Time to change: Professor Lang’s challenge: embrace local sourcing

tim langSusan Press in the Co-operative News reports a challenge issued by Professor Tim Lang, Head of City University London’s Centre for Food Policy, to the Co-operative Group. It is time to radically change the way food is delivered and distributed to the Group’s 4,800 retail outlets:

“At a time of growing interest in locally sourced food, he thinks there should be far more support for producers supplying direct to local stores. He says: “I think the co-op has lost its way a bit. Back in the 19th century, the first co-operators led the movement against the adulteration of our food and sourced local food which everyone could afford.

Unfortunately, the Co-operative Group has gone down the road of emulating the supply chain model of its major competitors with regional distribution centres and centralised supplies . . .

“But our food supply is being more and more standardised by very big and powerful companies. There are more local artisan and special interest foods, so we have come a long way, but small producers are held back by lack of access to land, ownership of which is dominated by large landowners.”

One of Professor Lang’s current concerns is the growing concern around food security – the availability of food and access to it

He points out that worldwide, figures show around two billion people are going hungry and for the first time in decades the number of food banks in the UK has tripled in the last 12 months.

Lang says: “For the first time since 1945 we are living at a time of rapidly rising inequality, with around five million people living in poverty according to the recent report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission”. He looked at the history of the co-operative movement:

“In 1994, the Group set up the Responsible Retailing Code, building fair and sustainable relationships with suppliers across its whole supply chain across the world, also leading the way on Fairtrade. It was pioneering stuff, but we need to be building upon that knowledge and working for more sustainable food thinking concerned with the future of biodiversity and our eco-systems . . .

“Like the other major retailers, the Co-operative Group goes for cheap meat reared on cereals. Around 40 to 50 per cent of our cereals are fed to animals. We need more grass-fed meat and dairy and we all need to eat less meat and double consumption of fruit and vegetables because we are storing up huge problems for the future  . . .

“We don’t need supermarkets offering 35,000 lines or people working hard to earn enough money to buy a car so they can drive to the local hypermarket. We need to look at what things will be like in 2050; the effects of climate change and the billions more people there will be on the planet. We need to establish a good food culture which is also good for the environment.

“Stores have to have better access to local food with a shorter supply chain and we have got to re-design the whole food system because frankly it is environmentally crazy.”

Read the whole article here: http://www.thenews.coop/article/time-change-food-professor-issues-challenge-embrace-local-sourcing


Professor Lang was the first to coin the term ‘food miles’ – in the 1990s – to describe the distance groceries have to travel to reach us. He was invited to set up the London Food Commission in the 1980s with the Greater London Council, which did some of the earliest work on the effect of food poverty. He pointed out the damage done to school and hospital meal services by government policy, making a major contribution to the Food Safety Act (1990) and the creation of the Food Standards Agency (2000). He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation, a special advisor to four House of Commons select committee inquiries on food standards globalisation and obesity and was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to DEFRA.



In the best farmers’ markets provenance is closely scrutinised

gerb gerbrandsGerb Gerbrands, who founded the flourishing farmers’ market with Clare Honeyfield (Made In Stroud shop) in 1999, wrote in the Stroud News and Journal about the difference between farmers’ market stallholders and those at ‘ordinary’ markets.

He receives applications from potential stall-holders a who are asked to fill in a form which states: “If products are made with bought-in ingredients, those ingredients must be from a local producer ‘wherever possible’ “. Gerbrands explains: This is to:

  • guarantee traceability,
  • reduce food miles
  • and bolster the local economy

stroud farmers marketAn application to sell meat pies was preceded by an email stating that their meat was bought as locally as possible and with full traceability – from Towers Thompson.

He searched on this name and saw that TT is an international meat and dairy group based in Avonmouth; all their other ingredients came from BAKO – whose lorries, Gerbrands points out, hurtle up and down the motorway supplying catering businesses around the country.

He ends: “Needless to say this application was turned down.

“To sell a product like pies at the market a business has to use butter produced locally, flour milled locally, vegetables grown locally and meat reared locally”.




But even in Stroud, where local food procurement works so well, it can be threatened by the political hierarchy and market dogma – see Stroud District Council: serving or dictating?

