THE COALITION has reached the halfway stage of its term in office, and the promise to be “the greenest government ever” is proving a heavy burden to carry.
In the government’s recent mid-term review document, the first acknowledgement of the pledge is conveniently tucked away on page 18, quickly followed by the ominous caveat that “in tough economic times … the environment can seem like a second order issue”.
But to whom exactly? Consumers? Businesses? Or more likely the government itself, whose preoccupation with patching up the economy in the short term, however well intentioned, has come at the cost of any kind of long-term vision for what a green economy might look like. Either the coalition is saving itself for a sprint to the line or the “greenest government” pledge is, to put it bluntly, a load of baseless nonsense.
Those holding out for a joined-up food policy have also been left scratching their heads. The word “food” is mentioned just six times in the document: twice in headings, twice in reference to the government’s inadequate buying standards and once each in a nebulous pledge to promote sustainable agriculture and in reference to new labelling rules which were set by the EU. This after the hype of the green food project.
The covert message here is that people are getting fed so what’s the big deal? What is lacking is any recognition that food is central to the very economic issues that dominate the document: rising food prices reduce consumers’ discretionary income, which hampers economic growth; the industry is a significant employer, often of low-income workers; and the cost to the NHS attributable to overweight and obesity is predicted to reach £10bn a year by 2050. In this context, it seems perverse that food is so low down the government’s agenda.