Tag Archives: food

How Secure is Britain’s Food Supply?

Written by Victoria Martindale, Parliamentary Candidate for Erewash

Victoria MartindaleAs part of British Science Week (13th to 22nd March 2015) I joined a panel of experts and politicians to discuss food security in Britain at Derby Museum and Art Gallery.

The UK faces a number of challenges to its food security, including long food supply chains, ‘food deserts’ in inner cities, wealth distribution imbalance, climate change and competition from abroad. These pose a real threat to the UK consumer; it is possible that food will become more expensive, choice limited or foods unavailable. Only this week we were warned that the cost of a new “Driver Certificate of Professional Competence” for transport haulers across the EU raises the prospect of ’empty shelves’.

In the 1980s the UK used to be about 80% self-sufficient in foods that can be grown here. This has now dropped to around 65%. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has recently raised concerns that this may be too low. As a nation, we increasingly rely on international markets to provide us with the huge range and affordability of food which we have grown accustomed to.

Questions put to the panel included:

• Is the UK in a vulnerable situation regarding its future food security?
• Following the horsemeat scandal in 2013 should consumers be concerned about the quality and security of their food?
• Are organic foods healthier and better for the environment? Is it fair to expect UK consumers to pay the price premium for these products?
• Are low food prices responsible for the incredible levels of food waste in households in the UK?
• What can be done concerning the incredibly low prices paid by supermarkets to UK dairy farmers forcing them out of business?
• Food banks are rising across the UK. Much of the burden has fallen on charities but is this really the Governments responsibility?

Panel – The chair was Professor Paul Lynch, Head of Natural Sciences at the University of Derby.

The speakers were:
Wyn Morgan, Food economist at the University of Nottingham;
Paul Paine, Garden Co-ordinator at Ecoworks;
Julia Davies, Head of Environmental Sciences at Nottingham Trent University;
Lucy Care, Liberal Democrat candidate for Derby North and
Victoria Martindale,  Derby Green Party Representative.

There was an informative and lively discussion on the night.  For space reasons, let me limit this blog to a few key messages.

I am sure many of you can remember the shocking headline news last autumn. Britain, we were informed, could be plunged into blackouts over the winter. We were warned of the risk of power cuts and electricity failures wrecking havoc over the winter for many households and businesses across the UK. But did we have any of these black outs? No we didn’t. Who was responsible for putting these stories out there? The big energy companies. Why? In response to new EU legislation that restricted their dependency on fossil fuels these massive profit churning companies wanted to legitimize their ongoing use of polluting fossil fuels and justify getting their dirty hands onto our shale gas and fracking up our country. They did so by spreading fear across the country.

This tendency to generate a state of fear, insecurity and panic among the British public and government is a ploy corporations often turn to in an attempt to justify their means to realise vast profits for themselves. It’s nothing more than scaremongering and their agenda is driven by nothing other than corporate greed.

IF_logo_banner_2_420x210The food security issue is similar to the energy security one. We are frequently warned that with a predicted extra 2 billion mouths to feed by 2050 we could be facing food shortages. We were scared with threats of ‘empty food shelves’ this time. Really? Will we all be struggling to find enough food to feed ourselves and will our children’s children be at risk of starving to death? Shock! Horror! However, just like in the energy debate, you need to stop a moment and look at who lays behind these sensationalist stories. In this case it was the NFU scaring us with empty food shelves.

The NFU is effectively the political arm of DEFRA. With its huge wealth comes huge power and influence over the UK’s agricultural policies. Its agenda is to maximise production, yields and exports in order to maximize the revenue and profits for its members, many of whom are already among the wealthiest of this country. It wants to drive an industrialised food production process which is heavily chemical dependent, savages the environment, and spits out poor quality mass produced food that is bad for our health and forces smaller scale farmers out of business.

CowsIt’s time we faced up to the powerful monolithic institutions like the NFU and put the food security issue into perspective. If we display one iota of honesty we are not in a food crisis and we are not by any means about to be confronted with a single empty food shelf. However, that’s very different from saying we don’t need to address how we feed everyone and look closely at our production and distribution processes. We do and we also need to face up to our responsibilities to those in developing countries who don’t have food security even in today’s modern world.

The other likely scaremongering suspects are the global high tech enterprises like Bayer Cropscience, Monsanto and Syngenta. They use food scares to legitimize their development of GM crops under the Panglossian guise it is the answer to all the world’s problems and is the only means to achieve food security for everyone. Yeh right.

The continued industry promises about the ability of GM crops to tackle the world’s growing social problems are pure myth. GM crops are linked to massive increases in herbicide use, increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the expansion of mono-cultural farming practices and increased costs all along the food chain which the already starving and poor of the world can’t afford. They require huge areas of forests and valuable natural habitats to be cleared.

This is ecologically devastating and overrides people’s rights to their native ancestral land, food, natural resources and traditions. GM crops are patented too with over two thirds of all patented food crops in the hands of the top ten companies such as Monsanto, Bayer, Syngenta, Pioneer and Dow. This means they monopolise the market and it allows them to control the research, breeding and ultimately the entire food chain of GM crops which returns them profits of eye watering proportions.

Attempts to produce GM crops that are resistant to climate change, floods, drought tolerant, altered photosynthesis, and exacerbate intensive farming are all attempts by corporates to earn billions at huge cost to the environment, society and local communities, and our health rather than addressing the real challenges of sustainable food production like combating climate change in the first place.

Over_Farm_produce_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1611242Research shows that we can feed a growing global population a nutritious diet without environmentally damaging factory farms and GM crops. This requires addressing the underlying difficult, but very important issues that currently affect food security and making fundamental changes to the way food is produced, distributed and consumed. The aim should be to provide healthy sustainable diets for all whilst living within environmental limits.

