Sustain Who we are

Consultation document on the creation of Sustain




A. The context

1. Globalisation of World Food Trade
2. The European Union and Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
3. The UK Government

B. The benefits of integration

5. The Current Alliances
6. Likely Benefits of Integration
7. Possible Risks
8. Progress so far, and a Timetable for Completion

C. The Integration Proposals

9. Constitution and Charitable Status
10. Organisational structure
- Membership: procedure
- Membership: criteria
- Trustees and Officers
- Policy and Project Working Parties
11. Funding
- Core
- Projects
12. Staffing Structure
13. Membership Services and Administration
- Newsletter
- Administration
14 Name and Purpose
15. Launch


This consultation paper aims to:

* outline the context in which integration between the NFA and the SAFE Alliance is taking place;

* summarise the benefits of integration, sketch out possible areas of difficulty, and set a timetable for successfully completing the process;

* make proposals for the aims, activities and organisation of the new alliance.

A. The Context

1. Globalisation of World Food Trade

Few aspects of food policy are shielded from the impact of developments in global food trade.  The forthcoming renegotiation of world trade agreements, which are due to begin in 1999, could have profound effects on our ability to contribute to the creation of a food system which promotes public health and is environmentally sustainable.  Both the NFA and the SAFE Alliance acknowledge the importance of engaging with these developments, but international work is costly and neither organisation currently has the funds to do so directly.

However, both alliances have good links with the UK Food Group, an informal network of development organisations and other NGOs, which monitors such issues more closely.  Consumers' International is also a member of the UK Food Group and is the most active (and in many cases the only) public interest advocate at international meetings of the Codex Alimentarius, the UN body which sets world food standards.  The NFA keeps a watching brief on National Codex Consultative Committee meetings and some NFA/SAFE Alliance members occasionally attend specialist Codex committee meetings at national and/or international level.

The significance of international food policy developments is likely to feature more heavily in the new alliance's work in future.

2. The European Union and Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy

Virtually all UK food law is now based on directives negotiated in the European Union (EU) and the next round of reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) presents a significant opportunity to change the very underpinning of the EU's food policy. 

The SAFE Alliance has expertise in the environmental and rural implications of CAP reform, in its staff and membership.  In addition, through its links with similar organisations in the rest of Europe (REPAS, the European Network of Alliances for Sustainable Agriculture ) has increased legitimacy in the EU as a commentator on the reforms.  The NFA has recently completed a paper for the Consumers in Europe Group which makes recommendations for CAP reform to improve its impact on diet and nutrition.  This combination of expertise is potentially formidable.

3. The UK Government

The Labour Government is generating Green and White Papers and other policy initiatives from many government departments, several of which have food policy implications of interest to the both alliances and their membership.  These include the White paper on the Food Standards Agency, and the Green Papers on public health (Our Healthier Nation) and on sustainable development (Opportunities for Change).  These initiatives create opportunities for a new, unified alliance and its broader membership to develop coherent policy positions and engage more closely, in the policy development process.  Indeed Government has already signalled its desire to deal with fewer organisation, so integration goes very much with the grain of political discourse.

It is in this context of global, European and national food policy developments that the integration of the NFA and the SAFE Alliance is taking place.  The timing could hardly be more auspicious.

B. The Benefits of Integration

5. The Current Alliances

The NFA represents 71 national public interest organisations including voluntary, professional, health, consumer and environmental bodies working at international, national, regional and community level.  It aims to enable the people of the UK to fulfil their potential through food policies and practices that enhance public health, improve the working and living environment and enrich society.

The SAFE Alliance exists to unite 43 farmer, environmental, consumer, animal welfare and development organisations.  They share a common vision of food production which is beneficial to the environment, sensitive to the need for global equity, and which produces safe and healthy food in a manner supportive of rural life and culture.

