprise that recent consumer surveys show that 92% of adults state their grocery bill has increased and 39% of adults report they have recently cut back on quantity and quality of the food they consume to be able to afford other essentials.

Policy reforms driven by austerity, which were more recently accelerated by Brexit and the Covid pandemic, have created a highly insecure situation for everyone. How this situation, which has come to be commonly labelled as ‘the cost of living crisis’, will further develop is uncertain with the impact of climate change and the Ukraine war on harvests still unfolding, and the full impact of the inflation yet to be felt. While many industries are affected, our food system is deeply interlinked with many areas, and particularly vulnerable to these uncertainties. Food supply chain and labour shortage issues due to Brexit and the Covid pandemic have caused ongoing challenges. Global fuel and gas shortages come with various direct and knock-on effects on the food industry, for example through increases in fertiliser prices.

Yet, already long before this crisis unfolded, consumer demand for cheap food was identified as the reason for the food industry’s failure to address its severe negative impact on the environment, farmer incomes and animal welfare. Compared to previous decades, we are paying much less for our food and are far removed from the true cost of food. In order to be able to feed ourselves, will we have to abandon plans to decarbonise the industry and exploit farmers, animals and our soils even more? Currently, short-term actions are taken, which indicate this is the only way forward. Decisions of major supermarkets to keep consumers and protect their market share by keeping prices low for consumers, will pass on the rising costs to manufacturers and farmers. Government decisions to delay the introduction of restrictions of multi-buy promotions and advertising of unhealthy food and drink, will not only come with an environmental cost, but will continue putting a strain on our National Health Service.

Over the past decades, we have become accustomed to the notion that such crises can solely be dealt with in ways that either squeeze the consumer or the farmer. However, there are also diverse examples of initiatives, often on a small-scale and local level, which show that another way is possible. Alternative business models such as cooperatives, food hubs, community farms, pantries and other initiatives for affordable food, create more balance in the food supply chain, whilst still making profits. Their models are often based on pursuing sufficient rather than maximised profits and on accepting smaller returns in the short term with the aim to continue and thrive on the long-term. Distributing their food outside the mainstream supply chain, they also introduce means of true cost accounting, which can help reformulate guidelines on an organisational level, inspire investors and set examples for policy makers in applying policy tools such as taxes, mandatory reporting, business investment loans and other incentives to drive improvements in human and planetary health.

Around the globe, partnerships between civil society and stakeholders from public institutions and businesses have trialled and supported the growth and long-term viability of such alternative food systems, enabling new food markets to emerge and food policies to change on a local level. So-called Food (Policy) Councils, or Food Boards, commonly emerge locally, often in cities, and involve various delegates from the different parts of the food system, for example consumers, members of community organisations, representatives of local authorities, farmers and other producers, civil society organisations, activists, retailers and educators. They create active dialogues and collaboration between actors from diverse sectors in order to discuss, coordinate, and influence the transformation towards a more equitable, sustainable and resilient food system and inform and empower citizens to become agents of change. Having emerged in the US in the 1980s, with numbers increasing both in the US and Canada comparatively since, they are a rather recent phenomenon in Europe. First to introduce the concept to Europe was Brighton and Hove in 2003, followed by various cities across Europe, such as Bristol in 2011. As members of Sustainable Food Places, a programme led by three national sustainable food organisations (the Soil Association, Sustain and Food Matters), there are currently 80 Local Food Partnerships in the UK, eight of which are based in Yorkshire, with more to establish in the near future.

The view that the cost of living crisis will inevitably make more and more people dependent on food banks and halt any efforts to decrease the negative environmental impact of food production and the exploitation of farmers, seems inevitable if we deal with issues in siloes. With people operating only within their own institutional boundaries and work areas, it seems as if, for example, climate security and food security are competing goals. Siloed, disjointed policy is increasingly becoming recognised, and was also singled out as a key concern in FixOurFood’s 3 Horizons local economy workshop series with key actors from the food system community in Yorkshire, including representatives of local food partnerships.

