TOWARD A EUROPEAN COMMON FOOD POLICY

This post was first published on the Aotearoa Food Policy Network website.The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) are pathfinders, shining a light on the deficiencies of industrial food systems and lighting the path to sustainable food systems. Their latest publication Towards a Common Food Policy for the EU is the result of  3 years of collaboration that provides a compelling roadmap for Europe with principles easily translated to the rest of the world.

VICIOUS CYCLES AND NEW PARADIGMS

Using a systems perspective, IPES-Food dissects the integration of food, consumption and  health systems that have overtime wrought havoc our environment, health, economy and society.

Five “vicious cycles” are described.

  • the failure to put sustainable farming first
  •  techno-fixes that sideline the real solutions
  • the hidden costs of cheap food
  •  the untapped potential of alternative food system initiatives
  • export orientation – a race to the bottom.

Figure 8 from the full report (page 76) illustrates connections between food production processes, policy and social and economic outcomes.

Vicious cycle 3 page 76

The report identifies five major paradigm shifts embodied in these goals, supported by a new governance structure for sustainable food systems.

1: Ensuring access to land, water and healthy soils

2: Rebuilding climate-resilient, healthy agro-ecosystems

3: Promoting sufficient, healthy and sustainable diets for all

4: Building fairer, shorter, and cleaner supply chains

5: Putting trade in the service of sustainable development.

Ipes paradigm shifts

Five objectives (page 39 of the full report)

The report also details concrete steps towards these goals. Here is a segment illustrating objective 2. Short term actions are in the outer ring with medium term actions, the inner circle. It is easy to see how most of these could translate to New Zealand.

actions

Actions to achieve sustainable food systems (page 110 of the full report)

An advantage Europeans have over us is their federal system of governance. Individual nations retain autonomy to experiment and innovate and the whole union can watch and learn. The report provides examples of some progress towards sustainable food systems in European countries.

In 2015, the Dutch government brought food policy onto the agenda of the EU Agriculture Council, and held national consultations on developing a comprehensive food policy, based on recommendations from a government-commissioned report by the Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy.

The French Government adopted a ‘Food Law’ in 2018, following a public consultation on food systems (États Généraux de l’Alimentation). The law establishes comprehensive objectives for achieving sustainable food systems, including ambitious targets for the provision of organic food in public canteens, reduction of plastic use, more robust legislation on animal welfare, and the separation of pesticide sales from farm advisory services.

In 2016 the Swedish Government passed a bill setting a national food strategy to underpin the country’s efforts to meet the SDGs. The Food Strategy lays out a comprehensive framework to develop a competitive and sustainable food supply chain by 2030, including safeguarding access to local and regional plant varieties, improving access to productive land and water resources, and increasing national organic food production and procurement.

In 2014, the Scottish Government published its national food and drink policy, ‘Becoming a Good Food Nation’. The policy is backed by a series of progressive and integrated reforms, including a reduction of GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, robust support for SMEs to access public procurement contracts, and provisions in Scotland’s Community Empowerment bill to improve local food growing and allotment initiatives. A UK-wide civil society process involving 150 organizations has also developed a comprehensive vision for sustainable food and farming systems in a post-Brexit context: a ‘People’s Food Policy’.

page 25 of the full report

We in New Zealand have a long way to go to embed sustainable or regenerative food systems, and the policy that will support it. The current nexus of  government policy, industry interests and our consumption patterns are a major impediment to progress, and for effective change we need to foster a vision as clear and compelling from this and other IPES-Food work.

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Let me count the ways… food makes us sick

A new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES-Food) outlines how industrial food and farming systems are making people sick in a variety of ways. An Overwhelming Case for Action lead author Cecelia Rocha says “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health.”

This infographic from the report summarises the carnage and the resulting economic impact.

IPES Food costs of health impacts

In addition to highlighting the perils of the industrial food system, the document identifies five co-dependent leverage points for building healthier food systems. Among these are lines of action we can all champion.

  1. Promoting food systems thinking.
  2. Reasserting scientific integrity and research as a public good.
  3. Bringing the alternatives to light.
  4. Adopting the precautionary principle.
  5. Building integrated food policies under participatory governance.

This report follows on from their ground-breaking first report From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. 

 

Food policy from our election candidates

The Northland Food Policy Council is asked political candidates from the Far North, Rodney, Te Tai Tokerau and Whangarei electorates five questions. Their responses are published here. Please pass this link on through your networks.

film-test-parliament-grounds-panorama-2006-murray-hedwig-photo

Here are links to the candidates’ responses. Each electorate has its own webpage.

The questions

1: What do you think your role as an MP or potential MP is in our region’s food system?

2: Should NZ be protecting prime agricultural/horticultural land from urban sprawl? What’s your position on how best to do this?

3: The World Health Organisation recommends implementing a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened beverages as a measure of reducing childhood obesity. NZ has the third highest rate of childhood obesity in the OECD.  Are you in favour of a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages?

4: Do you support Local Councils having the power through the Resource Management Act to declare Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO)/Genetic Engineering (GE) free growing zones in their regions?

5: How will you ensure that food system policy, such as the Food Act is scale-appropriate for small and medium scale farmers, growers and producers (e.g. on farm meat processing).

 

Building momentum towards a sustainable food system

Every project I’m involved with aspiring to move from an industrial food system to a sustainable food system reinforces the critical importance of connecting people. In Northland we have a lot of organisations aspiring to improve our food system. They range from environmental groups and landowners working to improve waterways, health workers, farmers and growers, marae-based groups, co-operatives, educationalists and researchers to name a few. The problem is, we are barely aware of what each other are doing.