The Green Party believes that GM foods are not the answer to food security. Instead, it promotes a set of sustainable policies based upon local production and distribution, lower meat and dairy consumption, more seasonal produce and which protect livelihoods and biodiversity to provide everyone with healthy nutritious foods.

So, when asking about Britain’s food security, be careful who you ask.

Victoria Martindale
Green Shoots Editor

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‘Farmageddon’

FarmyardAccording to the ‘Farming Industry’ and Agribusiness, the way in which creation has evolved is hideously wrong. You cannot cook and eat a chicken unless you pluck the feathers off which is a waste of time and money. So the farming industry has developed chickens without feathers. Instead of allowing cows to ruminate freely in fields of grass, it has decided it is much better to keep cows in narrow pens, feed them grain that has been processed and saturated in pesticides and to genetically modify the cow so that it can be milked more frequently in order to increase milk yields. The farming industry says animals are much more efficient food producers if they are kept in tightly confined cages and pens and fed a very intensive high protein diet.

The folly of this way of thinking and the disastrous consequences of the industry’s interference in nature is meticulously documented in a highly distressing and disturbing book by the CEO of ‘Compassion in World Farming’. It is a grim story of devastating dimensions. We are busy creating our own new version of a hell of tortured and abused farm animals, polluted and poisoned land, rivers and seas and a range of new diseases in both animals and humans alike derived from the phosphates, nitrates and other highly toxic chemicals used in pesticides and fertilisers and animal feed. There is, according to ‘Farmageddon’, clear evidence that these poisons and toxins are gradually finding their way into the human food chain.

The appalling ignorance among many of our MPs, MEPs and ‘Lords’ of these issues and what is happening on factory farms and to the countryside is exemplified by their willingness to pass legislation based on ideology rather than facts and evidence, and by their all too easy acceptance of the influence of powerful lobby groups working on behalf of agribusiness.

As a recent correspondent to The Independent newspaper said
‘Abuse is endemic in the conveyer-belt system (of abattoirs) that allows animal killing on this massive scale. In the UK we breed, fatten and slaughter one billion animals a year. When animals are seen as a “crop” to be “harvested” and a “product” to be sold as meat, compassion and empathy are in short supply”. (The Independent, 15th February 2015, Letters, from Sara Starkey, Tonbridge, Kent).

The author of ‘Farmageddon’ has travelled widely to gather facts and figures regarding the cost and effects of factory farming. Each of his chapters begins with a personal story of how small farmers, village communities, animal and fish populations have been affected by the mass production of food by intensive farming methods. It is certainly not only the animals that suffer. People in North and South America who have found themselves living close to vast pig farms develop respiratory problems and health issues. In Derbyshire, the Green Party has put a lot of work into campaigning against the application to build a mega pig farm at Foston. Although the plans have not been passed at the moment, it is likely that after the election, Midland Pig Producers will appeal against any decisions that don’t go their way.

In spite of the bland assurances of the ‘industry’ manure tanks do overflow, genetically modified plants and fish do escape into the eco-system, and minute particles in pesticides and fertilisers do leach into the water table and the atmosphere with measurable negative health effects on populations.

In fish farms, certain species of fish which cease to ‘fatten up’ once they have reached puberty, are artificially modified into a kind of ‘third sex’ so that they continue to put on weight. Wherever animals that were intended to roam free are cooped up in totally artificial conditions they show distress, boredom and injury. We truly have created a hell on earth, yet its residents are not simply the long suffering animals but the humans who designed and built it; we are ultimately the victims of the way in which we permit the farming industry to turn animals into ‘products’.

The writing must surely be on the wall when we read that the Parisian chef Alain Ducasse, with 18 Michelin stars has ‘removed all meat from the menu at his eponymous restaurant in Paris’s most storied hotel, the Plaza Athénée’ (The Independent, Friday 13th March 2015, p47). Why has he done this? Because, according to Ducasse,
‘There is an absolute necessity to go towards a better way of eating, in harmony with nature; healthier and more environmentally friendly’.

If we are to avoid an environmental catastrophe in the next 40 years we need to reduce our consumption of meat by 50%, according to a report in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Country fieldThe Green Party believes that we need to expose the ‘big lie’ of factory farming that their existence is necessary in order to feed the world’s burgeoning population. This simply is not true. There is no real problem about feeding the world if we all reduce the amount of meat that we consume and reduce the huge amount of food waste that we tolerate.

This article has been adapted from a review, written by Donald Macdonald for Derby Cathedral Outlook, of the book Farmageddon by Philip Lymbery (Bloomsbury, 2014)

To find out more, you can watch a short film on the Compassion in World Farming website www.ciwf.org.uk/farm-animals/

One step closer to NO Foston Mega Pig Farm

David Foster, Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Derby South Constituency writes …

David 2As you are probably aware, the Derbyshire Green Party has put a lot of work into campaigning against the application to build a mega pig farm at Foston. The application is being closely watched by many would-be farming companies who would like to reduce their operating costs by turning meat production into an assembly line.

If this proposal goes ahead many more are likely to follow. It is therefore heartening to learn that in February of this year the Environmental Agency declined the application to build 14 pig houses with the capacity for up to 24,500 pigs.

DSC_0120Since submitting the original permit application in March 2011 the Environment Agency has received over 100 representations from the public. Many of these were from ourselves, others were from Foston residents and others came from animal welfare and environmental groups who submitted their own independently commissioned reports.

Jim Davies, of Foston Community Forum, said, “local residents, who have been almost unanimous in opposing the plan, were hugely relieved. After four years of public consultation the facts are now clear. The applicants (Midland Pig Producers) provided insufficient information and should now abandon this flawed scheme forever.”