Food Policy Councils around the globe have in common that they break siloed thinking and take a systems approach instead, by putting food at the centre, and by supporting the creation of spaces in which alternatives to the mainstream food system work. As such, they provide avenues for transformation towards a food system that allows access to healthy food for everyone, without compromising fairness for farmers, animal welfare or the environment. They can encourage cross-sectoral initiatives and food policy that addresses issues in multidimensional ways and inspire owners of major food businesses to take long-term approaches that prioritise supply chain resilience over short-term returns. An inspiring example that we can learn from is the Cologne Food Council. Founded in 2016 as the first of its kind in Germany, today it coordinates a Network of Food Councils from across Germany and neighbouring countries. Alongside encouraging the establishment of individual Food Councils to impact the food system on the level of their cities or rural places, it also promotes the cooperation between them on a regional and national level. The seeming tension between fair access to food for consumers and fair conditions for farmers and the natural environment constitutes an open topic of discussion within this network, practising food democracy through efforts to bring the question of the true price of food into a citizen assembly context.

It is vital, now more than ever, to foster shared learning across these place-based networks. An approach that focuses on Yorkshire as a region allows to locate local resources and to improve coordination between existing initiatives and programs. The establishment of localised routes to market can enable fairer conditions for regenerative farmers and small-scale producers who operate on sustainable business models. If such routes become more accessible for suppliers and reach consumers of different backgrounds, for example through localised food procurement in schools, the provision of food from such suppliers becomes normalised. This can allow consumers to access healthy and sustainable food, without having to trade off their own livelihoods against those of farmers.



The University of York and Maastricht University launched a partnership in 2017 to establish joint research projects, teaching collaborations, knowledge exchange, student exchanges, and to share best practice among their staff. These research and education programmes were supported by a €3m joint investment to encourage and facilitate innovations to tackle challenges to developing a more sustainable future.

FixOurFood team members Prof Bob Doherty, Dr Ulrike Ehgartner and Prof Peter Ball recently secured an award for €60,000 with colleagues from Maastricht University from the ‘Greener Futures fund’ offered through the partnership.

This collaborative piece of work between the FixOurFood team at York and the School of Business Economics at Maastricht University, will focus on identifying the key success factors in business models that are innovating for net-zero. These will then be developed into a Greener Business toolkit design guide for businesses who want to develop strategies for net-zero and will display options from a product life cycle perspective, from ‘farm to fork’. The team plan to target businesses in UK and Netherlands to rapidly change their business model design with a net zero pathway and then make the validated toolkit available to others.

The team also aims to produce policy briefs for the UK and Netherland governments and envisages cross-regional learning between sustainable entrepreneurial endeavours in the Maastricht and Yorkshire regions, further benefitting the FixOurFood programme.

Here are some examples of sustainable food-related businesses in the Maastricht and Yorkshire regions Mosa meat, Bisschopsmolen, Pieke Broodbier, Looop, Mighty Pea, Food Circle York, Spark York.


By Dr Chris Yap, FixOurFood Research Fellow. City University, London.

This blog was first published by the Food Research Collaboration (https://foodresearch.org.uk/)

FixOurFood policy researcher, Christopher Yap compared the leaked and the published versions of the Food Strategy White Paper. Here he looks at five key differences and what they tell us about policy-making.

The long-awaited Government Food Strategy White Paper was published on Monday (13 June 2022). But it is not a White Paper. And it is “not a strategy”. Many experts and commentators have been quick to criticise the document for failing to translate into policy the majority of the cohesive, ambitious, and ultimately necessary recommendations set out in Henry Dimbleby’s (2021) Independent Review for the National Food Strategy.

The lack of new, coherent, and progressive proposals is a missed opportunity for the national government to show leadership in addressing a wide range of societal challenges. For policy-watchers, the process by which the document became public sheds interesting light on how public policy is formed – in this case, apparently negotiated sentence by sentence, down to publication.

On Saturday (11 June), the Guardian newspaper leaked a draft of the Strategy (version 19). We will likely never hear the full story of how the published Strategy was produced; how particular decisions were made and words carefully chosen. But comparing the leaked and published versions of the Strategy offers a rare glimpse into the ways that policy documents are produced, with potentially wide-reaching implications.

We compared the documents side by side. They are easily comparable, suggesting that the leaked document was a relatively late draft. However, there are a number of important differences. Beyond the significantly redrafted Foreword, here are five we think are important:

The first is the removal of a sentence that stated the government accepts much of Dimbleby’s analysis and recommendations (paragraph 4):

This Government Food Strategy responds to the findings and recommendations of the independent review; we accept much of the analysis and do not repeat it here. We also accept the majority of recommendations.

