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Sustain looks forward to alliance priorities for 2017

Sustain’s Brexit-themed Annual Gathering took place on 17 January, the day that PM Theresa May gave her long-awaited speech on the principles on which the UK will negotiate our departure from the EU and the European Single Market. Sustain's coordinator Kath Dalmeny looks forward to our alliance priorities for 2017.

Edited transcript of a talk delivered by Kath Dalmeny, Chief Executive of Sustain, at the Sustain Annual Gathering and Public Debate, 17th January 2017

In these disruptive and uncertain times, it is good to get together with friends and colleagues, to focus on positive ways forward. It feels like a unified alliance for better food and farming is needed more than ever. Every idea and conversation seems to take us a step forward towards sensible solutions.

At Sustain, we are looking to the future, and feeling more determined than ever to promote the “eminent good sense” of a healthy, fair, humane and sustainable food system. I want to share with you the kinds of conversation we’ve been having recently, in this spirit of determination. When I say “we”, I mean “we” the alliance – all of us working together in a really powerful way.

Securing a sustainable fish future

Working together, we (the alliance) have now persuaded caterers that serve over 0.7 billion meals a year to sign up to our sustainable fish policy. Pretty impressive. But is it our job to carry on hand-holding individual businesses and institutions to get on board? When do we reach and recognise a tipping point (or perhaps a shoving point) to shift our success to a new level and demand radical policy change? Can we throw our weight behind a call for Maximum Sustainable Yield fishing, Marine Protection Areas and sensible Brexit fish policy? Are we strong enough now to campaign for every single piece of fish traded and eaten in this country to come only from verifiably sustainable sources? Is anything less good enough? And if we sought these changes, then what mechanisms would we use to do so? If you’d like to take part in this conversation, please get in touch.

Fair access to good food for everyone

Working together, we’ve helped about 20 cities and boroughs around the UK to adopt food poverty action plans. Previously, the shameful national response to food poverty has been “let hungry people eat food waste”. We’re helping local authorities and institutions tackle the root causes and provide – healthy start, living wage, meals on wheels, hardship funds. Emergency food aid will continue, and that’s important. But even our local policy approach isn’t enough. What can we learn from systemic approaches in Scotland and Wales? The Welsh Government has made £0.5m available to tackle holiday hunger for disadvantaged children; Scotland is committed to a Good Food Nation Bill and exploring legislation to give people Food Rights. We need government to step up to securing long-term solutions and legal duties to end modern-day hunger. We’ll be exploring this in the coming months, working with End Hunger UK and the new UK Food Poverty Alliance.

Good food on prescription

Working together, we have demonstrated that community food growing can offer measurable benefits to people with long-term health conditions – depression, Alzheimer’s, recovery from physical problems. We have helped several pioneering food-growing groups make sense of CCGs and gain paid commissions to offer “food growing on prescription”. Well, how can we start moving this beyond the pioneers and make this a normal, sensible and well-recognised approach for health professionals? GPs everywhere could be referring people to food growing, Real Bread making, healthy eating clubs and more. We have a vision for food in social prescribing, and would welcome your involvement.

Detoxifying the nation’s food supply

Working together, we won ever stronger controls on junk food marketing to children and a sugary drinks tax, hypothecated to pay for children’s health promotion. During 2016, we have worked with Jamie Oliver to run the Children’s Health Fund to show that it is viable and publicly acceptable. Somewhat strangely – our success is such that, this has become one of the only planks of government policy on Childhood Obesity. But so much is still missing. The Sustain alliance needs to step up the public pressure and momentum. Our brand new Sugar Smart campaign, working with Sustainable Food Cities and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, and inspired by the pioneering work of the Food Commission and Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (CASSH) will build a movement of people taking action locally to de-sugar schools, hospitals, venues, leisure centres, checkouts and catering outlets. We hope this army of sugar activists may give government more courage to act, and put pressure on manufacturers and supermarkets to develop healthier products and promotions. This is part of our top-down and bottom-up model of change. Please do sign up your organisation or community to get involved.

Sustainable farming (and fishing)

This is a huge theme, and this brief note does not give it full justice. Sustain’s Brexit Forum (November 2016) and Annual Gathering (January 2017) have sustainable farming and land use among their core themes, and Sustain’s strategy on Brexit is discussed elsewhere. For this forward look to the coming year, let me give just a flavour, an aperitif.

Our renewed programme of work on Sustainable Farming and Land Use will be looking at “public money for public good” – how subsidies, taxes and research money shape farming and the environment, made ever more relevant by Brexit. Our sustainable farming work is also looking at securing fair trading conditions for farmers – through a twin approach. We’re advocating for better supermarket regulation (principally extension of Groceries Code Adjudicator protection to farmers, fishers and other food providers in the supply chain); and also supporting the emerging movement of ethical and community retailers, trading with values (for example, Food Co-ops and the Better Food Traders network). We will also be looking at improving the conditions and rights for farm workers, particularly those most vulnerable to labour exploitation and being swept aside by anti-immigration sentiment, rising food prices and trends in agriculture such as de-regulation and automation.

And then (of course) there’s Brexit…

I could talk all day about the many strands of work that are now emerging, including those being run by individual Sustain members, and environmentally-focused work being coordinated by our sister Green Alliance. 50 or so Sustain members and others attended our Sustain Brexit Forum in November, 90 organisations signed our letter to the government’s Brexit Department, and 80+ people are attending our Brexit-themed Annual Gathering in January.

Much will evolve, so here is just a flavour of some themes that Sustain will be actively pursuing over the coming months, as time, resources and opportunities allow. Priorities are likely to include:

  • Advocating for policies and mechanisms that can achieve better trading conditions for farmers, and better conditions for employees and seasonal workers on farms.
  • Convening and contributing to discussions about how to achieve ‘public money for public goods’ in farm support, research funding and tax breaks.
  • Ensuring that people’s voices are heard – including those experiencing food hardship; and also food workers, farmers and fishers who will be most affected by Brexit and whose voices are currently under-represented.
  • Holding Government to task and watching like hawks to ensure that the good progress made over the past few decades (for example, standards for public sector food procurement, food safety and consumer protection) doesn’t have the regulatory rug pulled out from underneath. Much is potentially under threat.
  • Coming together behind a new Act of Parliament: for Healthy, Fair, Humane and Sustainable Food. It’s time to get serious. This could be a rallying point, a way to organise the movement in favour of important principles. We need to set the strong legal foundations to build on for the future.

My message to the Sustain alliance is: thank you for all that you do, and all that we do together. We look forward to working with you ever more closely in the no-doubt tumultuous years ahead.

This talk was followed by Sustain’s Annual Gathering and Public Debate (17 January 2017, with 90 attendees), with Lord Don Curry of Kirkharle as the keynote speaker addressing the theme 'What shall we do about Brexit?' The evening featured considered responses from Sustain's Sustainable Farming campaign; the National Trust; ClientEarth; Food Ethics Council; Global Justice Now; Unison; Which? (Consumers Association); and the Faculty of Public Health. These talks were followed by lively discussions and networking.

18 Jan 2017
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