How do we deal with nightmare mega-farms & post-Brexit food insecurity?
19 July 2017
There’s been two pretty terrifying stories about food and farming in the media this last week. Taken together they could be seen to foreshadow a dystopian future where insecurities about how we manage to get enough food to feed the UK paves the way for massive corporate mega-farms practicing super-intensive agriculture taking over food production with massive consequences for rural communities, the environment and animal welfare.
So we’re not quite at ‘Blade Runner food systems’ just yet, but these stories are related and should rightfully be giving cause for concern.
On the one hand, a number of articles warned us that the UK was “sleepwalking' into food insecurity after Brexit”, based on a study written by food policy experts from three different universities. The report argues that there are “serious risks that standards of food safety will decline if the UK ceases to adopt EU safety rules, and instead accepts free-trade agreements with countries with significantly weaker standards,” and that the UK could be heading for the sort of price and supply volatility that hasn’t been seen since the 1930s. It accuses government ministers of “an astonishing act of political irresponsibility” through their silence about the future of UK food and warns of chaos unless action is taken.
The second article warned of the rise of the corporate mega farms in the UK, and how “demand for cheaper food and lower production costs is turning green fields into industrial sheds to process vast amounts of meat and poultry”. An investigation showed that the number of these mega farms that intensively raise livestock was rocketing in the UK, with almost 800 of them operating across the country, and having increased by a quarter in the last six years. There’s enormous concerns about these farms from their environmental impacts of these farms, to the welfare of the animals, and about the systemic use of antibiotics harming their effectiveness for treating serious conditions in human populations.
As the article in the Guardian says: “With Brexit, campaigners fear the pressure from international trade may bring even more US-style practices to Britain. British farm standards have been higher than EU-wide welfare practices in the past, and now are in line with the EU, but in future there could be pressure to lower standards in order to compete with imports.”
The big agribusiness industry has put so much effort into falsely positioning itself as the solution to world hunger, so no one should be surprised if these companies were not poised to swoop in and overhaul what’s left of UK agriculture according to its maxims of profit over people, riding high on people's anxieties over how the UK is going to achieve food security in the future.
BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THAT!
There is a well-thought out and credible plan of how we can start to swerve neatly away from these dystopian visions of food here and now, and start developing the UK agricultural sector in a way that not only addresses issues of food security, but does so in a way that is embedded with values of environmental and social justice.
A People’s Food Policy, which was released last month, is a ground-breaking manifesto outlining a people’s vision of food and farming in England that is supported by over 80 food and farming organisations. (In Scotland the government is already some way towards developing such a policy, while in both Scotland and Wales civil society groups have put forward proposals of their own).
The report draws on 18 months of extensive, nation-wide consultations with grassroots organisations, NGOs, trade unions, community projects, small businesses and individuals. It has resulted in a set of policy proposals and a vision for change that is rooted in the lived experiences and needs of people most affected by the failures in the current food system.
Astoundingly, there is no over-arching food policy in England despite the massive challenges that we are facing, which is why civil society food and farming groups came together to lay out such a policy. Their proposal presents a progressive, transformative and practical vision, rather than falling back on the ‘business as usual’ model that has resulted in more and more farmland being swallowed up by agribusiness companies using techniques that trash the soil and climate while entrenching power over our food systems at the expense of smaller farmers.
We’re at a fork in the road in the UK right now in terms of our food policy. The more the government buries it’s head in the sand, the more likely we are to drift towards the corporate control of agriculture. The more we can support the likes of the UK Food Sovereignty Movement to push progressive proposals like A People’s Food Policy, the more chance of providing access to food for everyone without compromising on the wellbeing of people, the health of the environment, and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.