This is significant because Dimbleby’s review was based on a thorough and devastating diagnosis of the challenges related to our food system, which justified the scale of interventions he proposed to address them. Without recognising that, “the food we eat – and the way we produce it – is doing terrible damage to our planet and to our health” (Dimbleby, 2021, p10), there is a reduced imperative for significant government intervention.

The second is the downplaying of animal welfare in relation to trade in the stated objectives of the Strategy. In the leaked version, one of three headline objectives was to deliver:

Trade that provides export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our standards for animal welfare or doing environmental or social harm.

This was replaced in the published version with the less inspiring objective to deliver:

Trade that provides export opportunities and consumer choice through imports, without compromising our regulatory standards for food, whether produced domestically or imported.

Animal welfare does feature prominently in the published Strategy: section 3.4 remains dedicated to animal welfare standards. However, the language is watered-down and the commitment less clear. For example, animal welfare becomes one of a number of factors that will be taken into consideration, rather than a principle of new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The leaked version stated that:

We will seek animal welfare linked liberalisation in our FTAs, allowing us to offer more generous liberalisation for products certified as meeting certain key animal welfare criteria specified in the agreement.

This was replaced in the published version with:

Decisions on the liberalisation of products through FTAs will consider factors such as climate change, animal welfare and the environment alongside the broader economic and strategic benefits of our trading relationships.

The third is the removal of £10 million from the money allocated to UK Research Councils (UKRI) for food systems research. The reduction of investment in research from £130 million to £120 million is not hugely significant in itself. However, this does draw attention to the lack of new investment set out in the strategy, as well as to how far short the published Strategy falls against the £1 billion of investment in innovation needed to transform the food system recommended by Dimbleby, of which £500 million was to be distributed through a UKRI ‘Challenge Fund’ over five years.

The fourth is the addition of an entirely new section on the seafood indsutry as a source of employment (paragraph 1.3.7), focusing on Grimsby and the Humber Region. This is a welcome addition and reflects important work by Sustain and others that has drawn attention to the environmental and economic benefits of regenerating fishing communities in the UK. The question this raises, however, is why the Strategy is so geographically specific and not aimed at current and former fishing communities around the UK coastline?

The fifth is the rewriting of particularly controversial paragraphs on healthy food choices and obesity (2.1.8 and 2.1.9). The differences are subtle, but revealing. The leaked version of the Strategy stated:

Since obesity is a complex cultural challenge, there is a shared responsibility to identify the solution, which lies in making healthier choices easier. There is an important role for individual responsibility and choice which can result in increased demand for healthier foods. Industry also has a role to play, with its responsibility for promoting and supplying healthier foods… There is also a crucial role for government to make targeted regulatory interventions to support change.

While the leaked Strategy emphasised the shared responsibility of individuals, industry, and the government in creating healthy food environments and supporting healthy food choices, the published Strategy subtly shifts the emphasis towards government and industry, not only by changing the order of presentation but by highlighting the importance of “better information” in supporting individual food choices. As the published Strategy states:

There is a shared responsibility to identify the solution to obesity; industry has a role to play through its responsibility for promoting and supplying healthier foods, government has a role in making targeted regulatory interventions to support change, and individual consumers, empowered with better information about healthier choices, can stimulate demand for healthier foods.

Regardless of the emphasis, the argument for shared responsibility is likely to be controversial; there is significant evidence for the role that food environments play in shaping individual food choices as well as the limited role that individual agency plays in addressing obesity.

The rewriting of these paragraphs also draws attention to the recent decisions of the government to delay well-evidenced policies with broad cross-party support that were designed specifically to improve food environments and contribute to public health outcomes. In May 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that the policy to ban ‘buy one get one free’ offers on high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) foods, which was signed into law in December 2021, would be delayed by at least 12 months to give the government time to assess the implications of the policy for the current cost-of-living crisis. The plan to restrict the advertisement of HFSS foods before 21.00 – limiting children’s exposure – has been delayed until at least January 2024.

It is important not to overstate the conclusions that can be drawn from these changes; from the conversations that were had and the decisions made sometime between version 19 (leaked) and the final published versions of the Strategy. Policy-making involves multiple departments and policy documents are routinely revised right up until publication. What this does provide, however, is some indication of the most recent areas of contestation and discussion, as well as a too-rare insight into the policy-making process.

Beyond the specific examples here, and the numerous other changes between the documents (such as the addition in paragraph 1.2.6 to “regulate… where necessary”, and the removal of the suggestion to eat more wild venison from paragraph 1.3.5), the leaked and published strategies are not vastly different. Both fail to live up to the promise of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the food system; both eschew the majority of Dimbleby’s recommendations.