6. Likely Benefits of Integration

A wide range of benefits are likely to flow from integrating the two alliances.  The following, listed in no particular order, are among those that have already been proposed:
* a tangible and practical way of creating links between public health and environmental sustainability, and of promoting the "bigger vision" for food policy, which is in tune with current trend for 'joined-up thinking';
* a larger and therefore more influential organisation with policy makers in the public and private sector;
* a more integrated and attractive funding proposition, and a way of saving administrative costs and time by streamlining activities
* a way of making the maximum use of members' time and expertise by cutting down on the number of general meetings while, at the same time, generating new, cross-sectoral links.


7. Possible Risks

It is as well to be aware of any potential problems with integrating the two alliances so that these dangers can be avoided or minimised.  Again, in no particular order, they might include:
* a lack of clarity in the alliance's identity and purpose, given the sheer size and diversity of the membership;
* disagreement among the membership (or possible loss of membership) due to misconceptions and/or different terminology between different types of groups;
* the costs of creating and marketing a new body and the difficulties of raising money from funders that focus on a particular issue, as the alliance will cover such a wide range

8. Progress so far, and a Timetable for Completion

9 September 1997 - Principle of integration agreed by SAFE Alliance membership
21 October 1997 - Principle of integration agreed by NFA membership
9 December 1997 - Issue discussed in more detail at a meeting of the NFA's Management     Committee to which SAFE Council members were invited
19 December 1997 - Grant of 11,950 approved by Baring Foundation towards the costs     of the integration
16 April 1998  - Full day meeting involving an independent facilitator and all available 
members of the NFA's Management Committee and SAFE Council to explore wider implications of integration and agree a broad timetable
11 May 1998  - First meeting of integration working party of staff and elected officers
    from both alliances
17 June 1998  - First joint meeting of the governing bodies of both alliances and draft     merger document debated by Trustees
August   - Merger document approved and distributed to membership of both     alliances
September/October - Separate meetings for members to discuss proposals, followed by      postal vote.  Assuming positive vote...
1 January 1999 - Integration completed, barring some financial details
1 April 1999  - Financial and accounting systems fully integrated
Summer 1999  - Formal launch of new alliance

C. The Integration Proposals

These proposals aim to maximise the strengths of both alliances.

9. Constitution and Charitable Status

Proposal: The new alliance will be a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.

Organisations that are not registered charities face enormous difficulties raising money, as many donors will not give funds to such bodies.  The NFA has been a registered charity from the outset.  However, the SAFE Alliance has only fairly recently acquired a charitable "arm" (the SAFE Charitable Trust) and its current work is carried out by the non-charitable organisation.  Some SAFE Alliance members fear that some  future initiatives may be prohibited by charity law.  However, it does not appear that any of SAFE's current work would fall foul of charity law, since it is much less restrictive than people think and aims mainly to avoid mixing charitable activity with party politics, not the political process per se. 

If people accept the above proposal there are two possibilities: First, keep the basic constitution of one alliance, update amend it appropriately to reflect the needs of the new alliance, and dissolve the other alliance.  This is likely to be relatively quick and cheap and would avoid having to re-register as a charity and company limited by guarantee.  A possible disadvantage is that, if not properly managed, this process could appear more like a take-over than an integration. 

Second, start from scratch.  This will not appear to be a take-over, but is likely to be more expensive and time-consuming. Staff are currently seeking the advice of the Charity Commission on these two options, and are also examining the constitutions of the two alliances with a view to updating and integrating them.   

10. Organisational structure


Membership (around 90 organisations) - quarterly meetings
Governing body (15 members) - Trustees and Chair- quarterly meetings
Co-ordinating staff
     |                                                            |                                             | 
Policy/Project Working party           Working party                     Working party etc. 
Chaired by Trustee                          Chaired by Trustee           Chaired by Trustee
     |                                                            |                                             | 
Project Staff                                       Project Staff                        Project Staff    

Rationale:  The NFA and SAFE Alliance's current structures are already closely compatible and the above structure merely formalises those arrangements.  The only change would be that some of the SAFE Alliance's current projects would need to establish working parties (see below).

* Membership: procedure
Proposal: Members of both alliances will be encouraged to apply, en bloc, to "join" the new organisation and must pay a membership fee (based on the new NFA scale), as from 1 April 1999.  Membership meetings would continue to be quarterly until such time as the membership wished to review the frequency.

