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Politics & Law Series: General Election

Help make food policy a general election issue, City academic urges voters

Professor Tim Lang calls on public to raise issue with politicians
by Ed Grover

Voters should raise questions with general election candidates over how they will address mounting food policy issues, according to City's Professor Tim Lang.

The Professor of Food Policy, speaking after appearing at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, said he hoped the profile of the subject could be raised before voters go to the polls in May.

Professor Lang was part of a panel that discussed the Square Meal report - a document published last summer to highlight evidence for making major changes to national food policies.

He said: "In this election year, I hope the British public asks candidates what they'll do to reorient UK food and farming industries around public and environmental health.

"The evidence currently suggests policy is drifting while troubles are mounting. The mismatch of bodies, food supply, health and culture must be addressed."

The Oxford Real Farming Conference, which took place at Oxford Town Hall on Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th January, saw farmers, academics, scientists, economists and activists come together to discuss the big food issues facing the nation.

During the event Professor Lang, who is Chair of the Food Research Collaboration, was joined by representatives from other organisations that worked together to produce the Square Meal report.

I hope the public asks candidates what they'll do to reorient food and farming industries around public and environmental health - Tim Lang
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The talk - one of many throughout the two-day event - asked two key questions:

  • What are the biggest barriers to a more equitable food and farming system?
  • How can we best work together to create change?

Among the panel members was Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who called on the Government to take a lead on the issue.

"At the conference, we've heard inspiring examples from sustainable food initiatives producing good quality food in a way that is fair for people, farmers and nature," he said.

"Going forward, we need a step change that allows this to become the norm, through strong government leadership to address the challenges laid out in the Square Meal report."

Philip Lymbery, Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming, also joined the panel and said both consumers and the Government had roles to play.

"If we choose food from the land, not from factories, we can make a big difference but we are still in dire need of leadership," he said.

"In fact, there has never been a greater need for leadership in food policy and never a greater lack of it from the Government."

It is high time for a radical reframing of our food and farming systems - Tim Lang
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Also on the panel was Dan Crossley, Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council, who highlighted the pressures on world resources, while explaining how many continue to starve as obesity increases in developed countries.

"It is high time for a radical reframing of our food and farming systems," he said.

"We hope Square Meal will trigger much-needed debates across the country, stimulating new ideas about food and farming policy and increasing pressure to act on whoever comes into power in May."

The final speaker was Vicki Hird, Senior Campaigner at Friends of the Earth for its Land Use, Food and Water Security Programme. She explained there was "clearly enormous interest in what the Square Meal group has to say".

She added: "Now we need the debate across the UK where such discussions are either polarised or, worse still, absent, so government can no longer ignore the clear public interest in a better food and farming system."

'Square Meal: why we need a new recipe for farming, wildlife, food and public health' was published by the Food Research Collaboration, the RSPB, Friends of the Earth, the National Trust, the Food Ethics Council, Sustain, The Wildlife Trusts, the Soil Association, Eating Better and Compassion in World Farming.

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