This page records Sustain's recent activities in relation to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Defra's own website can be seen at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/. For enquiries about this material, contact Sustain's coordinator Jeanette Longfield on email@example.com.
Sustain participated in meetings meetings hosted by the shadow agriculture minister for the Labour Party, Willie Bain, MP in March, exploring both sustainable food and farming policy, and sustainable fish policy.
Based on existing Sustain policies, we made a submission in March to the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee Inquiry into Sustainable Food.
In this election year there were few contacts with this government department. It was restructured, along with the rest of government departments and agencies, after the Coalition Government was established.
Towards the end of the year, on 15 December, we attended a meeting to discuss the state of play on sustainable diets, responsibility for which had passed from the Food Standards Agency to Defra. The majority of the small numbers present were from the food and farming industry and a good deal of time was wasted by them defending current levels of meat and dairy consumption. Defra officials were clear that the most we could expect the current government to do in this area was commission further research, and host more meetings to encourage the private sector and third sectors to “co-ordinate” their work. Sustain is not likely to take up this invitation but we will maintain a watching brief.
In November, Sustain met with representatives from the Defra Food Policy team to discuss how Defra can support community food growing. Defra is interested in Creating model “meanwhile leases” to help communities use land temporarily and encouraging more food growing in schools, among other things.
Defra's food strategy document – Food 2030 – was launched at the annual Oxford farming conference on 5 January. Sustain issued a critical media release – which obtained significant coverage – noting that the “document proposes a series of minor tweaks to our fundamentally unsustainable food system”, and drawing attention to Sustain’s Good Food for Our Money and Children’s Food campaigns.
Sustain submitted our sustainable food guidelines to Defra’s Food Vision 2030 initiative. Sustain also attended a Defra breakfast launch, on 16 Septemer, of the review of the Common Fisheries Policy reform, where we raised with Minister Hilary Benn the issue of sustainable fish in public procurement.
We continue to work closely with a number of the members of Defra's Council of Food Policy Advisors (see Winter 2008/9) to help them with research and identifying priorities on the agenda. Sustain met Defra Minister Hilary Benn in May, with colleagues from Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth and the Vegetarian Society. We raised issues around sustainable food in public procurement. Since the meeting CIWF has written to the Minister to confirm that EU rules encourage the inclusion of sustainability criteria in public sector contracts (he had been advised that they prohibited this.) See also the Good Food for Our Money campaign briefing on European Food Law.
Sustain will be meeting Defra Minister, Hilary Benn on 19 May, with colleagues from Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth and the Vegetarian Society. We will raise issues such as sustainable food in public procurement, and Defra's (lack of) support for the organic sector.
Sustain is not directly represented on Defra's new Council of Food Policy Advisors but we are working closely with a significant proportion of the members of this Council.
Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
Sustain consultant Catherine Fookes continues to make slow, but steady progress with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). See separate Organic Sector Development pages for details.
Discussions with Defra have been dominated by carbon labeling and life-cycle analysis of food products. This is reported separately in the section on food labelling.
Unfortunately, despite representations from a wide range of organisations, including Sustain, Defra’s approach to sustainable consumption seems increasingly focused on encouraging individual behaviour change by consumers. It is not clear, currently, whether food will stay in Defra’s list of “pro-environmental behaviours to tackle climate change” along with small-scale suggestions to change light bulbs.
Organic Action Plan
Sustain's Council has decided to work with others to develop specific policies that would support the continued development of the organic sector. See separate Organic Sector Development pages for details.
CAP health check
Sustain's policy director Kath Dalmeny has continued to keep abreast of developments on Defra's Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and attended two meetings in November convened by Defra to explore the remit and scope of the Health Check being undertaken in 2008. On environmental issues, there were generally encouraging signs that Defra would take a positive approach, especially on biodiversity. However, nutrition and health issues were barely discussed at all.
New Zealand environmental standards
Representatives from the New Zealand Defence Society met Kath in November to discuss their concerns about sustainable food standards being developed in the UK possibly excluding New Zealand produce – even if it is grown to high environmental standards. The Society is planning a conference later in the year, and Kath may participate remotely. Kath and Jeanette also participated in an event jointly hosted by Defra and the Italian Embassy, exploring themes relating to sustainable food, carbon labelling, and sustainable agriculture. They promoted Sustain’s work on public procurement and sustainable food labelling and made several useful contacts.
Kath and Jeanette have also been participating in Defra’s sustainable production and consumption programme of work. Although food has been incorporated from the outset, there are concerns that it will be downgraded in favour of “easier” consumer messages on, for example, saving energy through changing light bulbs…
Sustain's Council strongly advised against accepting Defra’s new ‘individualistic’ approach to behaviour change, noting that the vague encouragement to consumers to ‘eat a low-impact diet’ will be woefully insufficient to make the transition to a sustainable food and farming system.
See separate Organic Sector Development pages for news of the following:
- Advisory Committee on Organic Standards (ACOS)
- Organic feed shortages
- The organic inspector approval process
- New EU organic logo and regulation
- EU funding for organic sector development
- Organic Action Plan
- Organic standards (national and international)