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Food symposium highlights calls for integrated Government intervention

Academics, stakeholders and industry highlight need to tackle food problems
by Hollie Jenkins

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A symposium at City University London has highlighted the current gaps in UK food policy and provided a number of actions for the food industry, government and wider society moving forward.

The all-day event, organised by the Centre for Food Policy at City with support from the Worshipful Company of Cooks (A Livery Company of the City of London), incorporated a number of high profile presentations from across the food supply chain and academia and highlighted problems and solutions from a range of perspectives.

A key outcome from the event was an informal vote from the audience on what the key priorities for UK Food Policy should be moving forward.

Over 50% of the audience indicated that the priority for Government should be "taking a leadership role in food across public settings and in food production, while not being afraid to regulate the industry and introduce taxes."

This sentiment was also voiced by Dr David Barling, from the Centre for Food Policy, whose historical account showed the growth of policy engagement in the 2000s, but a more confined status in the last 18 months. Dr Barling said that the "food sector and food policy needs strategic government led interventions for the long-term."

Speakers at the event also called for renewed and more positive integration of Government policy. Speaker Laura Sandys, MP, whose expertise includes security and energy affairs, highlighted the current discrepancies across Government Departments, but showed new coordinated action was possible across at least six Ministries.

"We need a food policy refit with food security obligations outside of DEFRA and more integration with other departments. The current food supply chain is efficient, not resilient." she said.

The issue of food security and the availability of food in the future was a major theme within presentations. At the event the audience judged food security and resilience as a key issue.

Also judged very important was the need to break up the concentration of power in the food supply chain and address risks and lack of resilience, with 45% of audience members indicating this should be a priority. Over 70% of the audience agreed that the key action for civil society should be to increase food citizenship and the moral basis of food policy at all levels, everywhere.

This issue was highlighted by many speakers including Geoff Tansey (Rowntree visionary and specialist on patents) and Sue Dibb, incoming Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council.

Dibb said that currently many consumers are unfamiliar with what sustainable food means. "Consumers are thinking about health when they are doing their weekly shopping, but they are less acquainted with issues to do with sustainability," she said.

Concluding the event, Professor Tim Lang, Head of the Centre for Food Policy said: "This event has clearly demonstrated that currently UK Food Policy is not up to scratch. Government policy is fragmented and unnecessarily hesitant. We know the current supply chain is unsustainable, nor are consumers eating as they should.

"We hope that by bringing together a showcase of the best thinking in British academia and policy worlds and with the range of stakeholders who came to the City Food Symposium, we can provide some clear thoughts on how to begin to tackle the mismatch of policy with evidence.

"The priority for future food is simple to say, but seems to defy political will to deliver. Food policy is surely about ensuring we all have access to sustainable, affordable and sufficient food well into the future. Sustainability is not a choice of health versus environment versus costs. It's about lining up all three," Professor Lang said.

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City, University of London is an independent member institution of the University of London. Established by Royal Charter in 1836, the University of London consists of 18 independent member institutions with outstanding global reputations and several prestigious central academic bodies and activities.