David Foster, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Derby South said, “If we are to feed the world in coming years then the human race as a whole must turn to a more vegetarian diet. But if we do choose to eat meat then those animals should at least have had as natural a life as possible.”

With the Environment Agency rejecting the application it seems unlikely that Derbyshire County Council will be able to approve it. Nevertheless, it is still important for us to continue to oppose the proposal vigorously until the campaign has definitely been won.

We can expect that after the election, the developers, Midland Pig Producers, will appeal against any decisions that don’t go their way. It is important to get clear commitments from all the local candidates on this issue.

Greens want more Organic Farms

During a visit toKat in Louth. an organic farm in Lincolnshire, Kat Boettge, the lead Green European Election candidate in the East Midlands discussed with farmer, Andrew Dennis, children’s lack of understanding about food and where it comes from. Woodlands Farm  near Boston lays on guided tours for schools and interest groups.

Kat said, ‘it is clear that children love coming here to see the animals and see crops being planted and harvested, but many can’t identify which ones are in the food they eat. It surprises me that many think fish fingers come from chicken and that tomatoes grow underground. How can we expect people to eat responsibly if they don’t know where their food comes from?’

After her visit, Kat Boettge congratulated Woodlands Farm for maintaining organic production and supplying local markets in the face of stiff competition from the supermarkets. ‘Woodlands is just the sort of farm that the Green Party wants to see supported by Government policy. It is producing healthy food, supplying local markets, maintaining the quality of the soil and working with nature rather than destroying it. It concerns me that a farm like this could be under threat from the increasing industrialisation of farming that will come from the trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and America.’

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership                          The trade agreement that is causing concern to organic farmers is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership known as TTIP. The farmers at Woodlands believe that this will open the market to genetically modified crops and cloned animals. This they claim will make it very hard to maintain their organic standard.

Kat Boettge, lead MEP candidateCommenting on this risk, Kat Boettge said, ‘I believe that TTIP is bad news for many farmers, it will open up our market to stiff competition from American producers many of who have production standards lower than in the EU. We know that American companies are very keen to bring GM crops to Europe. Experience shows that they will contaminate non-GM crops resulting in a loss of the organic standard. We also know that the modified genes do escape into the wild populations, what we don’t know is the long term effect of these genes on wildlife.

Beware! Mega-farms on the Loose: Foston next?

DSC_0120In the wake of a decision by the Welsh Assembly to allow a 1000 head mega-dairy unit near Welshpool in Powys can we expect increased pressure on Derbyshire County Council to approve the application for a 25,000 pig unit in Foston?

A recent media event in London was part of a ‘charm offensive’ by big agribusinesses to try to win over opinion on mega-farms, with speakers with close associations with the industry giving their ‘objective’ view on them.  They went to great lengths to insist that the economies of scale that come from these farms help keep food costs down and that animal welfare is safeguarded.

Not surprisingly these speakers took a blinkered view, yet any close analysis of the mega-farm model reveals that, rather than being an answer to the developing food crisis, it is actually a key driver of rising food prices across the globe.  In addition they have many other damaging impacts; from pollution, to heavy water usage, impacts on local communities and employment, and the effects on the animals involved.

The mega-farm model is popular with big agribusinesses because it allows them to produce the cheap food supermarkets want and to make larger profits by externalising costs.  These costs include the full impact of pollution, disruptions to people’s lives and the risk to public health.  These costs are paid for by us.

The tax system encourages the growth of the mega-farm industry in that it provides a massive subsidy to energy-intensive large-scale farming, over more labour-intensive, and smaller-scale pasture and mixed farming.  How?  Because energy use, especially reactive nitrogen fertiliser (which accounts for half of all energy use in agriculture) and red diesel, both come in at a low tax rate.  Whereas labour is highly taxed, so time is expensive.  We need instead, to tax pollution and fossil fuel use, and encourage reliable and skilled employment.

Big agribusiness uses its financial muscle to buy animal feed, both on the local and world market.  Land that should be used to grow food for people is instead widely used to grow animal feed.  Industrial animal farming and its demand for grain and soya for animal feed is a key factor in global food price rises.

As well as huge inputs of food this industrial farming is also heavily reliant on water and drugs, such as antibiotics, and produces large amounts of toxic waste.  The lessons from America, where this sort of farming is much more prevalent, are troubling.  Industrial farming practises there have required massive amounts of antibiotics.  There is increasing evidence of a link between antibiotic use in animals and resistance in people. The UK chief medical officer Sally Davies has given voice to her concern about the increase in antibiotic resistance in people.  Are we really willing to risk this absolutely vital class of drugs to have a bit more cheap meat on our plates?

Animal welfare is also about much more than health, something the supporters of these farms don’t seem to understand.  The industrial dairy cow can no longer live on grass and suffers from numerous ‘production diseases’ as well as high levels of lameness and mastitis.  This disease led to the destruction of far more cattle in the UK than bovine TB, about which the Government professes such concern.

In these massive mega-farm units, animals are unable to express their natural behaviour; cows can’t graze, pigs can’t root around. We are dealing here with sentient beings, not machines. We know animals feel frustration when unable to behave naturally; they get bullied in large groups and feel fear and distress.  If you have seen cows in pasture you will see a contentment you will not see in factory farms.

Small farms, in their current form, are far from perfect – partly because they struggle on tiny margins, and these large scale units will further impact negatively on small local farmers.  But it is they who can sustainably provide their local markets with food season by season, as they have done for thousands of years.