So what now? The published strategy contains some specific signposts to forthcoming White Papers and reports, such as the Health Disparities White Paper and the House of Lords Special Inquiry Committee into land use in England. These take on a renewed significance for their role in addressing the crucial issues omitted from the published National Food Strategy.

This national disappointment also reaffirms the importance and value of local food strategies and leadership from the local level. Local and regional food strategies, policies, and initiatives are now the frontiers for food systems transformation, with an even more significant role to play in transforming the food system to meet social, economic and environmental challenges. Get involved in your local food strategy, because this is now where change must happen.


Professor Bob Doherty, School for Business and Society, University of York. Director of the FixOurFood Programme and the N8 AgriFood Policy Hub.

In July 2021, Henry Dimbleby was commissioned by the UK Government to publish an independent review of England’s food system to produce recommendations for a National Food Strategy. The UK Government, led by Defra, has just published its White Paper response.

Food and drink is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector worth £114b and employs nearly 4 million people with world-class farmers, food businesses and a world leading research base. However, our food system causes terrible damage to both human and planetary health. Our food system is the number one contributor to biodiversity loss, river pollution and deforestation. One in three people over 45 suffer from a dietary related disease and about 6 in 10 UK adults live with overweight or obesity. This costs the UK economy a staggering £74 billion in NHS costs, loss productivity and early retirement. Also, obesity quickly emerged as a leading risk factor for Covid-19 mortality. We have one of the worst diets in Europe dominated by High Fat Sugar Salt foods (HFSS) and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables.

Furthermore, due to the significant reduction in working age social security and the increase in precarious work (zero hour’s contracts etc.) we have a rapidly growing problem in the UK with food insecurity, compounded by the pandemic and the current geopolitical situation. In 2008, the UK only had 60 food banks and now we have over 2,400! In March 2022, 14% of UK families still reported being going hungry, skipping meals etc.

The plans outlined by the UK Government include incentives for industry and investment in research.  One example of how this will be used is to support farmers to harness innovation to boost home-grown fruit and vegetable production. We welcome the £270m investment in horticulture to drive sustainable farming techniques and increase the production of fruit and vegetables. However, there is no point increasing this production without being able to harvest this produce so we welcome an independent review to tackle labour shortages and review the seasonal worker scheme. We also support the plan to consult on an ambition for 50% of public sector expenditure on food procurement to be on food either produced locally or to higher standards. We also welcome the new partnership between the public and private sector to provide consumers with more information about the food they eat. However, this puts responsibility to consumer to make healthy choices, rather than tackling the issue of the huge array of high fat salt and sugar foods. We also fully support the continued funding of the Holiday Activity Food Programme for a further 2-years announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn statement.

However, the Government’s White Paper lacks ambition on improving our diet and food security – failing to listen to Henry Dimbleby’s Independent National Food Strategy. First, on dietary health there is no mention on market interventions to tax those companies producing HFSS foods. This tax on companies was going to be used to fund fruit and vegetable subsidies for those experiencing food insecurity. This is surprising bearing in mind the economic cost to the UK of dietary ill-health. The Government says it’s going to deal with this in the Health Disparities White Paper later in the year but we need urgent action now! Dimbleby’s review also called for action on Free School Meals and there is no action in the Government’s White paper to extend the provision of Free School meals or to review the current combined income eligibility threshold for Free School meals which is a £7,400 per year. Furthermore, there appears to be no mention in the White Paper on protecting UK farmers in international trade agreements on imports from countries with lower food and animal welfare standards. In summary, the UK Government is failing to use the full range of policy tools to both improve the Nation’s Health and tackle household food insecurity in the UK. We call on the Government to implement the recommendations of the National Food Strategy in full!

 

 


Congratulations to Jan Thornton who has been awarded an MBE for her outstanding efforts and services to rural communities. Jan is a key collaborator and supporter of our activities with hybrid business models, sharing her valuable experience and connections across the region to help us progress our aims. This award is well deserved considering her multiple roles and contribution to helping communities thrive.

“I am delighted to have been nominated and I am deeply humbled to be considered worthy for this award. I have spent the past twenty-five years involved in supporting rural communities at a variety of levels and I am passionate about doing my best to ensure that no one is unreasonably disadvantaged by where they live.”

