How to create a sustainable food system: an analysis

“There is a lot of work to do if we are to rebuild a food system that delivers safe, healthy, affordable food to everyone; that restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation; that is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector.”

“Nature-friendly approaches are needed within the mainstream food system.”

“Farmers should be proactive, helping to create a new food culture which nourishes and sustains health and wellbeing.”

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Prof. Michael Winter is Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research at the University of Exeter:

Professor Michael Winter ­ Food Security: Past and Present

Centre for Rural Policy Research | CRPR : LAND : NATURE : FOOD | University of Exeter

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Last month, an important review of our food system was launched:

Home – Part One – National Food Strategy

How to create a sustainable food system – Vision Group for Sidmouth

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Prof Winter takes a look at it:

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National Food Strategy: Part One – An assessment by Prof. Michael Winter

This eagerly anticipated NFS report does not disappoint. As the report makes clear at the outset, this is not a comprehensive plan for transforming the food system, which will follow in Part Two in 2021. Rather, ‘it contains urgent recommendations to support this country through the turbulence caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and to prepare for the end of the EU exit transition period on 31 December 2020.’ So a bold endeavour then! Henry Dimbleby has grasped the nettle of COVID and assembled a thoroughly useful analysis of the impact of COVID.

Below are just a few of the key phrases that stood out to me in his analysis: 

Our food system has just endured its biggest stress test since the Second World War. As COVID-19 swept through the UK, the entire machinery of supply and distribution had to be recalibrated, fast. The fact that, after a wobbly start, there were no serious food shortages is a testament to the flexibility and entrepreneurialism of so many food businesses, and the resilience of the system as a whole.

There have, however, been heavy losses. Workers in the food production and retail sectors have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19. Those in the hospitality sector have taken the biggest economic hit, with a higher proportion of furloughed staff (and expected redundancies) than any other profession.

At the same time, the virus has shown with terrible clarity the damage being done to our health by the modern food system. Diet-related illness is one of the top three risk factors for dying of COVID-19. This has given a new urgency to the slow-motion disaster of the British diet.

There is a lot of work to do if we are to rebuild a food system that delivers safe, healthy, affordable food to everyone; that is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies; that restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation; that is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector; and that is robust in the face of future crises.

F&FF – Technical and Business Information

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Prof Winter was being quoted in the House of Lords earlier in the summer:

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Professor Michael Winter cited in House of Lords debate on the Agriculture Bill

The House of Lords has been debating the Agriculture Bill this week, including an amendment specifically referring to agroecology.  Lord Blencathra spoke as follows in the debate on the 14th July:

I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, kept referring to “nature-friendly farming” in her excellent speech. I have had the benefit of looking at examples of farms in the agroecology network and the Nature Friendly Farming Network and, while both do excellent work, it is important that we get it right if we build either of these terms into legislation.

I am grateful to my friend Professor Michael Winter of Exeter University, the UK-renowned expert on this subject, who is also on the board of Natural England. He has briefed me as follows: “There is a significant difference between the Nature Friendly Farming Network and Agro-Ecology. The Nature Friendly Farming Network is a broad grouping that includes organic and the Linking the Environment And Farming the LEAF/integrated approaches. Agro-ecology dates back to the 1980s and the term was coined by a Chilean scientist (now a professor at Berkeley) called Miguel A. Altieri. It is resolutely organic and anti-GM, and closely linked to the food sovereignty movement. In the UK, agroecology has been adopted by the Landworkers’ Alliance. There are many things to commend agro-ecology but it is not easily compatible with mainstream broadacre UK agriculture, and I am sceptical about the hegemony of organics and the wholesale opposition to mainstream food retailers.”

Professor Winter goes on to say: “I advocate three things in this space: 1) more policy attention and encouragement to agro-ecology as just one part of the tapestry of ensuring farming becomes more nature-friendly; 2) a pragmatic acceptance that most UK agriculture for the foreseeable future is not likely to radically divorce itself from the conventional food chain (as advocated by the Landworkers’ Alliance), and therefore that LEAF/integrated and nature-friendly approaches are needed within the mainstream food system; and 3) the need to encourage research that bridges the gap between the agro-ecology-based approach and the conventional Research Council/Sustainable Intensification approach.” In light of that, I am content that any amendments that mention nature-friendly farming are opposed to those that advocate agroecology, unless they are part of a nature-friendly farming system, which I passionately support.

Date: 22 July 2020

articles | CRPR : LAND : NATURE : FOOD | University of Exeter

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And Prof Winter has also been in the local press.

This is from Devon Live from July 2018:

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Why this Exeter University professor is urging farmers to adapt to shopper’s changing eating habits

British farmers could find business opportunities and help promote better public health if they adapted to recent radical changes in diet – such as the growth in veganism – a top rural expert has said.

Agricultural practice and policy should take account of new trends in the way people cook and eat, according to a new report being launched today (July 4) by Professor Michael Winter OBE, from the University of Exeter.

This health-orientated food culture could allow farmers to increase production of pulses, cereals, fruit and vegetables in the UK, suggests Professor Winter, at a time when many people are now consuming too many refined carbohydrates, added sugars, fats and ultra-processed foods.

He explained: “Farmers should be proactive, helping to create a new food culture which nourishes and sustains health and wellbeing, building further on UK farmers’ proven ability to produce safe, nutritious and affordable food in response to market demand. As demand changes so UK farmers need to respond with confidence to the concerns and opportunities in our changing society.”

Speaking to the Western Morning News ahead of today’s Nuffield Farming Lecture in Westminster, at which Professor Winter will deliver the 66-page report, titled Changing Food Cultures: Challenges and Opportunities for UK Agriculture, he said the farming industry should not be arguing about veganism.

“I think everybody needs to calm down,” he said. “We have a very diverse population with diverse dietary requirements. At the end of the day we all need to eat and as diets change, I think opportunities present themselves. Veganism remains a minority position but it is growing. It is indicative of a much wider set of concerns about ‘meat’ that find expression in vegetarianism and more widely either in reduced or ‘guilty’ meat consumption.”

Why this Exeter University professor is urging farmers to adapt to shopper’s changing eating habits – Devon Live

   
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