Consultation Response – from Newport Area Environment Group (NAEG) September 2010
(Our emphasis throughout)
NAEG welcomes the opportunity to make suggestions, and the very open approach at the WAG public consultation meeting that we attended.
Question 1: The Strategy sets out a vision for food in Wales in 10 years time. Do you share this vision and how will you help deliver it? How would you or your organisation be involved?
Answering the last part of this question first, Newport Area Environment Group is a small locally based voluntary group based in Pembrokeshire whose aims include:-
To foster understanding of local, national and global environmental sustainability
Thereby seeking to achieve sustainable environmental improvements locally with the ultimate purpose of creating a carbon neutral area.
Currently, amongst our many activities, we are actively involved in trying to establish community growing land here.
We would like to continue to be consulted on both national food strategy and any resulting actions in our Spatial Plan Area.
The very title of this Strategy – “Food for Wales” – implies that providing food for the population is a main aim. The Foreward written by the Minister recognises “cross cutting issues” including “making sure everyone has access to the food they need” and the FDA Chairman’s Introduction states that the Strategy prepares for the future and that the direction here is radical and faces up to the challenges of making sure that people have access to the affordable and healthy food. Within the statement of Goals you say, “We need to ensure the long term availability of the food our people need”
Under “Global Context” it is stated that “the twin issues of food sustainability or (sic?) security and the need to develop sustainable food production and consumption systems for the wellbeing of our people will be key concerns for the coming decade”
However, how “food security” is to be attained does not thereafter become clear.
Whilst the Strategy accepts that “a unique set of pressures” will impact on food in the next decade, and you have attempted to meet the challenges of climate change, you have not fully factored in the effects of global pressures, particularly Peak Oil” in your plans, in fact, that term is not mentioned througout.
Therefore, if by “Do you share this vision?” you are asking, “Do you agree that this is an adequate Food Strategy for the next 10 years; do you agree that the Strategy prepares for and meets the challenges of the future and ensures the long term availability of food for Wales? – then the answer is “no”.
However we do appreciate the work that has been carried out and your further intentions to help to deliver “lower ecological footprint” and “lower green house gas emissions” associated with the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food and the generation of food waste, but we do not feel that enough is being done even in this respect.
In particular, knowing that meat and dairy sectors together account for such a high proportion of total food sector emissions (more than half according to Garnet, University of Surrey 2008), the Minister states that the food chain accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and tells us “We can look to address this by sourcing food locally, eat seasonally, and reduce food miles (reduce packaging)to consequently reduce carbon emissions”
And knowing that “One third of the world’s population lives in areas with water shortages and 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and the situation is expected to worsen dramatically over the next few decades.” (UN estimate), you leave to a footnote the statement that the UK is the 6th largest importer in the world of virtual water and that only 38% of our total water use comes from our own rivers lakes and groundwater reserves
This leaves the UK vulnerable to water shortages in other parts of the world.
At the same time, but elsewhere in the document (under “Connecting producers with consumers”) you state that ‘With its abundant and clean water resource, its green landscape and its resourceful agricultural community, we have the capability to produce a range of good quality goods’
Not to work harder to reduce our dependence on ‘virtual water’ is not only unsustainable, it is morally indefensible. Wales is in a state of water insecurity. The Strategy footnote itself accepts ‘urgent action (needs to be) taken to address the growing water risks faced by many firm’s supply chains’. There needs to be a marked reduction in certain food imports especially from water stressed regions and an urgent move away from red meat which is relying on so much grain importation to much more Wales grown food for local consumption.
Question 2 Do you think the 10 year time span is appropriate?
We welcome a system of annual review and evaluation by which the Strategy will be assessed against its key drivers but to which it is absolutely essential to add Food Security
As we have given a negative response to question 1, and as NAEG is not directly involved in the sector, it is difficult to answer some of the questions to follow and we have omitted to do so.
Question 7: What do you see as the immediate priority for the food sector? What issues do you think could be more crucial in the longer term? Who do you see as having the capacity to (a) enable and (b) deliver the actions that will be needed?
According to the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, the era of cheap oil is ending and, unless we take urgent measures to reduce our dependence on it, Britain faces a crisis as early as 2015. (2nd Report of the UK Industry Task Force Feb 2010)
The Taskforce calls for a “green industrial revolution” Environmentalists have expounded this message for some years but this is the first time that a group of high profile, influential UK companies has done so.
As early as 2015, we will have reached peak oil and prices will soar because demand from developing countries is still growing and because new oil reserves are increasingly expensive to exploit. Countries which rely on oil imports will be badly hit. Although North Sea oil is still flowing, the UK has been a net importer since 2006
The report calls for the new UK government, to work with local authorities, business and consumers to put in place policies to deal with the threat of peak oil.
The Soil Association, in its response to the UK Food Security Assessment 2009, stated
“The world’s agriculture and food systems face unprecedented challenges in the current intensive, industrial model based on high inputs of fossil fuel derived inputs, global sourcing and centralised distribution is neither sustainable nor resilient against future shocks. Business as usual is not an option. We need to completely transform the way we feed ourselves in future. The pace and scale of change will need to be massive. Food systems must become more resilient in the face of climate change, able to contribute adequately to the government pledge to cut green-house gas emissions and become much less dependent on fossil fuels”
The first Review commissioned by Prime Minister Gordon Brown was an analysis of food issues resulting in a Report in 2008 which concluded that Existing patterns of UK food production are not fit for a low-carbon, more resource constrained future and Existing patterns of food consumption will result in our society being loaded with the heavy burden of obesity and diet related ill-health.
The Soil Association has warned “Over the next 20 years we must make fundamental changes in the way we farm, process, distribute, prepare and eat our foodin making the transition to resilient agriculture and a secure food system”
(An Inconvenient Truth about Food: Neither Secure nor Resilient 2008)
Components of the changes required include:-
Low input systems, increasing resource efficiency and reducing reliance on oil, gas and phosphate derived inputs.
Reduction in red meat
Shift towards mixed farming.
Concentration on land health
Soil carbon sequestration
More labour intensive food production In 1900, 40% of the UK population was employed in agriculture; today its less than 2%. Thus:-
Re-skilling in less resource intensive food production.
Dietary changes to be compatible with Government Greenhouse gas reductions and to reduce virtual water figures
Without cheap transportation fuels, reduction in food transportation
Growing what we can in Wales for consumption here and reducing imports, whilst creating space for trade in those commodities that cannot be produced here.
International trading to move away from basic food staples.
Staples and heavy goods should be produced and consumed locally, then
international and distance trade will resume its traditional role for innovations and luxury goods and product diversity will evolve and enrich culturally as well as economically
Welsh exports should become more specialised, eg cultural specialities such as Welsh cheeses, species of Welsh lamb, and above all produce produced in low carbon and animal, wildlife- and environment-friendly ways.
Increased local food self-sufficiency – massive increase in food production for local consumption
Reduction in food miles by rebuilding local food economies, reinstating food infrastructure including processing and distribution networks local abattoirs, markets, strengthened local retail centres
Manufacture locally of all elements of the food production process, from seeds to tools to machines.
Processing and packaging minimisation
Land reform to enable smallholders and food coops to work their own plots
Community growing will have a greater role to play than the Government has realised
Localisation will involve major changes in where, what and how and how much food for Wales the sector produces and sources in future.
A major programme of awareness raising, encouragement and advice and support is required from Government in making the transition to less resource-intensive food production
A WAG Strategy Statement for Food Security, Food Security Route Map and Action Plan are urgently needed together with a review of other Action Plans as a result of consideration of food security
Government incentives will be needed to encourage people into agricultural work and development of a rural culture that makes farming an attractive way of life to young people.
Government incentives for farmers and growers to produce the kind of food in the quantities each area needs.
Incentives for fruit and nut tree planting and other crops that take time to be established urgently required now.
A radical shift to a low energy, low input, and localised food and agricultural system will demand fundamental changes in energy policy and in the rules of world trade, a radical change in the direction and scope of the CAP and the Single Market, which currently prioritise international competitiveness over national food security.
The key EU energy policy for large-scale development of biofuels will need to be reviewed. A balance between fuel and food crops should be debated and agreed, perhaps learning form pre-industrial days when such a balance was the norm. This debate should link to one on the proper uses, especially local uses of fuel crops, which uses are essential, which not.
Planning policies should support localisation of food production.
Growing belts surrounding communities should be written into Development Plans to ensure that both new housing developments and existing housing have access to sufficient community growing facilities or allotments
As well as food production, land around communities is needed for drainage, waste treatment, energy production, parking for park and ride to create safe streets, events such as fairs, water treatment, recreation and wildlife.
The demise of cheap fuel will necessitate more people working the land and living close enough to do so without car travel. The countryside will need to be more lived and worked in, the cities much greener.
Government can make a huge difference to the goal of sustainable food security by a measure which would cost nothing, replacing any regulations that prevent people feeding themselves sustainably
Question 9 Are the five key drivers outlined in the Strategy sufficient to develop the goals that have been set out?
We do not feel the main drivers or the bullet points under these goals adequately address the issues, nor do they constitute a vision or a strategy.
Food Security must be added as a key driver.
Question 10 This Strategy acknowledges the wider role of food. Given the focus on developing the food sector, would it have been appropriate to have gone further in addressing the wider issues of health and nutrition, climate change, rising energy prices, addressing the needs of those on low incomes?
Yes. And the implications of Peak Oil need to be added to this list.
Question 11 What are the short term and long term priority areas for skills and training in the food sector? What are the short and long term priority areas for R&D?
Transition to a non-fossil-fuel food system will require redesign of nearly every aspect of the process by which we feed ourselves, and given that Peak oil is likely to occur soon, transition must occur at a forced pace backed fully by government.
One essential goal which is present in this document is the need for education in skills and understanding of food production, processing, and preservation with and without fossil fuels and electricity. This education should range from grow-your-own for the many, to industry skills for the few wanting them.
Information is required on what we are likely to have too much and too little of and what we need on a regional basis. For example it would make sense to encourage more grain, particularly barley and oats, tree fruit and soft fruit production in many areas of Wales which lack these, whilst reducing red meat production.
Question 13 The Strategy uses the theme of Building Connections, Building Capacities How can we best change the system of policy making and consultation to make it more streamlined?
Rather than send out polished paper versions close to finalisation to targeted audiences, WAG should:-
- Give wide publicity of all emerging consultation documents (and ask that possible respondents’ interest in the subject be notified to WAG so that they can be appropriately consulted). For instance, in this consultation, did you reach the WI, Town and Community Councils, Environment Groups including the Transition Movement?
- Put an initial outline out to a wider consultation at early draft stage.
- Arrange follow up video conferencing with respondents making useful contributions
- Arrange regional consultation meetings very early in final draft consultation period
NAEG recognises that our response to this strategy is too long, for which we apologise (but we were alerted to its existence some way through the process and had little editing time)
Participation in a consultation process requires skill and expertise not held by many, especially within the voluntary sector. There is a need for capacity building in this respect for voluntary groups and also for the lowest tier of government.