Man of The Farmers, Hilary Benn has released the Government's Food 2030 Plan, looking at the food we produce and consume and how we can best improve what, on the face of it, seems to be a fairly dire situation for all concerned. You'll no doubt be pleased to learn that their strategies will - amongst much else - ensure that "consumers are informed, and can choose, and afford healthy, sustainable food." The nitty-gritty details may be gone through with a toothcomb finer than the one we have at our disposal here, but there are a couple of points worth extracting from the whole for further examination – and your comments.
Mr Benn seems to be divided by his innate party desire for nannyism and a fervent wish for consumers to lead from the front – 'purse power' – so the Government can be seen to be 'supporting' consumer demand. To wit, on the one hand they are proposing a "healthy food code of conduct" which will allegedly help people choose what to buy; ie, clearer labelling, nutrition information on menus, smaller portions for foods high in salt and sugar. This new code only clarifies what the rest of us have known for ages – most people do not have the nutritional science degree to understand food labelling and brands will continue to get away with the vaguest of health claims; foods high in sugar, salt and fat are bad for you but it doesn't stop people buying them (ever heard of free will?); and those that generally go to restaurants to eat do not require their evening to be blighted by some waiter arching his eyebrows at your choice of both lobster bisque and potato dauphinois. And if you include burger joints and the like, again, most people have a fair idea of what they're consuming, no matter what the dietary cost.
On the other hand, 'purse power' means they want to make land available for people to grow their own, encourage consumers to buy locally, sustainably, ethically produced food; it's worked so well for the free-range egg industry -- 40% of eggs now produced in the UK are free-range, 10 years ago it was just 16% – that Mr Benn really sees no reason why consumer demand leading to product supply can't work elsewhere. However, he doesn't go into enormous detail on how farmers are to afford to farm free-range/organically as supermarkets push down prices even further or how shopping budgets will magically increase at the dog-end of a hard recession.
Interestingly he places great emphasis on seasonal food, that which is grown in natural sunlight, etc and he's quite clear that we should be embracing seasonality. How he then reconciles this with his idea to extend the seasonality concept to overseas produce such as Seville oranges that "complement our growing season" is a question not fully answered. Who knew that those Kenyan raspberries or Spanish asparagus knocking around in the shops at the mo "complement" our brassicas and root vegetables so well?
There's the usual waffle about education and cooking in schools (where are all those child-friendly facilities coming from?); community projects (has anyone actually ever seen or even used these – please let us know) and – most pleasingly for those in the industry – an admonishment for farmers who do not make the most of the (free?) science and technology available. Given most of the country has yet to receive decent broadband coverage, this can hardly be placed at the door of the farmers.
There is, of course, much much more and although we remain sceptical that any and all of this could be achieved in the next 20 years (it might only be a question of money, but – oops – we don't have any), we say it's good to have a dream. At least he's heading in the right direction, if only 10 years behind the rest of us fully entrenched in the local food movement. What it really all comes down to is consumer power – once again, it's down to us, folks.