We look forward to our continued collaboration with Jan and the wealth of experience she brings to FixOurFood.

Here is Jan’s Citation to learn more about the fantastic work she has done.


By Greg McGee, Director of New Visuality

As a recipient of Holiday and Activity Programme funding (HAF) I was delighted to be asked by the FixOurFood programme to write this blog. Our interests align given their previous evaluation and recommendations regarding the continuation of the funding and I’m happy to share my recent experience delivering an Art Camp to 25 children based in York.

New Visuality’s Art Camp has for 15 years brought art and cultural opportunities to the young people of York. Our team is a dedicated fusion of Qualified Teachers and volunteers. We have witnessed the learning arcs of dozens of young participants leading to the successful attainment of nationally recognised qualifications such as Arts Awards. We led in exhibiting at Venturefest Yorkshire (‘the greatest gathering of innovators, entrepreneurs & investors in the North’), where our project ‘Text’ featured as a successful portfolio on how to include a community’s most vulnerable citizens in citywide conversations. BBC Creative Interactions Day invited us to participate at their event on innovative inclusivity at Manchester’s ‘MediaCity.’ ‘Text’ also won ‘Best Community Event’ in the inaugural ‘York Culture Awards’, presented by Game of Thrones’ Mark Addy (Robert Baratheon, ‘King of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros’, steelworker Dave Horsefall in The Full Monty – you know the one).

Despite the success, we were aware that the charity’s outreach projects were built around a top-down approach, and that irked a little. Project Managers would brief the teachers and volunteers, and sessions would run smoothly, but the learners, whether they were young people with disabilities or elderly residents who experienced solitude, would sometimes feel more like recipients than participants. It wasn’t until HAF funding became available that the opportunity to restructure New Visuality became a priority. Our participants would continue to be some of the most vulnerable people in the city, but this time they would be invited to be co-authors in culture as opposed to consumers.

In close consultation with our existing list of referrals, we collaborated with young people on a scheme of work which was built around activities that had young people as not only participants in creativity but as advocates for change in views on eating well and playing outside. We created empty comic strips which were soon to be populated with aspirational characters saying positive things in vivid speech bubbles to each other, with narratives built around connecting to the community. The young people were helped by a new cohort of teenage ambassadors who circulated around the room, offering guidance and research advice. We invited market stallholders from Shambles Market to provide information about the craft and provenance of local food. The characters in our comics included this information in their speech bubbles.

We found that the peer to peer, ambassadorial approach brought a whole new energy to the sessions, leading to brighter creative responses that made everyone involved happier. Especially successful was inviting teenage members of local football club York RI’s Under 13s to come and help out: showcasing football skills at lunchtime; sharing stories of recent games; informally chatting about keeping fit and the benefits of healthy eating; and praising younger participants for their drawings of happy, healthy people playing in local green spaces.

Our Easter HAF funded Art Camp engaged with 25 learners from families who receive Free School Meals. Many of them have put their names forward to join our list of volunteers and art advocates for future Art Camps and all artwork created will be projected in illuminations in city centre locations around York. The building block has been peer support and encouraging children to be agents of change, and it is this that has allowed New Visuality to plan for the future with confidence and vision.

Watch the video below or read the New Visuality Magazine which both showcase the weeks activities.


Aerial view of vast wheat fields

By Dr Christopher Yap, Research Fellow. City, University of London

Issues of food and land are inseparable. And yet the relationships between land, space, planning, and food systems are too-often marginal within food systems debates. In this piece we consider the role of land in leveraging change towards fairer and more sustainable food systems and reflect on the role of land in the forthcoming National Food Strategy.

Over the past decade, food systems approaches – which emphasise the interconnected nature of food system actors, processes, resources, and outcomes – have gradually been adopted by mainstream institutions, exemplified by the UK government’s commitment to produce a National Food Strategy White Paper that addresses the social and environmental dimensions of food systems. Recognising that food systems are complex and multi-scalar, and that interventions made in one part of the food system impact across the whole system, it is curious that important issues such as land remain at the margins of the conversation.

Food and land are inextricably linked, not least because food is produced on land. Around 70 percent of the UK is used to produce food. But the connections between land and food systems are multi-layered; unpacking this relationship can point towards under-addressed opportunities to transform food systems.