Rationale: Formally, depending on whether we choose to keep and amend one constitution and, if so, which one, all the members of the other alliance should join the existing organisation.  However, symbolically, it is important for the members of both alliances to "pledge" themselves to the new body. 

The SAFE Alliance agreed last year that, for the first time, its members should pay a membership fee.  Last year the NFA concluded a lengthy process of agreeing a sliding scale of membership fees.  The latter has been proposed since it is both fair and would generate more income for the new organisation.  Both alliances currently negotiate lower fees for members in financial difficulties and it is proposed that this system continue.  However, no member or observer is permitted to waive the fee in its entirety.

The new alliance would retain the NFA system for admitting new members i.e. organisations apply by completing a form and/or sending appropriate documents, these are reviewed by the Management Committee, and a recommendation is put to the next quarterly members' meeting.  In this way the Management Committee and the membership as a whole reserve the right to refuse membership to any organisation if they consider it to be incompatible with the alliance's aims and work.

* Membership: Criteria
Proposal: Membership will be open to national organisations that do not distribute profits to private shareholders and that support the general aims and work of the new alliance.

As the organisation is constructed on the basis of one vote per member organisation it would seem necessary to establish some broad equivalence between them.  A mixture of national and local bodies risks unbalancing the alliance e.g. if all the local branches of a national organisation joined, it would be possible for their combined voting power to outvote all the remaining national members. 

National is broadly defined to include organisations operating only in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, or in the UK as a whole.  On the principle outlined above, if a UK body exists but has a federal structure with other UK nations, the alliance would only accept an application from the UK body and not from its federal parts.  Moreover, it is not necessary for a national organisation to have a network of local branches or contacts across the country.  It is sufficient for that organisation to be the only one of its kind and to have a national remit.

Finally, on this issue, it may be worth noting that membership of policy or project working parties is not confined to members.  Indeed, several working parties already contain representatives from organisations that would not be eligible for membership of either of the current alliances.

Non-profit distributing
The charitable status of an organisation is not a particularly good guide to whether or not they would be appropriate members.  A number of current members of both alliances are not charities and it is not intended to exclude them.  Conversely, many organisations have charitable status but would be entirely inappropriate members.  There are no commonly accepted definitions of "non-governmental" or "public interest" organisation so these do not seem helpful as membership criteria.

Both alliances have excluded, and wish to continue to exclude, commercial organisations.  However, most organisations in membership generate some income from commercial activities i.e. the sale of goods and services.  Moreover, many are connected - directly or indirectly - to a particular profession or type of work.  If the alliance was to exclude from membership all organisations with this type of "interest" the membership would be a great deal smaller than currently.

The rather inelegant phrase "non-profit distributing" is intended to exclude directly commercial organisations while avoiding excluding those organisations that engage in commercial activity but which do not distribute profits to private shareholders.

Support the alliance's aims and work
Proposal:  Prospective members will be expected to support the general aims and work of the new alliance (see name and purpose below), but will not be required to support particular policy statements.

Rationale: The two alliances currently have a different approach to establishing whether prospective members would be supportive.  The NFA obtains material about the applicant and assesses, on the basis of this material and also what is known about the organisation, whether or not it would be an appropriate member.  A small number of applicants that were eligible in terms of being national and non-profit distributing have been turned down on the basis that they could not say, or the NFA did not believe, that they supported the alliance's aims and work.

The SAFE Alliance asks prospective members to agree with a policy statement on sustainable agriculture and CAP reform which was drafted in 1992.  Organisations that do not agree with this statement cannot join the SAFE Alliance.

The NFA also has a number of policy statements (on, for example, food advertising, urban agriculture and cooking skills) but agreement with these positions is not a criteria for membership.  Rather, members are asked to endorse policy statements on a case by case basis (see policy and project working parties below).  Members refuse to endorse policy statements either because they do not agree with them or, more commonly, because the subject area falls outside their competence and it would simply not be relevant to support the policy.  Indeed, for those organisations that are registered charities, they should not support policies which fall clearly outside their charitable purposes.