There is no doubt we will see more of these units come up for planning approval in the near future, and the Green Party is committed to fighting them.  The Government has already shown it will ride roughshod over publSupermarketsic opinion and the real facts on cost. Only Greens understand the need for our agriculture to head in a fundamentally different direction, to support local production and local markets.  We need to be reducing our reliance on imports, regulating the middle men and the supermarkets.  We need to ensure that smaller scale producers get a fair deal, and produce the healthy food we need, create jobs, look after our precious landscapes and wildlife and make a decent living.  Only then will our food supply be secure.

[Mike Shipley, with thanks to Caroline Allen]

Brussels Biofuels Debate coming to a Head

Steven Roddy blogged on the RSPB website that “The next few months will be crucial as the European Union debates a change to EU biofuels law. We know how to fix this problem in a way that will stop the harm being done to nature and the climate, while still allowing innovative industries to bring new, genuinely beneficial, technologies to the market.”

The Green Party has been saying this all along.  Jean Lambert commented on the Climate and energy package back in 2009: Jean pointing 501234567“The adoption this week of the new climate and energy package has been hailed as ‘historic’ by some, but it remains to be seen how history will judge this week’s vote. … I sincerely believe that if it were not for the very strong presence of Green MEPs in the intense negotiation process the package may have completely derailed and the outcomes would have been much weaker.”

On 10 March 2013, Molly Scott Cato, the Green Party’s top candidate for the south-west in the 2014 European Elections stated  “The decision by MPs to continue to offer subsidies to crops that can be burned in power stations to create electricity is quite irrational and will cause more environmental harm than good.  … The fundamental problem arises because the government is allowing subsidies for industrial scale burning of biofuels, yet setting a low rate for the Feed in Tariff for new domestic and small-scale generators. This encourages the global market in biofuels rather than supporting local community renewables development.  Read more here:   http://southwest.greenparty.org.uk/news.html/2013/03/10/biofuel-subsidies-irrational-top-euro-green/

Why do Greens oppose biofuels?  In order to satisfy the world’s insatiable demand for fuel in the face of declining oil output and rising oil prices, huge areas of land are being turned over to growing fuel crops.  It is simply not possible to meet current demand for fuel oil with biofuels – there isn’t enough land.  Growing fuel crops in the absence of a determined push to reduce fuel use can only lead to biofuels being used as well as oil, leading to greater carbon emissions. 

Biofuels 800px-Greenpeace_biodiesel_demonstrationThe growing demand for biofuels is leading to massive clearances of land including tropical rain forest, as is currently happening in Indonesia, resulting in the choking smogs of Singapore.  These clearances will lead to the total destruction of rainforest unless strong action is taken.  With rising demand and high profits to be earned, we cannot hope for sufficient strong action to protect this vital ecosystem. 

Sugarcane mechanized harvest operationIn addition thousands of small farmers, the mainstay of local food production, are being forced off the land to make way for industrial scale biofuel plantations.  This will lead directly to the collapse of local food markets and therefore yet more hunger.  Diverting land from food to fuel is simply wrong and is leading to rising global food prices.  This leads to big profits for food companies and starvation for millions. 

A final objection to biofuels is that, on the back of the drive for more fuel crops rides a drive to use GM crops.  This is happening in Argentina, where the Government has been persuaded to embrace GM technology and in its drive to get into the biofuel market.  GM crops will become established in global agriculture, contaminating the whole human food chain with completely unknown consequences.  We also suspect that the biggest drive to develop biofuels is coming from the military, who fully understand the consequences of peak oil.

Every year the UK burns enough food crops in our cars to feed 15 million people. Following action from the IF campaign, for the first time ever, land grabs were put on the G8 agenda. Trial partnerships with a small number of developing countries were also agreed, which show progress towards preventing land grabs that leave poor people hungry. Development Minister Justine Greening also spoke for the first time about biofuels affecting food security.

459px-Rape-seed-field

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds say – “Using food for fuel when millions of people are starving is wrong. But it’s not just people who are suffering because of the global demand for biofuels, nature is too.  What you may not realise is that the UK’s landscape is also changing and our green and pleasant land is becoming covered in ever more yellow rape-seed oil.”

How you can help – A key parliamentary committee, the Environment Committee, will be voting on the biofuels issue on Wednesday 10th July.  The RSPB are asking people to email or write to their MEPs about these concerns.  Read more and take action on the RSPB Community website: http://clicks.dbgi.co.uk/DC/ctr.aspx?6C6164=31393033303233&736272=$$EfwYGGq81T08EEE&747970=6874&66=30

Fair is Worth Fighting ForGreen policy does recognise that biofuels can play a limited part in the supply of liquid fuels in a post oil world, but they must be from either certifiable sustainable crops grown close to the point of use, or be from non-recyclable waste. 

Proposed Foston Pig Farm – Wildlife Survey

PIC2UK Company, Midland Pig Producers (MPP) has applied (application CW9/0311/174) to build an indoor pig factory farm on a green field site near the village of Foston, Derbyshire. If the plans are approved it would be one of the largest factory farms in the UK, containing 2,500 mother pigs (sows) and around 25,000 pigs, with 1,000 going for slaughter each week. The site is currently a super green field and when they have finished building it will contain 40 acres of steel, concrete and tarmac.  The photograph shows one of the trees at Foston that may be cut down.  Another larger tree hosts a bat roost.  You can find out more on www.pigbusiness.co.uk

Jim Davies from the Foston Community Forum has asked for assistance with doing an impact assessment where the proposed mega pig farm is being planned. 

Jim says:

“Things are hotting up in the campaign, with a potential for the decision to be made in July / August.   We think too little work has been done on the surveying of local wildlife. On or around the site we have bats, herons, kingfisher, butterflies and potentially crayfish in the brook so we need to find some wildlife experts or protection groups.  If you have any contacts in that direction please could you let me know?”