First, it is important to recognise that the land that feeds the UK’s population is distributed around the world; around 45 percent of food is imported, with many products passing through multiple countries before they arrive. In this sense, the UK’s food footprint is embedded within and across multiple jurisdictions and territories. The food system, then, is intricately connected to a diversity of food production practices, policy frameworks, and land management strategies, beyond the territory of the UK government. This represents a challenge of governance; recognising that national policy can only go so far to influence the relationship between land and food systems. But it also draws attention to the potentials of a normative approach to food purchasing in the UK; the idea that principles of equity and sustainability in food procurement, for example, can be invaluable for influencing land management strategies both in the UK and globally.

Second, Henry Dimbleby’s Independent Review for the National Food strategy (2021) indicates that 85 percent of the land that is used to produce the UK’s food – both in the UK and around the world – is used for animal rearing, including for pasture and growing animal feed. Meat production contributes directly to agricultural carbon emissions, but also indirectly through the opportunity cost of using land for grazing rather than woodlands or other forms of rewilding. As Dimbleby (2021, p.92). argues, “the biggest potential carbon benefit of eating less meat is the opportunity to repurpose land to sequester carbon.” This suggests that dietary choices have a pivotal role to play in determining the contribution of land towards mitigating climate change.

Third, the relationship between land and food systems extends far beyond agriculture and land management. Food production, processing, and distribution require labour and infrastructure. For this reason, the UK’s food system is intricately connected to every aspect of planning, infrastructure, and housing policy. However, decisions regarding housing and infrastructure development are made frequently without consideration of their impacts on wider food systems beyond environmental impact. This suggests that planning and infrastructure development can be key mechanisms for reshaping the UK food system, and also that food systems can be a productive organising principle for planning decisions. How, for example, might building a new supermarket in a small town influence the local and regional food system?

Food systems transformation demands an integrated land use strategy that engages with urban and rural contexts, and the connections between them. In the UK, this engagement with the urban is especially important (Dimbleby’s 290-page report includes the word ‘urban’ just seven times). 83 percent of the UK population lives in urban areas; decisions made by and for urban populations disproportionately affect food systems. Moreover, specifically urban policy frameworks regarding green and blue infrastructures, urban agriculture, and ecosystem services, for example, could all contribute to the aims of the National Food Strategy in ways that are not sufficiently recognised. It is often said that urban contexts represent spatial concentrations of the most intractable challenges, but also the political and financial capital necessary to address them.

Fourth, household food insecurity, the prevalence of food banks, and unhealthy eating practices all reflect socio-economic inequalities in the UK, which have been “brutally exposed and exacerbated” (Amnesty International, 2021) by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, 18 percent of the UK population lived in relative poverty (meaning on less than 60 percent of the median national income). At the same time, land is the most valuable asset in the UK, accounting for more than half of the UK’s total net worth, approximately £5 trillion in 2016; between 1995 and 2017, the value of land in the UK increased by 412 percent. And yet, half of England is owned by less than 1 percent of the population.

The French economist, Thomas Piketty (2014), evidenced how, in the absence of policies that explicitly advantage labour, rates of return on capital wealth, such as land and property, always exceed rates of income growth, leading to “an endless inegalitarian spiral” whereby wealth is concentrated in the hands of those who already have it. This trend has been exacerbated by the increased financialisation of land and the rise of what has been termed “land banking”, contributing not only to a national housing crisis, but also preventing many small scale agroecological food producers from accessing land. This suggests a close relationship between the political economy of land in the UK, economic inequality, and food poverty, as well as the potentials of inheritance and capital gains tax reform to redress this relationship.

Finally, political ecologists have urged us to recognise the material “flows” of water, carbon, nitrogen, and pathogens, amongst many others, that are shaped and mobilised by social and market forces. Food systems play a key role in these circulations, whereby materials and nutrients physically move through space across rural and urban areas, within and between nested territorial levels. This suggests that food economies are directly related both to the material production of land, most obviously productive soils, and the social production of space, whereby “the countryside”, “cities” and everything in-between are continuously reshaped and remade by socio-ecological circulations. In a very literal sense, food systems are constitutive of land.

Building on Henry Dimbleby’s Independent Review, the UK’s forthcoming White Paper setting out the National Food Strategy is likely to adopt a far more limited approach to the issue of land that aims to balance and maximise the contribution of agricultural land to food production, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration; mobilising what has been termed, “the three-compartment model”, whereby a combination of sustainable intensification, agroecological production, and rewilding has been modelled to lead to the greatest net benefit. Such an approach represents an important step forward in UK land and food policy. But it overlooks the more complex relationships between the political economy of land in the UK and food systems, as well as the potentials of planning, amongst other mechanisms, to actively redress socio-economic inequalities in the UK.

