UK food security? Don’t look to the manifestos to say anything of significance

I’ve read five manifestos for what they say about UK food security, so you don’t have to.

None of them says anything significant. None of them says how unprepared we are for the exigencies ahead either.  (1)

The only (meagre) good news is that all these parties mentioned food, some of ’em lots of times:

The Lib Dems, the Conservatives and the Green Party use the word ‘food’ many more times than either the Labour or Reform parties do, but not to any more effect.

This is what the two latter parties say:

Reform UK Party Ltd (1)
We’ve long argued that this Brexit is a major threat to UK food security.

Given it’s history as the Brexit Party Ltd, the renamed Reform UK Party Ltd states with typical bombastic confidence and almost in the same breath, British farming need reform to take advantage of Brexit  . . . and our food security is at risk. 

The Reform messaging about the food system is part of what Chris Grey terms the anti-politics of Brexit; i.e. to promulgate a combination of impossible, often contradictory policies, phrased in such a way to provoke resentment about today combined with nostalgia for a past that never existed, all within a stance dismissive of ‘experts’. (2)

Yet within this dangerous non-sense, there are matters mentioned that we do need to debate. Farming arguably is indeed in crisis. We do need to have serious conversations about what proportion of the food we eat is domestically produced and processed, and what we import.

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The Labour Party
It’s well nigh certain they will form the next Government. So what they say about the food system and food security really matters.

And simply it’s not enough. The UK is simply not prepared for the inevitability of food shortages and scarcities. (3)

  • Brexit in all but name
    The word ‘Brexit’ only appears once in their manifesto: we must make Brexit work. (4)
    Note, however, two or three implied references to Brexit in the Labour Manifesto:

    • They will reduce food prices by removing barriers to trade
    • They will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food.
      Why they don’t mention phytosanitary controls in the same sentence is odd.
    • Their mention of the chaotic Conservative foreign policy could also be taken as a reference to Brexit, at least in part.
  • Food security is national security
    Yes, indeed it is. Needs stating. But how are they going to achieve it? (5)
  • Public sector food procurement
    At least they haven’t said, as the Lib Dems have, that public sector procurement must be seasonal as well as locally sourced, whatever the latter word might mean. (6)
    Maybe Labour’s use of the word or  . . . certified to higher environmental standards  is a nod to the impossibility of sourcing during hungry months (7)
  • Food ‘standards’
    Standards about what? Animal welfare? Sustainability? Food safety, assurance and integrity? Nutritional value?
    And whatever standards are set, how are they going to be enforced?
  • Wanting the end mass dependence on emergency food parcels
    Wanting to, and doing so are two different matters. Safe, nutritious food is inevitably more expensive, and prices will inexorably rise owing to climate change, resource depletion, population pressures, et al. A huge issue. So what are they planning to do? (8)
  • Banning advertising on ‘junk food’
    We simply never use the phrase ‘junk food’. One of the reasons why is that it’s impossible to define precisely. (9)
    Better by far is to have a precise means to identify and take action against the corporates who manufacture and promote foods that damage human and planetary health, including the high energy (and other) drinks — as recommended in this article in the Journal of Public Health: VAT: A precise means to identify the drug food companies. (10) (11)

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(1) The Reform Party is a private limited company, listed on the Companies House register here.

(2) Given some 20-25% of the British electorate will vote for such messages, whether for Reform or for the populist end of the Tory Party, it’s important we react to them. But how?  Chris Grey puts it far more eloquently that I can: The genie of anti-politics will not easily be re-bottled. It thrives on attention and rebuttal (making even this blog a very small part of the problem), yet it also thrives when ignored or left unchallenged. So, what to do? No one has a satisfactory answer to that, but it surely has to be based upon facing down, rather than pandering to, populists, if only because pandering to them is self-defeating.

(3) See Our note for the National Preparedness Commission on the topic.

(4) They then say they will reset the relationship and seek to deepen ties with our European friends, neighbours and allies . . . there will be no return to the single market, the customs union or freedom of movement. It’ll be interesting to see how that stance pans out over the next five years.

(5) It needs radical new thinking: see our latest paper: Three frameworks to enable radical new thinking about food security as the Anthropocewne dawns.

(6) See this article, relevant to why local doesn’t, well, cut the mustard: Food system transformation #8: The geometry of the box [we need think out of]

(7) Not much grows in the UK during the hungry months between November and May, over half the year. Without substantial investment in processing and storing facilities, micro-climate technologies and farm-free foods, we need to import many foods during these months.

(8) The use of the word ’emergency’: We are going to have crisis after crisis. As Baroness Brown stated in an interview for Channel 4 News after Storm Eunice: What we’ve dealt with as a crisis needs to be routine.

(9) It’s also a term that’s often used pejoratively about food people on low incomes eat.

(10) Piece-meal efforts in tinkering with ill-defined, imprecise aspects of the food system won’t make any difference, indeed, can make matters worse; e.g. there’s been albeit slight but continuing rise in sales of fizzy drinks, including those with increased caffeine and artificial sweetners since the imposition of the Sugar Tax.

(11) Notice the authors of the JPH article recommend taking action against companies, not people.

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Note: Since I began compiliong this blogpost, the Plaid Cymru manifesto and the Scottish National Party manifesto have been published. They don’t say anything oif significance related to food security either, nor how unprepared we are for shortages and scarcities.

 

 

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