All posts by Kate Cooper

If acute hunger is here to stay . . .

If acute hunger is here to stay, what’s the nature of the infrastructure Birmingham could put in place to ensure reliable food supply delivery to all our citizens in the future?

The answers to that question will be explored at a workshop we’re hosting in the next couple of months. Continue reading

The Rudd Center’s Roberta Friedman & forensic accountancy expert Lisa Jack join our Panel of Experts

Our Panel of Experts comprises people from outside the city who can advise us from time to time.  It’s a means for us to be up to date on relevant matters and have a sounding board on matters of mutual concern. It’s also an opportunity for Panel members to hear about what a major UK city is doing on food matters, particularly at a strategic level.

We’re delighted that Roberta Friedman and Lisa Jack have joined the Panel.


Roberta Friedman, ScM is Director of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

She educates federal, state and local policy makers and advocacy organisations about food policy and obesity research, and creates resources to help them write and implement effective obesity prevention policies.

Roberta was a member of the New Haven, CT, Food Policy Council for three years.

jack-lisaLisa Jack is Professor in Accounting at Portsmouth Business School. 

Lisa has a career as an auditor in both the private and public sectors as an accountant as well as her current role in academia. She has particular expertise and consulting experience in forensic accountancy.

Her main research interests are in how accounting practices in the agri-food industry are very different from those in other industries. She’s part of the Food Fraud Group at Portsmouth Business School.

Food & Birmingham’s economy are inextricably linked — & there are tensions

We’re seeking responses to our interim report, a discussion document on Food & the city economy before the end of January — please comment below.

There are clear tensions between the political desire to attract investment to the local food industry through initiatives such as the Food Hub zone and to support local businesses and the health and social issues caused by obesity and increasing levels of food poverty and poor enforcement of food standards in Birmingham.

We give examples (on page 3) of some of these tensions — there are no doubt more.

Please do respond to our request for comments before the end of January.

What’s missing? What are the issues for our strategic decision-makers? What would you like to be brought to the fore in our final report?

* * *

Background: We commissioned Nick Hughes to carry out research on the matter, as reported last September. This discussion document is a collation of the information Nick gathered, along with pointers as to issues, challenges and tensions it presents for future strategic decision-making .

His work shows the food sector is a diverse one that is very important, if not integral, to the economic fortunes of the city.

He has also pointed out that the importance of food cannot simply be measured in monetary terms. Its social significance cannot be over-stated, neither indeed can the longer-term economic impact.

* * *

If you’d rather make your point out of the public gaze, email us on info [at]

APPG Report: Feeding Britain – A strategy for zero hunger in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

The important All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain report was published yesterday.

You download it from this APPG website here, where you can also read about the inquiry itself. Continue reading

Cadbury et al: Friends or foes?

Cadbury_factory,_Bournville, in Birmingham we’ve had a very special relationship with Cadbury’s for donkey’s years.

Bournville was living proof that factory work, even low-skilled and boringly repetitive, could be a vital part of a life well-led in a thriving neighbourly welcoming place.

Yet even before highly questionable behaviours during and after the takeover, by RBS and HMG as well as Kraft Foods, the Bournville factory was churning out high calorie sugary products, both solids (‘food’) and liquids (‘drinks’).

Being a business, they inevitably sought to get us consumers to buy and eat more and more of what they produced. Mondelez, the brand used by Kraft for Bournville is seeking to make a virtue out of snacking, something severely frowned upon until recently— don’t eat between meals, it’ll spoil your appetite; it’s a vice Yale Rudd Centre evidence shows is a major contributor to obesity.

Serious money is made from taking a cheap plant such as sugar cane or beet, and processing it with a few other additions into consumer products. Poundland, a highly successful Willenhall business, gets 28% of its profits from the 14% of its floorspace that’s devoted to selling ‘food’, mostly confectionary, crisps and drinks.

Value-added processing is good business, whatever the sector, so good for the local economy. Yet this particular value-added processing has consequences both on individuals and on society.

Because of these impacts, the WHO recommendation is that not more than 10% of anyone’s diet should be sugar. They’re seeking to reduce this to 5% but are being lobbied by confectionary and drinks businesses not to do so.

So where do we here in Birmingham stand on all this? Do we encourage our local businesses to manufacture and sell sugary products?

Do we allow manufacturers of these products — e.g. Coca Cola, Kellogg’s, Mondelez to name but three in Birmingham — to promote ‘healthy living’ activities in our parks and in services to our children?





DEFRA’s Food Statistics Pocketbook 2014

DEFRA’s Food Statistics Pocketbook 2014 was published earlier this month — and an interesting read its 60-odd pages are too.

FoodStatisticsPacketbook2014_frontispieceIn a two-page summary (pp8-9), it gives some numbers about the scale of what it takes to feed 64M people safely and what that impact is, in particular on the poorest of households.

Below are listed of the key factoids from their summary:

  • The total consumer spend on food, drink and catering is £196 billion, of which £112 billion is, according to these stats, household expenditure, and £84 billion on ‘catering services’ — what’s everything from hospital meals and motorway service stations to your local chippie or curry house through to Michelin-starred restaurants.
  • In supplying all this — and food exports — is a sector contributing £96.9 billion or 7.1% to the national GVA in 2012, and 3.6M or 13% of national employment.