A Green Party member, David Foster, is willing to assist by making a video/photographic record of all the wildlife likely to be affected. Would any other member be willing to help in any way with the survey of wildlife?  If so, please get in touch with David (david121@ntlworld.com or mobile 0791 4537589) or Jim Davies jim@fostoncommunityforum.org.uk

Register your Objection with Derbyshire County Council – you can also register your opposition to the planning application on the Derbyshire County Council website.  Members of the public and outside organisations can add their input up to 3 days before the decision.

 

Help Save Local Communities

SupermarketsMany local Green Parties and party members are involved in campaigns to oppose the development of supermarkets in their area.  We do this because we know that supermarkets lead to the closure of small businesses on the High Street which cannot compete with the aggressive marketing practices of the big business. They also encourage wasteful consumption, use excess packaging and generate huge ‘food miles’.  As a result of their procurement practices, they are forcing the closure of many small farms and forcing yet more intensification of agricultural production. Supermarkets therefore damage local economies and lead to a loss of secure jobs. 

The Green Party therefore welcomes and initiative by Unlock Democracy to use the Sustainable Communities Act to enable Councils to charge a levy or local tax on supermarkets to help to mitigate the damage they are doing to the local economy and environment.  With their immense wealth and sponsorship of some political parties the big supermarket businesses will fight such a proposal to the highest court.  Ultimately it is up to us, the people to ensure that the supermarkets are tamed and that local business can compete fairly on a level playing field.  Out ultimate sanction is that of boycott, successfully used in many consumer campaigns.

Daniel Flanagan, Projects Manager from Unlock Democracy writes:

Large supermarkets have a devastating impact on local jobs, the environment and local businesses. It seems like there’s no stopping this juggernaut from tearing communities apart.

The good news is there is a solution, and you have the power to fight back and reverse this decline.

Unlock Democracy is campaigning for councils to make supermarkets pay a new levy (i.e. tax) that will go back into helping local communities across the country. We can use the Sustainable Communities Act to achieve this.

Please sign the pledge for there to be a levy on supermarkets used to help local communities: http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/page/s/join-the-supermarket-levy-campaign

A levy like this has already been introduced in Northern Ireland – dubbed the “Tesco Tax.” The money raised from it has already helped over 8,000 small businesses over there.

Our high streets really need our help. Over 40,000 shops lie empty.  Communities are struggling as the economy flounders and local services are cut. Town centres are becoming “Ghost Towns.”

At the same time, supermarkets like Tesco are booming, making billions of pounds in profit.

Supermarkets have huge advantages over local independent shops. They can undercut prices of local stores, use their colossal purchasing power to squeeze suppliers, buy up massive “land banks” to keep out competition, provide free parking at out-of-town sites and employ an army of lawyers and planning experts to make sure they get permission for new stores, even when local people object.

It’s no wonder then that supermarkets have boomed whilst local shops and communities have been decimated.

When a new large supermarket opens, hundreds of local jobs are lost. The environment suffers. Suppliers are squeezed. Local businesses struggle.

It’s time we started to level the playing field between supermarkets and local shops and made supermarkets pay for some of the damage they do. That’s why I would like to ask you to:

Please sign the pledge for a new levy on supermarkets to help local communities: http://action.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/page/s/join-the-supermarket-levy-campaign

 

International Aid: Waste of Taxpayers’ Money or essential to Britain’s national interests?

Fair is Worth Fighting ForWhipped up by right wing media propaganda, public sentiment is turning against overseas aid.  In a recent public opinion survey 70% of respondents thought that aid was a waste of taxpayers’ money and should be spent at home. Inevitably in times of financial hardship people take the simplistic view that ‘charity begins at home.’

Aid has often been conceived in a paternalistic and economically colonialist fashion. Instead of serving the needs of the poor in poor countries, it continues to be used by donors as a means of furthering political, economic or military objectives, including the promotion of business interests.  The preponderance of donors, each with its own agenda, has also tended to reduce coordination and transparency, increasing the politicisation of aid, heightening the risk of corruption and placing a significant management burden on aid-recipient countries. Genuine participation of local people, let alone local control or oversight of aid expenditures, rarely occurs in practice, despite donor rhetoric. Similarly, while ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword within the aid system, it is generally framed in terms of ‘sustainable economic growth’; defining poverty in terms of income alone and failing completely to prioritise equity and environmental quality, or to address ecological limits in the design and implementation of aid programmes.

East Midland Hunger Summit 2013

On the 7th June as a prelude to David Cameron’s Hunger Summit at Downing Street, an East Midland Hunger Summit 2013 has been arranged.  The venue will be Derby Cathedral 18-19 Iron Gate, Derby, DE1 3PG

The Summit will feature contributions from:

  • The Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, former Secretary of State for International Development
  • The Rt Rev’d Dr Alastair Redfern, Bishop of Derby,
  • The Rt Hn Pauline Latham OBE MP,
  • Jahangir Malin OBE, the UK Director of Islamic Relief
  • Fiona Twycross, the “Hunger Tsar” to the London Mayor
  • The IF Campaign
  • Christian Aid
  • Fare Share UK

The event will also host the launch of “Fare Share Derby and Derbyshire” supporting the County’s many food banks with a new multi-million tonne supply chain. 

The programme begins at 3.00 pm for 3.30 pm.  5.30 pm Summit reception.  6.00 pm Evening lecture and discussion with the Re Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, hosted by Mrs Pauline Latham OBE MP.

