Sustainable Development Commission's final food study triggers mixed reactions

A report by the now defunct Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) that claims not enough is being done to feed the UK's growing population sustainably has received mixed reactions from the fresh produce industry.

SDC report recommends boosting UK production - image: HW
SDC report recommends boosting UK production - image: HW

The report recommends the Government reverses the UK decline in food growing by boosting vegetable and fruit production.

While the call to boost production was welcomed by the industry, the way the SDC wants this to happen was met with criticism, with growers saying the SDC did not always take their views into consideration.

The report - entitled Looking Back, Looking Forward: Sustainability & UK Food Policy - wants growers to be encouraged to build eco-system support into production "rather than seeing it as a separate income stream".

It said: "We recommend an expert but multi-stakeholder inquiry be created to determine how this can best be achieved"

It also calls for an inquiry into how to rebuild and support the small-farm sector and to explore the rise of part-time farming. "This needs to include an examination of capital availability, access to land, skills and education and agricultural labour and biodiversity of small farms," the report stated.

SDC FINAL REPORT - PROGRESS REQUIRES ACTION

The SDC's final report claimed that while progress had been made, the UK still does not have a sustainable food system.

Tim Lang, SDC food commissioner and professor at the Centre of Food Policy at City University, said: "The challenge of feeding growing populations healthily while minimising environmental damage should remind governments that this is not a time to step away from tackling our food system. Obesity and climate change are two huge market failures.

"Progress requires the hands-on participation of governments - not a 'leave it to the market' approach."

INDUSTRY REACTION

- Derek Hargreaves, technical officer, Cucumber Growers Association

Hargreaves had particular doubts over the possible uptake of "part-time farming", saying: "It is laudable that everyone gets more involved in producing more of their own food, but they are only ever going to be amateur growers.

"You are putting growing fresh produce into the hands of those who do not know what they are doing. The only people who supermarkets will talk to are big growers. The SDC needed to talk to people in the industry. If they are looking at sustainability they have to make it more worthwhile for people who are doing it."

- Nigel Jenney, chief executive, Fresh Produce Consortium

"UK growers have a significant opportunity to increase the sustainable production of indigenous crops that are suited to our climate. We look forward to working further with the UK Government to take up the SDC's recommendations."

- Graham Ward, director, Stockbridge Technology Centre

"The report doesn't necessarily say what some of the major interests of the food producers and manufacturers are. There are continuing tensions between intensifying food production and protecting the environment.

"There are two sides of the coin. When Defra is talking about the UK it has to think about the sustainability agenda. But the other half of Defra is talking about increasing productivity in the world. So you are talking about two different agendas. The report does, however, support all of the recommendations made by the Fruit & Vegetable Task Force.

"The Government is trying to save money wherever possible so will have to transfer some responsibilities to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The problem is that the NGOs' work might be a bit disparate - they can be less balanced than Government. Breaking it up into single-issue groups might be more dangerous for us as growers."


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