* Trustees and Officers
Proposal: The new alliance's membership will continue to elect a governing body of trustees from among the membership to promote the development of the alliance as a whole.  Trustees will therefore not represent their organisation on the governing body.  We need to decide what to call this body.  Proposals include Board, Council, and Management Committee, though there are probably many others. It proposed that the body comprises 15 Trustees and the Officers of the alliance will be the Chair and the Treasurer, who will be elected by the Trustees from among their number.  The alliance's co-ordinator will be the Company Secretary. 

Trustees and officers will be elected for three year terms, and can serve a maximum of two consecutive terms. (Note: At the 2004 AGM members agreed to abolish the maximum term of office, but keep the issue under regular review).

In consultation with the membership the Trustees may appoint a President, Vice-Presidents or Patrons to act as non-elected, and non-voting "ambassadors" for the alliance.  Such posts will be filled for three years and individuals may serve a maximum of two consecutive terms.  (Note: Council agreed in 2003 that these posts had not served a useful function for Sustain and so abolished them.)

Provided that all eligible members join or remain members or observers of the new organisation, it would have a membership of around 90 (71 + 33 - 14 overlapping or ineligible members).  The SAFE Alliance Council currently has seven members. It has been the NFA's policy to seek one trustee per five members, to ensure that the Alliance's governing body stayed in proportion to the size of the Alliance as a whole, and reflected the diversity of membership.  Thus there are 14 members on the current NFA Management Committee. 

In the past both alliances have experienced difficulties in finding sufficient numbers of trustees, and to keep to the 1:5 ratio would mean electing four new ones, bringing the total number of the new management committee to 18.

Such numbers are likely to be rather unwieldy and a governing body of 15 is proposed.  This should be reviewed after the new body has been in operation for a year.  Management committee meetings should continue to be quarterly, at least for the first year.

Current NFA rules state that trustees, including officers, are elected for a three year term, with a maximum of two consecutive terms.  After a one year break, another term of office is possible.  The current year, 1998/9, will be the final permissible year of Geoffrey Cannon's second term as NFA Chair.  As a "new" organisation it would be feasible for Geoffrey to stand again but he has already stated that he does not wish to do so.  The position of Patrick Holden, Chair of the SAFE Alliance, is not clear at time of writing.

Arguably, it is symbolically important that the new alliance has a new Chair.  Moreover, this does not mean that we will lose the expertise of either Geoffrey or Patrick, since the latter can remain a Trustee and the former could become a non-elected officer (see below). 

* Policy and Project Working Parties
Proposal: All policy initiatives and projects by the new organisation will be guided by a working party which is chaired by a trustee, who reports to the governing body.

Rationale: This is how NFA policies and projects have been developed since 1994 and it ensures not only access to relevant expertise but also ownership of the policies and projects by, at least, those members on the working party and, usually, beyond.  Having a Trustee as Working Party Chair creates a formal link between the working party and the Council so that the working party remains accountable - both in policy terms and financially - to the membership as a whole, and not just those members directly involved. 

Where they do not already exist, working parties will be created for those projects currently being run by SAFE.  This would not only attain the advantages outlined above but also, by ensuring NFA and SAFE Alliance members work alongside each other on a variety of policies and projects, help cement the new alliance.

Similarly,  representatives from the SAFE membership should be invited onto any existing NFA working parties that do not already have such representation.

11. Funding

Projected income and expenditure for both organisations to the end of March 1999 has been calculated.

* Core
Proposal:  The 25% charge on project income which the NFA allocates to core funding will be retained by the new organisation, alongside the new sliding scale of membership fees recently developed by the NFA (see above).   Grants for core funds should continue to be sought from government and charitable foundations, and the prohibition on seeking core funds from the private sector whose business is wholly or mainly food-related should continue.  A 50% charge on sales revenue from projects will be allocated to the core, as it is the core administrator who undertakes the work associated with sales.  (Note: These percentage charges have now been replaced by full cost recovery accounting systems.)

