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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One billion trees

The new government want to plant 100 million trees over 10 years to support achieving our climate change commitments. Northland has roughly 5.1% of New Zealand’s land area, so that equates to about 5.1 million trees for Northland per year. Of course we should probably have more, as we don’t have snow here and trees will grow faster than most other places, and therefore sequester carbon quicker.

Northland forest

Northland forest (image credit: Department of Conservation)

Food trees

No doubt many of the trees will be pine and hopefully native trees. I would like to see a commitment that a percentage of the trees are food trees, or trees that support or compliment food production, e.g. shelter belts, farm forestry, manuka and kanuka. There may be opportunities to support such plantings. It would be too easy for the planners to focus on pine trees and reforestation.

It also makes a lot of sense to be planting food trees in parks and streets in urban settings and in schools.

Sequestration rates

If we are planting trees to sequester carbon how do large fruiting plants such as avocado trees, macadamias or bananas compare? This article establishes sequestration rates for macadamias in Australia as 3tons CO2/ha per year. I can’t find data on sequestration for bananas and avocados, but we can compare pasture, native shrubs and trees for a rough estimation. Here are some examples of sequestration rates.

sequestration rates

These numbers are from this webpage and the Tane’s Tree Trust website. They are sometimes aggregated to establish a range and variables include tree age – the max figure for totara is from a 102 year stand. Notice the graph below indicates a higher value for pine.

From this table, we can surmise that bananas, for example would sequester at least as much carbon as the minimum numbers for manuka/kanuka. If anyone has data on banana or avocado biomass, please let me know.

growth and sequestration rates.png

This graph, from the Tane’s Tree Trust website reveals the growth and sequestration rates of different species. Notice that in the short term, native shrubs out perform native trees. We can assume bananas in Northland might follow a similar trajectory to native shrubs as they quickly bulk up.

Pine trees offer rapid growth rates, but harvest processes remove the above ground biomass and can create significant erosion of topsoil and therefore soil carbon, especially on steep land. On the other hand, as with any timber, incorporating wood into constructions sequesters that carbon for decades.

Other values

Timber plantations are important, but we need a broader assessment of their environmental, social and economic value. For example for every 1000 hectares forestry and logging employs 3 people. By contrast, for the same area, dairy employs 19.1 and horticulture 101 people. Thus, monocultural forestry depopulates while horticulture can repopulate rural Northland.

Michael Pollan charts a pathway to good health “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. If we help  Northlanders to have plenty of access to food trees, and some of it free in schools and public spaces, we can support better health.

How you can help

I would like to see a message sent to the relevant Ministers, and the Regional and District Councils encouraging a target for food trees as a percentage of the 100 million trees to be planted annually. Ideally it will co-signed by relevant organisations, eg, Tropical Fruit Growers, Tree Crops Associations, Enviroschools, Health agencies (fruit trees for schools, parks and streets), and marae.

If you know of organisations to approach for support for this message, please provide the name and the name and email of a contact person.

Power Plant opens

A couple of years ago it was difficult to find any restaurants or cafes who proudly proclaimed their support for local produce. Things have changed. This month two new Whangarei food sellers advocating for local food have opened. “Down the Road” featured in an earlier post. Around the same time “Power Plant”, a wholefood and organic store in the Civic Arcade opened.

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Power Plant is a family business run by Mark and Angela Fuller and their daughter Jasmine. They are all still working other jobs and businesses while running Power Plant. The food is vegan and Mark and Angela are working hard to find local supplies of organic produce. At present they can source enough for the kitchen, but not to sell as fresh produce.

Please support food sellers who strive to sell local food.

Here is Power Plant’s Facebook Page.

Feeding the world

The convergence of rapid population growth and climate change threaten our ability to feed everybody. But our thinking about solutions has been a monocultural reflection of how we grow our food. A recent Guardian article suggests switching to organic farming could cut greenhouse gas emissions and still feed the world.

What we don’t need

We don’t need more “business as usual agriculture”.  The 2016 IPES-Food report (page 54) warns us that “feed the world” narratives are one of eight “lock-ins” that inhibits our collective ability to rethink the way we grow food. Advocates of current industrial food systems claim that massive monocultures, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified crops and toxic chemicals are essential to feed the world. But if we follow the money we are more likely to find they are serving their financial ambition rather than any altruistic concern for the greater good.

But we also don’t need purist ideologies about how food should be produced. Rather a diversity of solutions should be explored with each assessed on its own merits.

Here are some solutions. Some will work better in a country such as mine (New Zealand) where population density is low, but every bit of food grown (and not wasted) helps.

1. Rethink what it means to be “organic”

Can food only be called organic if it is grown in the soil? Can organic food be grown hydroponically? When I first studied soil science about 40 years ago, conventional horticulture relied on a handful of macronutrients and micronutrients. Now high quality products are available that supply nutrients and important microbial constituents (Rok Soild is my preferred fertiliser). USDA organic certification is now available to qualifying hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic crop systems.

Since the early days of hydroponics, growers have learned how growing in a more controlled environment can reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides. And in these systems herbicides just aren’t needed.

vertical farms.png

These containers are “vertical farms” used by food banks. Crops are grown inside using LED light and energy efficient heating enabling year around production.  Aerofarms farms vertically on a bigger scale.

