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Britain urged to ‘get real’ over food supply security

8th Jul 2020 - 07:35
tim lang oxford food conference security
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University of London’s Centre for Food Policy, has told the second Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) Bitesize webinar on the state of Britain’s food security, that the country needed to ‘get real’.

Speaking on the future of food security, a topic brought into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic, Professor Lang noted what he called ‘the uncomfortable truth of Britain’s imperial legacy’, where the nation has relied on other countries to supply our food, leaving the UK vulnerable.

“We have this extraordinary imperial legacy where we think other people are going to feed us and we are now getting a very cold dose of water reminding us how fragile our relationship is to ecosystems and food supply.”

He said it was a complex issue in which many different aspects had to be addressed to ensure sustainability and resilience.

“What do we mean by food security? It’s about juggling, at the same time, supply, health, quality, acceptability of culture, ecosystems, economy – a multicriteria approach – which is not what we have now. We still think others are going to feed us.

“Get real, Britain,” he said. “We need to grow up and shed our imperial past and inject sustainability into food security. Britain is parasitic and over-consuming with a mismatch between policy, evidence and reality.”

Professor Lang, with fellow panelists Joanna Lewis, strategy and policy director at Soil Association; Rebecca Speight, chief executive of the RSPB; and George Young, an agro-ecological farmer, revisited the theme of the 1958 OFC conference - Towards Greater Self Sufficiency.

The event, chaired by Liz Bowles, OFC director and associate director of farming and land use at the Soil Association, was part of a series of seven webinars on the agrifood sector’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

With hundreds of viewers participating in the debate online, the focus soon turned to resilience and sustainability of our food system.

Young, who farms in south Essex, highlighted the importance of micro-supply-chains and hyper-local food systems.

“Food sovereignty is important, and we need local communities to have a bond with the food they’re eating.

“For me, local food hubs are the crux of where we need to get to with food supply. We need more local butchers and bakers and need incentivisation for local food hubs and to get more people involved in agriculture to ensure that local food hubs can be served.”

Professor Lang added that there needed to be a devolution of power to create real and sustainable change.

“I want a new food resilience and security Act. An Act with very clear guidance and a devolution of power that gives us the ability to get on with it at a local and regional level. An Act that gives direction and has power and deals with everything we talk about - health, environment, culture, jobs.

“Will Covid-19 leave a lasting legacy on food security? Well, that’s down to us.”

The 2021 OFC, hosted as a digital one-day conference on 7 January 2021, will celebrate its 75th anniversary since the first conference was held in 1936.

The next #OFCBitesize webinar will debate the Case for Expansion on Thursday 6 August from 12pm-1pm.


Written by
David Foad