Food is something that brings together a variety of issues connecting the economy, the environment and everyone’s well-being. Under the present austerity policies, the injustices of the food system are obvious, with thousands reliant on charitable food banks, struggling, in this rich country to put adequate food on the table. And this is paradoxical, given the cheap food policies of the post-war period, that far from guaranteeing resilient and sustainable food supplies have made us dependent on food supply chains with a global reeach, based on the exploitation of workers and farmers whether in the agribusiness operations of the global South, the polytunnels of Southern Europe, or the supermarkets of the UK. The system is carbon intensive, only possible because of cheap oil, and it has greatly increased the vulnerability of crops to pests, increasingy extreme weather, and the impact of economic and political shocks to the supply chains.
At least part of the solution must come from an increase in local food production, dramatically increasing the amount of food grown within a fifty mile radius of where we eat it. Some of this can be within the city – REconomy’s report on food production in Lambeth suggests 5%, and with appropriate technology it is likely that morecould be produced. This will create prosperity through job creation and the multiplier impact of the expenditure by employees and the new local enterprises. There is also a need to reduce food waste which adds to emissions while racking up the costs. Finally, the quality of food is an issue to be addressed, for as the food scandals of recent years demonstrate, the long supply chains of today’s globalised economy are wide open to food adulteration not seen since the Victorian era: food is fundamental to population health.
So it is really good news that today Manchester City Council unanimously passed a resoulution on sustainable food. These are the council’s key action points.
Welcomes and supports the establishment of a new Food Board
– Commits to working towards Sustainable Food City status
– Commits to develop a policy on health and take aways to support improvements in the diets and health of our residents
– Commits to working towards reducing food waste in the city
– Commits to working to alleviate the scandal of food poverty in the city
– Commits to supporting sustainable food procurement through its own purchases and through its influence with other public sector organisations
– Commits to investigate options for attracting investment in high tech sustainable food growing industry to create jobs and prosperity in the local economy. (for the full motion which appears in the meeting agenda, click here)
Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar moved the motion with a fine speech that explained the connections among austerity, poverty, economy, sustainability and health. Councilor Angeliki Stogia, in an excellent maiden speech, seconded the motion, emphasing the importance of local food production for the city’s economy and resilience.
A number of other councillors from both sides spoke in support. Councillor Chamberlain noted the importance of engaging with supermarkets to reduce food waste (and we would add, increasing the local sourcing of food) and a potential council role in promoting a reduction in the consumption of meat (the latter point is made in terms of carbon impacts in the recent report to the Food Board by Lancaster University).
Councillors from around the city made reference to some excellent local schemes for food growing in various parts of the city.
As Labour politicians know very well, passing a good motion does not guarantee that things change, but by signalling the desired direction of travel, this will be a point of reference for future initiatives. It is up to all sectors to use the opportunity this creates to take actions that really produce a step change in Manchester’s food economy, putting it on a sustainable footing so there is plentiful, affordable, healthy and low impact food for all in the difficult years to come.
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