Participants are welcome to come for some or all of the time.  The event is FREE but you are asked to visit www.hungersummit2013.evenbrite.co.uk to book and for further information.  You can also use twitter:  #HS2013

The Green Party’s aim is to secure, in the long term, greater economic independence of poor countries so that an aid system need only respond to emergencies.  You can find Green Party Policies on Aid at http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/ip

 

Saving our best soils for growing food

On my doorstep in Mickleover, Derby, developers have submitted an outline planning application for 300+ new homes on Hackwood Farm.  This area is not in Derby’s Preferred Growth Strategy and at least 70 local residents have submitted written objections to the plans.

View of Hackwood Farm

Hackwood Farm

Safeguard our Soils, Mr. Pickles!
Because of the deliberate weakening of local planning control by the Coalition Government, greenfield sites all over the country are now at risk from private development.  Many, possibly most, of these sites at risk are on good agricultural land. In response to this, Carole Shorney, who is Secretary of SE Essex Organic Gardeners launched a petition, “Safeguard our Soils, Mr. Pickles!” following advice from the CPRE and Soil Association, the full text of which is below.

http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Safeguard_our_Soils_Mr_Pickles/?launch

The following is taken from information given by Carol.  She states that this petition is asking Mr Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and LoSave our soilscal Government, to include a specific direction in the NPPF to plan positively for the future use of Best and Most Versatile agricultural land (BMV) for benefits beyond food production. Areas covered should include increased biodiversity and an increased level of resilience for agriculture in order to maximise UK production sustainably. As  things stand, this valuable, productive land has very little protection against development.

We must accept that Britain cannot go on relying on world markets for our food. Global demand is rising, prices are rising and with the effects of climate change becoming apparent, harvests are declining.  Britain therefore needs a stable, secure food supply, with short distance from field to plate.  Over the next 50 years, food and farming face the stark challenge of providing better nutrition for more people in spite of rapid environmental change, while cutting our diet’s impact on natural resources, ecosystems and the climate. This calls for changes in our eating habits, reductions in food waste and improvements in food production. We want to make sure organic and other agro ecological approaches are at the heart of efforts to achieve this.  We must therefore protect our best agricultural land.

It used to be the case in England that the grade of agricultural land was a prime consideration for planners and local authorities in allocating sites for development.  However, changes to planning policy in the late 1980’s downgraded the importance of agricultural land classifications in planning, in response to the more globalised market for food that had developed.  This level of attention to quality of land was no longer needed.  The DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) report http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=9905_SP1501finalreport.pdf demonstrates that before the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Local Planning Authorities didn’t have the tools they needed to protect our best agricultural land from development – and the NPPF has done nothing to improve planning policy to address this.

As Green Party supporters, we need to be aware of the threat to good agricultural land in Derbyshire, particularly close to main centers of population, and campaign to oppose major development. This is another example of how short term private gain is being put ahead of the long term interests of the rest of society and future generations. We need change before any more agricultural land is offered to/bought up by developers.

Jean Macdonald

Don’t forget to sign the petition
http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Safeguard_our_Soils_Mr_Pickles/?launch

Enough Food for Everyone

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Caroline Lucas reported in her News bulletin in January that a new campaign was launched in Parliament called Enough Food For Everyone: IF, which aims to use this year’s G8 to focus attention on tackling the fact that one in eight people around the world go to bed hungry every night.  Caroline said that she will be campaigning alongside groups like Oxfam, to ensure development and environmental issues are at the top of the agenda. The British Government is to host the next G8 Summit at a hotel and golf course complex at Enniskillen in Northern Ireland on 17th – 18th June 2013. 

The G8 is short for “Group of Eight – a group of rich, northern hemisphere, mostly white, countries.  Membership of the Group is by invitation, its workings highly secretive, its decisions affecting the whole world.

The eight members in order of their rotating hosting responsibilities are: France, United States, United Kingdom, Russia (as of 2006), Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada.  Among G8 leaders to attend this year will be British Prime Minister David Cameron, United States President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since 1975, the heads of state or government of the major industrial democracies have been meeting to deal with the major economic and political issues facing their domestic societies and the international community as a whole.  In the past, the G8 Summit has dealt with big issues like international trade, and relations with developing countries, questions of East-West economic relations, energy, and terrorism. The Summit agenda has now broadened considerably to include social issues such as employment and the information highway, transnational issues such as the environment, crime and drugs, and a host of political-security issues ranging from human rights through regional security to arms control.

While some say that G8 helps build personal relations and allows for quick co-ordinated responses to a crisis, G8 can also be seen as an exclusive and powerful club which defends and promotes free-market capitalism and Western style democracy.  Many view it as an attempt at forced globalisation by the rich West and undemocratic because developing countries are excluded.  Free-market capitalism has not delivered on its claim that it is the best way to enable developing countries to be emancipated from their poverty.  Consequently non-governmental and civil society organisations and the Green Party are critical of the G8.  We use the media interest created around G8 meetings as an opportunity to advocate our concerns and to promote an alternative agenda. We are scandalised that the G8 makes decisions that affect many other nations and economies that are not represented such as the major ‘new’ economies like China and India.

The ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign tackles 4 issues head on: aid, tax, land and transparency. The IF Campaign argues that IF we all act together, we can make the world leaders change the future by tackling the four big ‘IFs’, each of which relates to the major topics on the G8 agenda: 

AidIf we make the right investments to stop people dying from hunger and help the poorest people feed themselves.  The UK government has committed to spending 0.7% of its national income on aid. We must make sure they keep this promise.

Tax – If we stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.  Too many unscrupulous businesses and individuals manage to avoid paying the taxes they owe in developing countries. They’re dodging millions of pounds every day.  Yet taxes are the most important, sustainable and predictable source of finance. The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year.  That money could help millions of people to escape from hunger. We can help stop this tax dodging if our government steps up to close the international tax loopholes.