Rationale: Given the difficulty of raising funds for the core work of voluntary organisations in general, which seems likely to continue, the 25% charge on project income and 50% charge on project sales is an invaluable way of contributing to the continued viability of the new alliance.  The charges also represent real costs to the core by projects and so can be justified to funders.  The rationale for the membership fees is given above, while the reasons for the prohibition on food-related private sector funds for core work need no rehearsal here.

* Projects
It should be noted that SAFE has an EU project grant to develop food and environment indicators.  The work will be undertaken with partner organisations in France, Portugal and Spain.  There is a good case for retaining the SAFE bank account until the project is complete in order to keep the complex EU arrangements separate from the new organisation, and also to avoid having to renegotiate with the EU.  The project is due to conclude at the end of February 1999.

12. Staffing structure

          |                                                             |                                                    |
  Deputy Co-ordinator                                 |                           Deputy Co-ordinator  
     |                              |                                   |                            |                                |
Project Officer     Project Officer       Admin. officer         Project Officer      Project Officer
Project Asst.        Project Asst.                                           Project Asst.         Project Asst.

Rationale:  For family reasons the SAFE Alliance co-ordinator did not wish to co-ordinate the new alliance and was happy to take on a deputy role.   

13. Membership Services and Administration

* Newsletter
Proposal:  The membership will continue to get a quarterly newsletter, which would have a similar structure to the NFA's Digest but which would be expanded to include the material currently incorporated in the SAFE newsletter.  Digest should continue to be circulated to subscribers to the Food Commission's Food Magazine.  (Note: This arrangement has now been discontinued, but Sustain members continue to get the Food Magazine as well as Digest, as part of their membership services.)

Rationale: Newsletters are a vital way of ensuring the membership stay in touch with developments, both within the membership and in the wider world.  The "browsable" format of Digest and its neutral tone has been widely praised.  Circulating the newsletter with the Food Magazine also means it is a useful way of publicising the organisation's work to a larger audience.  Merging the newsletters should not only save considerable staff time, but also enhance the quality of the newsletter by broadening the range of material it covers.

* Administration
Proposal:  Since December 1997 both organisations already share the same office.  We will begin to merge software, databases, book-keeping systems, etc. gradually, as soon as seems appropriate.

Rationale: Merging office systems is another way in which staff time can be saved at the same time as retaining or even enhancing the quality of the services offered to members and enquirers, and there seems no point in waiting until after 1 January 1999 to do this.

14. Name and Purpose

Logically, a new organisation should have a new name.  It is also an important symbol, both internally to NFA and SAFE Alliance members, and to the rest of the world, which signifies integration rather than a take-over.  A summary of the organisation's purpose or "mission" is a helpful way to describe to the media and others why we exist and what we do.

Proposal: There are currently no firm proposals and it is intended that ideas will be collected in the process of drafting the constitution and this consultation document.

Rationale:  Given the context outlined in section one, it would makes sense to drop "National".  "Alliance" accurately describes what both organisations currently are and what the new body will become but other synonyms are also possible e.g. coalition or network.

"Food" is the focus of the alliance's work, in that it will not deal with non-edible agricultural products such as cotton.  Other additions have been suggested, including "agriculture", "farming", "sustainable", "safe", "healthy" and so on.  All have value, but even this long list could be extended (e.g. "equitable",  "democratic", "distribution/retailing/ marketing...").  These concepts could, perhaps, be incorporated into a "descriptor" such as "Working together for a sustainable food system". 

15. Launch

Proposal: The first AGM of the new organisation should take place in mid-1999 and should be the opportunity for a public launch and celebration.

Rationale: Provided all goes according to plan, the new organisation should be formally "born" on 1 April 1999, and all the membership of both alliances, together with some of the rest of the world, should already be aware of why the integration took place and the benefits it will bring.  Nonetheless, not everyone will have been paying close attention and, in any case, a public celebratory event should help to confirm and strengthen new alliance.

A new design for the new organisation's headed paper, publications and other materials will be commissioned, though funding is not currently available for a particularly sophisticated corporate makeover!  If funding becomes available we will create a "prospectus" for the new alliance along the lines of the NFA's 10th anniversary publication.


Originally written in 11 June 1998 and edited in March 2007.

The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2024
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies