In England every man ought to own a garden.
It's meant to be that way, you feel it immediately. - Henry Millar

Food Matters

Wearing one of my many hats working within the world of food farming and countryside, for the past three years, I have been a member of the South East Rural Affairs Forum (SERAF) on behalf of CPRE and SEFS. My focus has been for as many years, the importance of continued ‘food farming’ in this country. At the last meeting of the forum on the 3rd February 2005 I raised my concerns in relation to food security in the region, especially so in light of figures shown within The South East Plan (Core Document Draft out for Public Consultation January 2005) figures on pages 17/18 showing a decrease of (-46%) in the number of employees in the sectors of Agriculture, forestry and fishing by the year 2026. It was at this meeting (as has been the case) at others over the years, concern was raised in relation to the continuation of farming within the region in relation to food production and land management. The matter of ‘food security’ and crisis management in the event of a natural or man-made disaster was also flagged up. Attention was drawn to transportation of provisions (and people) in the event of such a disaster. With greater emphasis on the importing of food stuffs, a headline from the BBC’s website ‘Planet Under Pressure’ was read out as follows: ‘Polish Factory Farm Cause a Stink’ - Spiralling demand for cheap food is pushing countries such as Poland towards intensive agriculture production, despite environmentalists fears’. The continual decline of food production in this country causes great concern in many ways, and is covered without further need of input from myself in the accompanying press release issued by the Commercial Farmers Group (CFG) entitled ‘Campaign for food security’, within which food supply, animal welfare along with conservation related issues and matters relating to pollution, soil erosion or degradation are highlighted, quotes from which were also read to the forum. Concern for the balance between the production and marketing of food was also raised. The promotion of local and regional foods is superb via food groups and marketing agencies that promote our foods with great budgets and gusto. However I would like to draw attention to the figures mentioned above and that of the implications of such a decline also highlighted within the attached launch statement for The Cotswold Food Group, a self funded marketing group set up by myself in 1999 (since disbanded). I draw conclusion to the strengthening of my concerns from clear signs of demand outstretching supply at grass root level, and find the balance of marketing against production levels ill matched. Yes, our producers need assistance marketing their produce, the key is to make sure we keep not only the South East, but all regions farming, and to see a graph showing levels of labour force in the South East reduced almost by half over the next fifteen years simply does not stack up on production levels. That is unless we are simply to see further intensive farming practice, raising health issues with regard to the nutritional value and quality of intensively produced food, as well as raising greater alarm in relation to environmental impact. Going back to the provision of food, I add an experience worth noting following an invitation to attend a debate entitled ‘what will we be eating in the year 2020’ at the BBC Good Food Show at the end of 2004. The panel consisted of a representative from television whose job he said was to present ‘it’, a representative from Sainsburys whose job she said was to sell ‘it’, a presenter from The Farming Today programme who reports on ‘it’, Antony Warrell Thomson who looks forward to cooking ‘it’, a representative from The Design Council who designs futuristic gadgets to cook ‘it’, and thankfully, Colin Tudge who along with myself begged the question who then was going to produce ‘it’? ‘It’ being food: no one, but no-one paying any mind to the production of ‘it’. Food for thought indeed!

During the SERAF meeting, a request was made for ‘Crisis Management and Food Security’ to be added to the Regional Agenda. In turn I also wrote to James Gray Mp – Shadow Minister For The Countryside requesting his assistance with regard to the above by whatever means was possible, requesting that he raise the importance of the government embracing this matter with urgency. It is clear that we are in a vulnerable position, even if we only bare mind to lowered production and growing population alone we are in trouble, let alone adding natural or manmade disaster to the scenario. To sum up, we sit on the edge of a precipice with little room for complacency.

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Copyright © Susanne Austin 2005/6