For those people in Corporate Affairs departments, tasked with understanding and responding to Government policy, Monday would have been an exceptionally busy day.
Defra launched four significant initiatives:
- A progress report on the Cabinet Office review of food
- An assessment of UK food security
- Proposals for a new set of performance indicators
- An exercise to build a new vision of the future called Food 2030
The theme pulling the four strands together is Food Security. No public objective is more important than this. Put “meals away from chaos” into Google and you’ll see that no-one agrees on the exact number meals’ or days’ lee-way in the food supply chain, but everyone recognises that it’s a small one!
According to the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn: “We’ll need to change the way food is produced and processed so that we continue to enjoy healthy affordable food in the decades ahead.” That sentiment is widely shared, and companies will welcome any announcement that clarifies government policy in these unstable times.
Food Matters – Cabinet Office report
The Cabinet Office Strategy Unit published Food Matters: Towards a Strategy for the 21st Century in July 2008. Commissioned by the Prime Minister it brought together all aspects of policy affecting food from every government department.
It had four main themes:
- Market effectiveness
- Food safety
- Health and nutrition
- The environment
The progress report reviews what’s been done since then and reveals priorities for the next 12 months.
First food security assessment
The government’s first ever audit of food security examines six areas:
- Global food availability
- Global resource sustainability
- UK availability and access
- UK food chain resilience
- Food security at household level
- Safety and confidence in our food supply
It plans to review risks under these six areas on a regular basis, looking as far ahead as 2050. Its top three current concerns are:
- Fertiliser intensity of farming
- Water productivity of crop production
- Global fish stocks
One intriguing announcement is the choice of low income households’ share of spending on food as the ‘headline indicator’ of food security. So the rate of food inflation will be critical.
New performance indicators for sustainable food production
A cross Government Steering Group is recommending a set of indicators to measure progress towards a sustainable food system. They are in seven groups:
- Economic performance
- Skills and innovation
- Food safety
As we all know ‘what gets measured gets managed’ so the choice of indicators is highly significant. Some of the measures are already in place and others need to be introduced. Government is now seeking feedback on these proposals.
Food 2030 is a consultation exercise, described as an ‘online discussion’ to gather views on how global food production can be increased in a sustainable way.
This is a step by Defra, the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health towards forming a vision for a future sustainable and secure food system.
Food security is the way that government approaches food policy now and we are all digesting the full implications.
Climate change, resource shortages, economic shifts, new technologies and social upheaval present a potent mix of forces destabilising food supply. If we’re to steer safely through this period of transformation, government and industry will need to work closely together.
So Monday’s announcement is an important landmark and companies will be studying it closely. Even if the government changes soon, much of the technical work will continue.
IGD has developed a seven step plan for companies wishing to improve food security.
- Make sure that every member of staff appreciates the need for sustainable growth.
- Build strong partnerships. We won’t succeed with a silo mentality.
- Share best practice on sustainability. There will always be a first mover advantage but we need to learn from each other.
- Wage war on waste.
- Make your supply chain more shockproof.
- Use technology to raise productivity.
- Bring your consumers with you through compelling communication.
We’ll keep monitoring each of these areas. If you’d like to discuss any of them further, do let us know.