Tag Archives: Tesco

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]

Green Party Statement On Belper Superstore

The Green Party believes that the following should be taken into account when considering the application to develop a new superstore in Belper. The Development Brief should:

  • Explicitly require a Retail Impact Assessment to be carried out
  • Require that this Assessment be independently checked, including the use of information gained from reviews of Retail Impact Assessments used to support similar developments
  • Require that any development leads to a net increase in Full Time Employment jobs, not just for the area covered by the Development Brief, but at least for the area defined as Belper town centre.

There are several references to sustainability in the Draft Development Brief, but none specifically refer to traffic. Sections 8.9 to 8.10 blatantly leave it open for a developer such as Tesco to claim that they are using the very latest in building design, while omitting any reference to the increased traffic caused by a development such as a superstore.

There are several references in the Draft Development Brief to the “congested” A6, yet there is no evidence to support this rather emotive term.
The A6 is congested at certain times on summer Sundays (by people travelling to and from Derbyshire Dales and The Peak District), and on weekdays when a lorry is making a delivery. Such congestion is temporary, and more easily (and cheaply) dealt with by other means than by building another road.

Whereas drivers travelling by car to Derby during the week experience real congestion on the approach to Derby because of the sheer volume of traffic, traffic volume in Belper is not currently a problem. But a superstore, by its very nature, requires a huge amount of customer traffic to support it. That traffic will come from both directions along the A6 (causing real congestion with concomitant pollution at the Morrison’s roundabout and The Triangle) and/or the east side of Belper (in which case it will have to make its way along John O’Gaunt’s Way, Nottingham Road and New Road, or Far Laund, Chesterfield Road, Church Lane, Field Lane and Bridge St.). Add to this the delivery lorries required to keep the superstore stocked with goods which will not be locally sourced. How does this fit with the Borough Council’s duties under the Climate Change Act?

The Development Brief should:

  • Be supported by evidence of present levels of traffic on the A6.
  • Require a Traffic Impact Assessment which assesses the likely effects of any proposed development not only within the vicinity of the superstore, but on all roads likely to be affected.

Such an assessment should assess the likely traffic and pollution effects of all options for developing the site. It should:

  • Make explicit reference to the need to comply with the requirements of the Climate Change Act.
  • Require that any traffic increase is kept to a minimum.