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What could Starmer and Sunak do for farmers?
Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak will both tackle the subject of food security when they address the NFU conference this week. With farmers earning less than 1p on the food they produce for supermarkets, as revealed by Sustain's Unpicking Food Prices report, the first step towards a more nutritionally food secure UK is creating a fairer, diverse, and more resilient supply chain.
Download: Unpicking Food Prices
Food security has shot up the political agenda and is a theme that all political parties will use to set the scene for how they will approach food and farming policy.
Both Starmer (in-person) and Sunak (via pre-recorded video) must address the issues of a consolidated and unfair market, trade deals that force UK farmers to compete against low standard and cheaper food imports, detrimentally low farm incomes and worker wages, intensive farming harming climate and nature, and the issues of diet related to health. They need to acknowledge that this cocktail of problems is a serious threat to UK food security and all political parties should commit to tackling them.
If we look at low farm incomes, we can see why there needs to be a rounded approach to policy. Unpicking Food Prices found that farmers who sell into the supermarket chain often receive less than 1% of the profit made on key items like sliced bread, beefburgers, carrots, and cheese. In some cases, farmers make no profit because supermarkets see items as a loss leader. How can farmers be expected to be more sustainable and resilient if they are squeezed tightly by an oligopoly marketplace?
So, it is crucial that Starmer, Sunak, Davey, and others make the right noises on the need to tackle these problems in a cohesive and holistic way. If they are serious about supporting farmers towards a better and resilient future, they must commit to:
- Introducing new food supply chain codes of practice (for large intermediaries) with a strong enforcement mechanism to cut abusive practices and contracts.
- Retaining the independence of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) and ensure that it has the capacity and the remit to address new issues.
- A programme to catalyse growth in better food trading and a more diverse food market across the UK.
- Funding that would stimulate local food enterprise, infrastructure, and decent jobs in all parts of the country.
This is a moment for parties to seize on the opportunity of a big programme to make the UK’s food system fair, sustainable, resilient, healthy, and affordable. Only then can we claim a more food secure UK.
Download our Unpicking Food Prices report here.
Published 20 Feb 2023
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James has been working at Sustain since September 2020 and works on farming and local food system policy and campaigns. He also sits on the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership Board. He has worked in farm advice at Natural England, farming policy at Defra, and on animal welfare issues at the NFU. James is passionate about agroecological farming, fairness in the food system, and is an aspiring farmer.
Sustainable Farming Campaign
Vicki Hird MSc FRES is an award winning expert, author, strategist and senior manager who has been working on environment, food and farming issues for over 30 years. As part- time Head of Sustainable Farming at Sustain, Vicki manages the farm team, policy, research and related campaigning and provides comment and guidance on these issues.
Head of Sustainable Farming Sustainable Farming Campaign
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