Government urged to take “long view” on food ethics

The pressing issue of dealing with Covid-19 should not be an excuse for inaction on critical issues like the climate crisis and diet-related ill health, the Food Ethics Council (FEC) has said.

In a new report released this week the NGO stated that the pandemic indicates how vulnerable our food system is and how urgent the task of building resilience is.

The purpose of the report was to compare party election manifestos from the 2019 and 2015 general elections with the aim of understanding the degree to which political priorities which intersect with food ethics concerns have changed since 2015. It found that food system concerns were more prominent overall in 2019 in terms of the proportion of space allocated to them in manifestos from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties.

It identified a greater focus on stewardship in last year’s campaign with all four parties connecting farming with land management, water management, reforestation, stewardship and environmental regeneration.

In 2019, there was also stronger cross-party support for smaller farmers, new entrants to farming, urban farming, and more regional and local control of food, along with cross-party commitment to protect UK standards when negotiating trade agreements.

The FEC said factors driving the shift in policies included key reports on climate change and biodiversity from global institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). It also noted that Brexit had a fundamental impact on manifesto commitments around protecting UK food and fishing standards.

The FEC put forward a raft of policies it would like to see delivered. These include using the power of the public purse to buy healthy and sustainable food for people in its care; steps to standardise farm animal welfare measures, along with other key sustainability metrics, at a national level; governments following the food waste hierarchy by prioritising action, regulation and incentives on prevention of food waste; and governments internationally to protect and strengthen workers’ rights in all food value chains.

It acknowledged that while Covid-19 is the most present and pressing issue facing governments it should not be an excuse for inaction on critical issues like the climate crisis, loss of soil and soil quality, diet-related ill health and poor treatment of food workers. Resilient food systems, it said, should mitigate shocks, protect those most at risk and be based on respect for the natural world.

“We need concerted effort to tackle the pandemic,” said Food Ethics Council executive director Dan Crossley. “We also believe it’s vital that the government avoids tunnel vision in responding to Covid-19 and takes the long view. We are facing multiple emergencies relating to our food system. The climate, nature and obesity crises that we face have not vanished overnight. Many of these have similar root causes and need similar unified action in addressing them.”

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