Collectively, I am sure that there are a lot of us. But we fail to leverage our collective voice.

The development this year of the Northland Food Policy Network encourages me. Its a group of volunteers of similar diversity expressed above advocating to influence policy. Our success will be proportional to our ability to connect with others of like mind to generate momentum for change.

The industrial food system has super-tanker momentum! It has slick and seductive marketing, economies of scale, sophisticated supply chains and political influence. And perhaps most insidiously, it is the normal – the orthodox, with mostly unquestioned legitimacy.

This Guardian article identifies a similar dynamics for those advocating for climate change. Advocates for change are often left to work on individual efforts while the neo-liberal agenda actively seeks to shore up the status quo and feed our oil addiction.

Duncan Green, author of How Change Happens (get if free here) outlines the power gradient that is fundamental to change in this video:

  • power within (when the individual finds ways to change)
  • power with (when connections are made with likeminded others)
  • power to (the capability to decide actions and carry them out)
  • power over ( the power to effect and embed change).

Those of us focussed on food system change have taken steps to make connections and are developing the capability for collective action. Our ability to influence will be determined by our ability to make ongoing connections.

Another useful idea from this video is Duncan Green’s power analysis adapted below. Those with high concern about issues, but low influence have to find their collective voice, translate it into action and engage and influence those who have influence but are not engaged to change. We need to reach out to landowners and supermarkets for example.

influence and concern

Follow this link for more on change, based on Duncan Green’s thinking.

A way forward

Two projects that Local Food Northland are working on are supporting the change dynamics. We are supporting the Northland Food Policy Network and Clive McKegg is leading a project to develop a database of individuals and organisations with common aspirations. We are fully aware that a data base is only part of the engagement equation. We need to engage kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).

What can you do?

If you want to see a food system that serves people by supporting our health, building our economy and sustaining our environment, one practical step is to help us connect with organisations that you are aware of that want these outcomes too. Please contact us or leave a comment below.

Child obesity – another damning report

Hot on the heels of the New Zealand Beverage Guidance Council released a policy brief on a sugary drink tax comes the University of Auckland’s Health Food Environment Policy Index. Professor Boyd Swinburn claims the Government lacks the political will to stand up to the food industry and push the necessary policies through.

Professor Swinburn would like to see more community action to see this elevated in the governments perception from a problem to an urgent problem. Action on food quality in schools is a “no brainer” according to Professor Swinburn.

Here is his Radio New Zealand interview.

Sugary drink tax

The New Zealand Beverage Guidance Council released a policy brief on a sugary drink tax. In New Zealand sugary drinks contribute to 26% of the sugar intake of children, exposing our children to a range non-communicable diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gout and dental caries. The policy brief also reports a link between a high sugary drink intake and cancer and impaired cognitive development.

Given the heinous risks we are exposing our children and mokos to, the $1.00 per litre tax they are suggesting (alongside the option of a 50 cents a litre tax) seems like a great idea. Suggestions for spending the resulting $65 to $100 revenue seem appropriate:

  • Provision of better infrastructure to support availability of sugar free alternatives such as water fountains in which kids/adults work, learn, live and play
  • Facilitate initiatives to work with schools in challenged areas to enhance better nutrition at school
  • Promote more sports in schools, displace beverage and food industry sponsorship agreements in youth sporting ventures (in both school and club settings)
  • Fund a national roll-out of Healthy Families New Zealand. Note current cost is $10 million per year for a quarter of the NZ population. A further $30 million per year is needed to grow this initiative allowing national coverage.
  • Ensure funds are used to support Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as identified by the United Nations.

 From slavery to obesity – the history of sugar

sugar james WalvinKathryn Ryans interview of Professor James Walvin on the history of sugar emphasised its impact on history over the last five centuries. The majority of the millions of African slaves shipped across the Atlantic worked to produce sugar so Westerners could sweeten their drinks. The sugar story is also about the rise of activism to change public opinion as covered elsewhere on this website.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, courageous and visionary people advocated for the abolition of slavery. One of their weapons was a sugar boycott. We can emulate their spirit and conviction and give our children a better chance of growing up healthy.

You can access Kathryn Ryan’s interview here.

 

 

Lets make sugar an election issue

Eight countries, several U.S. jurisdictions and eight Island countries and territories have implemented taxes on sugary drinks (Wikipedia). In 2016 the WHO urged all countries to  impose a tax recommending 20%. Yet our politicians and health authorities seem to be asleep at the wheel on this issue. Jamie Oliver sums it up nicely.

And shame on the Auckland DHB for refusing to host the FIZZ conference at Auckland Hospital finding the issue too political! This sounds more like China heavying us about the Dalai Lama! Here is an example of the advice the Minister is getting from the Ministry of Health. This recent post reveals other dodgy policy stances from our government.

The evidence

The mantra used by our politicians is that the evidence is not there. Don’t believe the spin. Its trickling in now and will soon be a flood. Here are some examples.

Meanwhile, the Obesity Update 2017 Report from the New England Journal of Medicine ranks New Zealand as third in the OECD for obesity rates at 30.7% behind the U.S. (38.2%) an Mexico (32.4%). Perhaps our politicians will wake up when we pass the Mexicans?

Spending the tax income

There are calls for the tax revenue to go to the health system, but that may be counter-productive until health professionals display more food system awareness than is evident now. Targeting the impacts of childhood poverty may generate the best impacts. In Mexico some of the revenue is spent on ensuring all schools have clean water supplies.

Ask your electoral candidates where they stand on a tax for sugary drinks.