From field to fork: The value of England’s local food webs, a report by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England was released earlier this month.

Farming Online reports that it indicts government food policy and the supermarket model, revealing the role both have played in undermining the UK’s local food networks and jeopardising the vibrancy of rural regions.

Evidence has been provided by a five year research project ‘Mapping Local Food Webs,’ which examined 19 locations across England and identified over 2,500 local food businesses, over 800 outlets and 1,700 producers.

It includes information that:

  • local food outlets serve 16.3 million customers a week;
  • local food sales through independent outlets are worth £2.7 billion a year to the economy;
  • These food outlets support over 100,000 jobs, of which over 61,000 are due directly to local food sales.

The report states that such local networks support diversity, distinctiveness and innovation in the food and farming sectors, broaden choice for shoppers, promote seasonality and reduce food miles. Though researchers found that money spent within local food networks is recirculated in the local economy, amplifying the positive effect on communities, the number of supermarkets continues to rise and encroach on food retailers in marketplaces and town centres:

  • between 1980 and 2007 the number of hypermarkets and superstores in the UK grew from 300 to 1,500 by 2007, and the number is increasing;
  • visits to supermarket chains accounted for 77% of main shopping trips in the locations studied by CPRE;
  • supermarket chains have expanded their share of the market, grown in size and moved to the edge of towns;
  • over the same period, local speciality stores such as butchers and greengrocers have been in freefall;
  • town centre vacancy rates now average 14% and can be as high as 30% per cent.

The Environmental Audit Committee has criticised the government’s lack of action on creating a sustainable food policy and called for more government action to support local food webs, with increased consideration for sustainable food procurement.

CPRE is calling on local authorities to form partnerships to develop food strategies and for community groups to become more engaged in promoting local food. The organisation also wants more commitment to local food from supermarkets, which would help support local economies and reduce the businesses’ environmental impact.

The full report can be downloaded here.

A CPRE fact sheet detailing facts uncovered over the course of the group’s research is available here.