This system has detractors but it seems a good option for growing food close to where it is needed without nasty chemicals.

2. Try aquaponics

Aquaponics is another option – combining fish and produce production.

Ben Smith is a local advocate of aquaponics.

3. End our obsession with lawns

Lawns are beautiful additions to the landscape and great places for children to play. But in our towns and cities (especially in New Zealand) we waste too much energy mowing lawns when we could be growing more food.

Here is a kiwi example of optimising urban lawn space to create lots of food.

4. Collapse the ornamental/food dichotomy

Most of us have grown up in the traditional garden where food production and ornamentals have there own space. Municipal parks departments also have difficulties coping with the concept of mixing the two. After all fruit trees drop fruit and can be messy! But imagine a landscape where children can eat feijoas, citrus and passionfruit on their way to school. For some, it might be the most nutritious food they get that day. This video shows how a group in Portland Oregon, “glean” fruit to distribute to the needy.     Couple this with an intensification of fruit tree plantings in public spaces and we bring good food closer to those that need it.

5. Diversify protein

I’m not sure how I feel about lab grown meat, but it gets around some of the environmental problems that are presently coupled with intensified agricultural systems.

A new initiative in New Zealand produces a “chicken free chicken” out of pea protein.

 

So here’s a diverse range of approaches to getting food to people. What is most important is for people to make their own assessment about what works best for them and their communities and to have a whole lot of tolerance for other ways of growing food.

 

Local food at Down the Road

Yesterday saw the opening of “Down the Road” in Kensington, Whangarei. Justine and Joseph Start have spent recent months preparing their new Eatery and Deli and the food is proudly local.

Down the road.png

Down the Road is about celebrating the local treasures of Northland. The inspiration behind the name is that we love this beautiful country for all the quintessential elements that make it unique. We know that wherever we find ourselves, there is a wonderful bounty to be discovered just ‘down the road’. (from the website)

When you choose to eat at Down the Road you are also supporting a lot of local producers. These include Grinning Gecko Cheese, Mahoe Farms Cheese and Hydro Healthy to name just a few.

If you support local food, eating at “Down the Road” is a great option.

Election outcome a great result for MMP and sustainable food systems

Our new government, led by Jacinda Adern is a win for MMP and sustainable food systems.

A win for MMP and the evolution of governance

To form a government in New Zealand a party has to obtain a majority of seats. In a mixed member proportional (MMP) government, any party will need to work effectively with smaller parties to sustain their government. Our new Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern has skilfully woven a coalition agreement with New Zealand First, with support in supply and confidence from the Green Party.

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Winston Peters and Jacinda Adern signing the coalition agreement (source RadioNZ)

This result represents another advance in our political system. It is fitting that 124 years after Kate Sheppard led the fight to win the vote for women, a female Prime Minister is the first leader who has only voted in the MMP electoral system. Ms Adern must be aware that the continuation of her government can only be achieved by the continued success of her coalition partners. Early signs are that she has the skill and awareness to lead us to a new style of co-created governance based on strong consensus.

A win for the environment

The new government also represents a win for the environment with the three partners supporting the establishment of a Climate Commission and agreeing to legislate emission reduction goals to comply with the Paris agreement. Climate change action is touted as a clear winner in the Labour, Greens agreement. Climate change was on the agenda this election and we can be sure that it will be even more prominent next time, so it will shape future governments. This will cause the National Party to rethink its stance.

For the first time the Green Party will have ministerial roles (albeit outside cabinet). These roles include climate change and conservation.

A win for a sustainable food system

A feature of the coalition agreements is the commitment to regional development. Both New Zealand First and the Green Party are champions of local economies. The agreements also include the intention to prevent foreign ownership of farms.

I have no doubt that we need to turn back dairy intensification and diversify farm incomes to reduce environmental impacts (more about this in future posts). The new government will discontinue subsidies of irrigation that fuel intensification.

The plan to increase the minimum wage potentially has a benefit for regional economies. We are a low wage economy and government assistance for wage and salary earners enables employers such as the foreign owned fast food chains to keep employment costs low. In effect this is a tax payer subsidy for these employers, and in the case of foreign-owned corporates, part of our taxes disappear off-shore.

Engaging with Government

According to the Drawdown Project, the 31% reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions can come from food system and a further 14% from land use. We need to engage with government to ensure that the synergies between climate change action, their new forestry programme, and regional development aspirations are realised and support the development of sustainable food systems.

Sugar feeds cancer and addiction

Sugar feeds cancer cells. This is the key finding of a nine year research project published in Nature Communications. This article summarises the findings.

And today on Radio NZ Jesse Mulligan interviewed Robert Lustig about the various ways that we are addicted, and sugar is possibly the most ubiquitous addiction. Here is the interview. Robert Lustig’s new book, The Hacking of the American Mind discusses the influence of the food industry in promoting addiction.

He is down on dopamine. We seek a dopamine by feeding our addictions. He suggests we need more serotonin instead.

Robert Lustig promotes his four Cs to resist addictions and support our happiness.

CONNECT – face to face connections fuel our empathy and build community.

CONTRIBUTE – to friends, families, others and your communities.

COPE – exercise, practice mindfulness and get plenty of sleep.

COOK – real food and avoid processed food.

We feed sugar to our children. We continue to allow it to be promoted widely. This has to change!