LandIf we stop poor farmers being forced off their land, and use crops to feed people, not fuel cars.  The poorest farmers are losing their land to giant corporations. These companies don’t care that the land is already being used by local people to grow food. Stopping them would help millions of people get enough to eat.

TransparencyIf we force governments and big corporations to be honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.  Transparency and accountability are vital in the global food system. Decisions that can affect millions of people are made behind closed doors, without the participation of those affected. Corporates and governments must be more transparent about their affairs so that citizens can hold to account powerful players in the food system.

The IF Campaign recognizes that these are big IFs, but argues that if we press our leaders to make these happen, and IF they do, there really will be enough food for everyone.  

That’s why Caroline Lucas is joining with other organisations in a campaign to tell our leaders that if they take strong action to tackle the structural causes of hunger, there will be enough food to meet the needs of earth’s 870 million hungry people.

Because the venue for the G8 is in Northern Ireland, a Week of Action is scheduled to take place in London from 10-14 June.  You can join tens of thousands in Hyde Park, London on 8 June for one unmissable event to demand action on world hunger. More information on:   www.oxfam.org.uk/get-involved/campaign-with-us/our-campaigns/if

Donald and Jean Macdonald 

March Against the Cuts

Being green is not just about environmental matters and it would do none of us any harm to involve ourselves in other campaigns as well. That’s why some of us will be attending the March Against the Cuts in London on 26 March and why we shall also be protesting about the planned benefit changes which are going to lead to the poorest people in the country becoming poorer still.

Secretary of State for Work & Pensions Iain Duncan Smith has announced changes to the social security system which are intended to cut the amount spent on benefits by £18 billion a year from 2013. No matter how these changes are dressed up this is going to hurt. When public spending is being slashed and unemployment is rising it will mean sharing fewer resources among more people and only a fool will believe that increased poverty is not going to result, among the unemployed (which could include any of us at any time) the disabled (ditto), children and elderly citizens.

It isn’t necessary to wait till 2013 for cuts to bite however. From April this year changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), designed to make it even harder to show that someone is incapable of work through illness or disability, will take effect. The aim of this measure is to take money off the poor in order to help pay for the excesses of the rich, whose unregulated greed led to the crisis of capitalism which got us into this financial pickle in the first place.

One particular example of how the rules work illustrates very clearly the inhumane nature of the new test. Currently a person who is registered blind is exempt from the WCA. This exemption ends in April and blind people will have to score 15 points on the test just like everyone else if they are to keep their entitlement to Employment & Support Allowance. The rule now is that if you are blind and possess a guide dog, and you can walk across a road with your dog and without the need for another person’s assistance, you do not score the necessary 15 points. To you or me this sounds very much like testing the dog rather than the claimant, and we might also ask what this particular challenge has to do with a working situation. Indeed, those of us who work in this field will be asking that very question when these cases come up for appeal, as they
inevitably will do so, from this Spring onwards.

If you are wondering why I am commenting on this on a green website, the reason is as follows. Even if we were indifferent to the injustices involved, which we certainly are not, it’s clear that as poverty increases local businesses will take a huge hit. With their
high overheads they cannot fairly compete with the supermarkets who use food items as loss leaders. There will be reduced demand for organic food, which is more expensive than the stuff flown in from overseas, and people will have less or no money available to take the costly steps required to make their houses more fuel-efficient, so these are issues which going to affect us all.

by Chris Connolly

Time to take the Tesco out of Food Policy

Green Party food policy supports the production of healthy and humanely produced food, giving priority to local production for local needs, integrated with habitat conservation.  Greens also call for a fair price for family farm businesses and greater support for the provision of allotments and local markets.  A Ministry of Food should oversee policy delivery.  To stimulate greater home production, Government must make agricultural land available for sustainable production.  Where possible, this land should be held in Trust for the community, preventing it falling into the hands of the big, intensive landowners.  Government can lead the way by identifying underutilised public land, including that held by the Ministry of Defence – food security is an integral part of National security.  It should also require that the Royal Estate follow its lead.

Local Authorities need powers to take over the management of under-utilised land, similar to the powers they have over vacant private housing, making this land available for allotments or smallholdings.  They have to be empowered to rebuild the local market infrastructure that the supermarkets have destroyed.  Schools and colleges should work to develop knowledge, interest, and skills in growing and preparing food, so encouraging young people to see agriculture as a worthy career.

When Peter Kendall, President of the National Farmers Union addressed his Union’s conference this February, he roundly criticised government’s failure to adopt a serious food policy.  He said their approach was ‘leave it to Tesco’ – to leave it to the markets and rely on food imports to make up the growing food deficit.  Greens support his warning that this is ill advised in a world where a combination of both rising population and prosperity and the increasing frequency of so-called ‘natural’ disasters, is putting pressure on food supply.  He might have added that the reliance of western style agriculture on oil was adding a further twist to the rising spiral of food prices.

Historically the UK government has run a cheap food policy the purpose of which has been to underpin the low wage strategy that the captains of industry have wanted to pursue in order to minimise their costs and maximise their profits and dividends.  In the days of Empire this involved importing cheap food notably wheat from North America and sugar from the Caribbean to provide adequate calories for the workforce.  Now, this policy of relying on imports and letting the supermarkets use their muscle to force down prices, is failing.

Governments the world over have learned that if the workers get hungry they get upset and may riot.  Inadequate food supply has been an underlying cause of the revolutions taking place across the Middle East.  The World Bank acknowledges this and says that global food prices are at a dangerous level.  In response, the G20 will meet to discuss the economic and political impact of food and commodity prices.  French President Sarkozy, currently chair of G20, has blamed commodity speculators, and indeed, it is shocking that human beings will manipulate food prices for personal gain, consigning hundreds of thousands to hunger and misery.  But the problem lies deeper than this naked greed.