There can be little doubt that food system transformation is necessary to achieve improved health outcomes, environmental sustainability, and a fairer and more inclusive economy. The UK’s National Food Strategy represents a once in a generation opportunity to institutionalise a food systems approach at the national and local levels that brings together these too-often disparate policy mandates. Land has a key role to play in this transformation as a vital resource, a point of leverage, a site of impact, and a site of struggle. For these reasons, land, space, and planning must be central to the National Food Strategy and wider food systems transformation.

References
Amnesty International. (2021). Amnesty International Report 2020/21: the state of the world’s human rights. London: Amnesty International Ltd. Retrieved from www.amnesty.org
Dimbleby, H. (2021). National Food Strategy. The Plan. National Food Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.nationalfoodstrategy.org/
Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard University Press.


fresh plums in cardboard boxes

By Dr Ulrike Ehgartner, Research Associate

Every year, the UK spends 2.4 billion pounds on public food procurement, which equates to 5.5% of total food sales. Public food procurement refers to the foods bought by the government with the use of public funds. It provides the meals served at public institutions such as schools, hospitals, care homes, prisons, military bases, local authorities and government offices. Up until now, regulation did not encourage UK public service to access products from local, small and medium-sized enterprises, which represents barriers not only to the UK economy, but also to healthier and more sustainable diets.

Responsible for managing the procurement of goods and services in the UK is Crown Commercial Service (CCS), the buying agency of the UK Government. It operates on the basis of the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services (GBSF), a range of standards mandatory for Central Government Departments, NHS England Hospitals, The Armed Forces and HM Prison and Probation Service. Currently, both the BBSF and the operations of CCS are under review. DEFRA is driving a consultation to change public sector and catering policy towards sourcing standards and guidance, in support of more sustainable and healthier food and catering. Policy change is accompanied by efforts to make the procurement process more transparent and accessible, to open up public sector supply chains to a wider range of companies, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Policy change holds great potential for regional capacity building. It has the potential to shorten supply chains and introduce more sustainable forms of food production and consumption. In particular, it could encourage different, and better types of food, with more diverse and dynamic forms of sourcing – produced with less damaging impact on the environment. Whilst these current changes on public procurement open up great opportunities to localise supply chains and to build a community of food practice around public food procurement in Yorkshire, any efforts for change also needs to take into consideration the needs and constraints of buying institutions and small size suppliers.

To watch and unpack these exciting but challenging new developments, Grow Yorkshire are organising a series of free webinars to introduce the new Crown Commercial Service Food and Drink Agreement and discuss the opportunities it can bring to Yorkshire food SMEs, specifically to join the supply chain. For this purpose, Grow Yorkshire has partnered with FixOurFood, which, as a programme, puts a strong emphasis on food system transformation through a focus on changing regulation and norms regarding the production and distribution of food. Positive changes of the organisation and structure of the supply chain creates fairer conditions, both for local and sustainable food businesses, to access the market, and for citizens to access healthier and more ethical ingredients and meals. The government can play a key role in leading this change.

In the first webinar, which took place on 30th March, FixOurFood Consortium Director Prof Bob Doherty was as a panellist alongside representatives from Crown Commercial Service, DEFRA and the Cabinet Office, as well as the government’s Small Business Crown Representative. He explained the market opportunities inherent in public procurement and drew upon examples from abroad to point out the benefits it can offer to the local economy and to the reduction of negative environmental impacts. Government speakers shared an overview of steps that have already been made towards this new model of procurement and outlined timelines for the coming months.

The webinar closed with a lively audience-led discussion, initially around the genuineness of change through this new agreement. It then led on to concerns regarding the practicalities of making this switch, logistically, but also on how it can be assured that the process to become a provider becomes accessible and feasible for smaller businesses – a challenge that Grow Yorkshire is willing to tackle.

A recording of the Grow Yorkshire webinar is available further down the page at this link here.

To aid this process in the region and beyond, FixOurFood has established a Yorkshire Anchor Institutions Platform, which is a group of key local organisations from across public, private and third sectors, who together aim to harness their collective efforts to procure more food from SMEs in the Yorkshire region.