Ethical report calls for farmer power to reverse food chain injustice

Urgent action is needed to address the failing food system in Britain and to give farmers the power to set farm policy.

A report by the Food Ethics Council says farmers are best-placed to set agricultural policy in Britain while consumers should be educated about the social and environmental implications of cheap food.

The Food Injustice Report, published following a 12-month investigation into social injustice in food and farming, says farmers, agricultural workers, the environment and consumers all suffer under the current food system.

The food sector industry leaders who carried out the investigation said they wanted to see major changes in finance, trade and employment to make the system fairer.

Helen Browning, chairman of the Food and Fairness Inquiry, which was set up by the Food Ethics Council, said the inquiry had tested the investigation team, but its members had a common understanding of the deep injustices in food and farming.

“The challenges ahead are formidable, but the Food and Fairness Inquiry process has shown me that together we can meet them,” she said.

Recommendations in the report include the government giving farmers a fair say in setting farming policies and ensuring small-scale producers can access land and markets to safeguard food security.

It also calls for a redefinition of “affordable” in relation to cheap food.

“Everybody will have to recognise the environmental and social consequences of ‘cheap’ food,” the report says.

Paul Whitehouse, chairman of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and a member of the investigation team, said people had become disconnected with the land and with farmers.

“In the UK we have become used to the all-year-round supply of food that used to be available only on a seasonal basis,” said Mr Whitehouse. “It’s good that food is cheap, but those who produce it are entitled to a fair reward. We all have a part to play in achieving this.”

The report was welcomed by farming leaders including Gareth Vaughan, president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales.

He said farmers’ representatives had once taken a more proactive role in helping to formulate national farming policy and recommendations in the report would see a return to this.

“In Wales, we are not as involved as closely with DEFRA ministers as we once were. Years ago there were panels of people who used to advise the minister,” he said.