The problem lies in the ‘commodification’ of the earth’s resources – turning everything into something for sale and then leaving supply to the market.  Markets will always sacrifice long-term benefit for short-term gain; their interest is in profit not people.  Governments have a duty to look after the long-term interests of the people, and they are failing to do this.  They are in the position to develop policies that will deliver an adequate and balanced diet to their citizens.  However, these policies will require a fundamental shift in methods of food production and distribution; it will require standing up to the powerful interests that are manipulating food and agriculture policy.  It will require curtailing the dependence of food supply on oil.

There is no real food policy in the UK.  The last Government began a tentative process to look at the issue spurred on by the rise in oil prices and the global food riots of 2008.  Professor Tim Lang, a leading thinker on food policy and then advisor to the Cabinet office, exposed some revealing thinking underpinning entrenched government attitude to food supply.  Defra was of the opinion that self-sufficiency was neither possible nor a desirable goal for a trading nation.  They also took the view that the UK could and should buy on open markets.  National food security was relevant for developing countries they conceded, but not for the rich countries of Western Europe.  The Labour Government did not complete its policy review and we can presume that under the present administration Defra has returned to this default position.  If it does recognise a problem, it will doubtless listen to industry lobbyists and see the solution in more intensification, mega-dairies, and GM technology.  More reliance on increasingly scarce oil in other words.

Since Defra questions self-sufficiency, it is fair to ask if it is possible. This question was asked in 1975 by Kenneth Mellanby, founder Director of Monk’s Wood Ecology Research station, which of course has now been closed.  His answer, given in a book ‘Can Britain Feed Itself’ was a clear ‘Yes!’  More recently, Simon Fairlie, editor of ‘The Land’ revisited Mellanby’s work in the light of today’s population and land-use.  This time he gave a qualified ‘yes’.  We could do it, but meat consumption would have to decline by about one half.

A stunning demonstration of what happens if you take oil out of food production is to be seen in the film “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil” about Cuba after it lost Russian oil and still not able to afford other sources.  In its 2006 Living Planet Report, the WWF named Cuba as the only sustainable country in the world.  This was largely due to its system of organic food production, made necessary by its lack of oil.  Cubans enjoy a high standard of health with a life expectancy of 78, equivalent to any developed country.

Pioneers in the UK are showing the way.  Around the country, Transition Communities are looking seriously at local food security, developing the important concept of ‘food catchment area’.  With rising prices set to continue, their work is less academic and increasingly urgent, made even more so by the inability of Government to address the matter.  In Manchester, Unicorn Grocery specialises in ethically grown and wholesome fruit and veg.  The cooperative business has bought 21 acres of prime growing land at Glazebury, Warrington.  Its intention is to lease out plots to organic growers and provide the outlet market for the produce, bringing healthy, locally grown food to urban south Manchester.  It is initiatives like this that government needs to foster, not GM and mega-dairies.

[Mike Shipley February 2011]

Josh Stockell Statement On The Environment

Government needs to follow the lead of groups across the country who are looking at how their communities can address climate change and declining oil reserves. In Derbyshire Dales we have Sustainable Youlegrave, Sustainable Bakewell and Transition Town groups in Matlock and Wirksworth all looking at how we can move to low carbon lifestyles through initiatives around renewable energy, energy efficiency, local food production and transport issues. This is the bottom-up approach and demonstrates the support out there for programmes to tackle these issues. On waste, we support increased investment in recycling, creating jobs whilst improving the infrastructure to allow people to do the recycling and move toward zero waste. Let’s do the simple things like free compost bins to anyone who wants one. We would oppose incineration even with energy recovery, as it includes recyclables and plastic. We would like to see local government take a lead on identifying suitable sites for wind turbines rather than spending  tens of thousands of pounds in opposing applications. We support investment in renewable energy production alongside home insulation initiatives and improved public transport and believe this will create thousands of jobs.

Josh Stockell
Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Derbyshire Dales

Josh Stockell is 45 and has two children. He has lived in Wirksworth , where he is self-employed as a joiner and cabinet maker, for 15 years. Josh first stood as a Green Party candidate in the 1980s in Nottingham and he has stood in city, town, district and county council elections. In 2007 Josh was elected to Wirksworth town council where he sits on the planning and environment committee. He is also a community governor at the local junior school where he volunteers as a classroom assistant for one day a week. Josh enjoys walking, is a keen cyclist and plays football regularly. He also coaches a local u16 girl’s football team and is involved in the management of the local skate park.

Greens Campaign For A Fairer Derbyshire Dales

Josh Stockell, the Green Party’s general election candidate for Derbyshire Dales, joined fellow party members in Bakewell on Saturday to finalise their campaign in Derbyshire. The meeting heard Josh underline the party’s commitment to a fairer and sustainable society.

“Under this government the gap between the top earners and the average has widened. Top financiers are walking away with million pound bonuses while workers in public services face swingeing cuts. This is not our idea of fairness.”

Handing out leaflets in Bakewell with his team before the meeting, Josh said: “

I am encouraged by the response we are getting. Most of the people I have spoken to are aware of the Green Party and many are pleased to learn that we are standing in Derbyshire Dales – for the first time.”

In his leaflet, Josh, a town councillor in Wirksworth, calls for change to a fair and sustainable economic system and a stop to the ‘growth at all costs’ policies favoured by the other parties. No other party offers a ‘Green New Deal’ with a million new jobs.

Other issues that Josh highlights in his campaign are: an end to MPs’ greed; more affordable homes; local food and proper vetting of imports to support our farmers; better public transport; more renewable energy; no more privatising of the NHS; welfare not warfare.