Food Supply & Prices

  • Food prices have risen 18% in real terms since 2007.
  • Median income after housing costs fell 13% between 2002-03
    and 2012-13 for low income decile households. In 2011-12,
    all other incomes groups saw decreases in median income of
    between 0.8% and 3.3%.
  • In 2012, 24 countries together accounted for 90% of UK
    food supply. Just over half of this (53%) was supplied
    domestically from within the UK.
  • The total value of food and drink exports rose slightly in 2013
    to £18.9 billion, £6.0 billion more than in 2005 measured in
    2013 prices.

Environment and Waste

  • In 2012, total domestic CO2 emissions from food and drink manufacturing fell 2.2% on 2011.
  • Estimated total UK food and drink waste is around 15 million tonnes per year, with households generating 7mt/year of which 4.2 is avoidable (i.e. fit to eat).
  • The average UK household spend on food that could have been eaten but is thrown away is £470 a year.
  • In 2012 local authorities were collecting over 5 times as much food waste for recycling as they were in 2007.

Health & Food Safety

  • Fruit and vegetable consumption is falling. The lowest 10% of households by income purchase the least fruit and vegetables at an average of 2.9 portions per person per day in 2012, 11% less than in 2007.
  • In England in 2012 the obesity rate across all adults was 25%, with a further 37% overweight.
  • High level incidents dealt with by the FSA in 2013 included an investigation into horse and pig DNA in beef products; two E.coli O157 outbreaks linked to watercress and Caribbean soft fruit drink contaminated with cocaine, which caused one fatality.
  • In May 2014 the main food issue of concern to respondents was food prices at 51%, a decrease from 59% in May 2013.



Eat food (not edible food-like substances), not too much, mostly plants

Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 08.10.37This is an outstanding interview with Michael Pollan who, as ever, is thought-provoking, intelligent and knowledgeable.

Here’s a taster of what he said:

Most food ‘products’ aren’t food, he says; they’re “edible food-like substances”.

Now read again his seven word mantra with that thought in mind:

eat food, not too much, mostly plants

That’s it in a nutshell. The discussion around these seven words was illuminating, and in ways I hadn’t thought before.

For example, yoghurt. Or bread. Both ‘good’ ‘natural’ foods, especially if the former is ‘granary’ or ‘wholemeal’. These are, though, manufactured food, complex products which do have good elements . . . and then, according to Pollan, we switch our minds off.

Many a yogurt, for example, contains more sugar than a can of coke. Most breads, too, contains sugar.

Big corporations now prepare our foods, meeting our desire for convenience; we have a supply-driven system not a demand-led one

The basic ingredients, such as corn, soy, wheat (or milk in the case of yoghurt) are cheap, very cheap. The more processing goes into the final product, the more ‘value-added’ it is, so the more the price goes up.

Cooking, Pollan said, is a major factor in what enabled the evolution of human intelligence. Cooking allows a greater release of energy from a foodstuff than would otherwise happen. (If that’s hard to grasp, think of the energy you have to expend in eating a raw carrot compared to that in eating a cooked one.)

Plus, we’re omnivores; i.e. can get the energy we need to live from a wide variety of sources. It’s a mixed blessing, though. First, omnivores have to have a culture that informs us of what’s healthy to eat. Secondly, that culture allows (what Pollan calls) ‘borderline foods’.

Supermarkets is the new ‘wilderness’ for us, giving us easy access to high calorie foodstuffs that throughout most of our evolutionary history was hard to find; i.e. the basis of the huge public health problem we face.

Agricultural practices and food markets are heavily subsidised, he says. And until we align agriculture and corporations with health policies, we will have an even greater public health problem than we currently do.

He has more than a tad criticism of nutritional science — and their ‘unholy alliance’ with manufacturers. As he says, you don’t need to be a biochemist to eat a healthy diet.

Broccoli doesn’t brag. But it’s a truly healthy food.

As many others have said before, where once it was the rich who were overweight, it is now the poor who struggle with obesity. The cheapest calories are the most unhealthy; for a ingle US dollar, you can buy 250 calories of carrots or 1000 calories of cola.

No doubt, the industrialisation of food has had great benefits. He pointed out that he doesn’t mill his own flour, and he uses frozen vegetables. But these achievements come with a cost . . .


How important is the food sector to Birmingham’s economy?

What is the value of the food sector to the city and regional economy? What’s its nature? How many businesses are there here, what’s their turnover, how many people do they employ, and where are they in the supply network?

No-one seems to know any of this. The food sector has to be important here; we’re in the middle of a conurbation of millions, plus we’re at the centre of the national transport system.

The Birmingham Food Council is talking to various academics who have a good understanding of UK food networks. We’ve also given the following initial brief to Nick Hughes to do a small piece of research for us, reporting back to the Board by December 2014:

What we want to be able to do is demonstrate how important food businesses and the food industry is to the city’s economy. At the moment, the food sector doesn’t appear to enter into socio-political decision-making.

Our question is, should it?

How does the ‘food economy’ (however we might define that) compare to other sectors in the city? And does it have a higher or a lower profile here than in other cities?

These are big questions, and answering them fully is impossible with the time and budget we have. Nonetheless, even this small piece of research will give us some basic facts and a much more reliable ‘feel’ for the economic and social value of the food sector to us — as well as put us in touch with people who have access to and an understanding of the data sets and other information that can tell us so much more.

NickHughesNick is just the man for the job. He’s not from here, doesn’t live here and never has — so has an objective perspective. He’s a well-respected food journalist who writes regularly for The Grocer and has just completed the world renowned MSc in Food Policy from City University. I met him through the Elliott Review Birmingham; he was Policy Advisor to the Elliott Review Team.

Nutrition and public health

Food poverty, food insecurity

Food safety and integrity

Urban food growing

Food and the city economy

Global food security

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