By request, contact details added:

Cllr. John Marjoram, jmgreenstroud@gmail.com

Sue Smith, editor, Stroud News and Journal, sue.smith@gwent-wales.co.uk



The advantages of a regional food supply chain, advocated in the light of the discovery of toxic phenylbutazone residues


Michael Hart 3As a search of medical abstracts reveals advice that there should be zero tolerance of bute residues, the 2002 Look to the Local report by former MEP Caroline Lucas, LWM co-founder Colin Hines and beef farmer Michael Hart (opposite) comes to mind.

It deplores farmers turning to export meat because supermarkets buy cheaper meat from countries with low wages, and low health and environmental standards. Up to date figures were found for this ‘food swap’ which consumes air-polluting fuel for no good reason:

HMRC Market Bulletin Jan-Jun 2012

Market Bulletin – September 2012 half year trade update

clive 3 asletThe report quotes Clive Aslet,who shares this concern, and a rereading of his seminal article, ‘Clocking up food miles’,Financial Times 23/24th February 2002, reveals much of relevance.

“A public whose confidence in food has been battered by successive crises salmonella in eggs, pesticides in carrots, BSE in beef, genetic modification in cereals – has understandably erected health into a totem. While costly government action generally follows each media outcry, Parliament does not always have the foresight to limit risk in advance.

“Trade liberalisation continues. The World Trade Organisation, driven by the US, wants food to be treated as a commodity like any other. It has little truck with governments that fear health risks (it does not accept the precautionary principle), and none at all with those who raise environmental objections.

“Above all, the multiple retailers that control the food system in Britain are not likely to change their ways without pressure. More than four-fifths of British food is bought in supermarkets.

“The one straw of hope that concerned shoppers can grasp is their own purchasing power. Rightly or wrongly, consumer opinion turned so violently against genetically modified crops that the big retailers were forced to declare themselves GM-free zones.

“If the vogue for farm shops and farmers markets catches on, consumers could force supermarkets to source more food regionally, with proper labelling and promotion”.

The Hart-Hines-Lucas conclusion

Look to the local cover 2 croppedAs more consumers, farmers and workers world wide are experiencing the downside of economic globalisation in agriculture and other sectors, now is the time to consider how it can be replaced with this completely different alternative of self-reliance and localisation.

This will involve dramatically reducing world food trade and re-localising production. The goal of such a “local food-global solution” policy would be to keep production much closer to the point of consumption (and regulation) and to help protect small farmers and rebuild local economies around the world.



’New’ weather demands a new politics – and economics?

“Isn’t it time to rethink our international trade policies?” asks New Delhi agricultural scientist and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma today, just before a powerful summary of the crucial importance of a healthy environment to the global economy on Radio 4 this morning by Tony Juniper and complementing a recent article by George Monbiot.

Creating and popularising local markets: the alternative to WTO ‘madness’

Food_Miles_Report_coverSharma writes: “In 1994, I remember reading an excellent report, Food Miles, produced by Sustain – now updated and republished. It told us about the dangers of shipped food across the continents, processed and repacked elsewhere, and then shipped back to the same country from where it all started.

“There were several glaring examples, which should have woken up the policy makers and of course the economists who talk of everything but make little sense. Food on an average travels 3,000 miles before it reaches your plate. This itself was such a startling revelation that should have made consumers to rethink, but somehow it did not.

“Supermarkets excel in globe-trotting for food products, taking advantage of the cheap processing costs (and also taking advantage of the massive fuel subsidies), remaining unmindful of the carbon footprint they generate in the process . . .

Is aviation fuel cheaper than Coke?

himachal apples2“I have never understood the logic of allowing apples to be imported all the way from New Zealand and Chile into India while there are no takers for apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Similarly, what is the logic behind allowing Washington apples to be exported to India, while Chinese apples travel all the way to the US, controlling roughly 45% of the US market. The food globe-trotting is happening because the aviation fuel is damn cheap. Many have said that aviation fuel actually works to be cheaper than Coke! (Ed. See the Himachal Live News describing local markets as a boon for their apple growers.)

airport watchSharma cited the 2007 Airport Watch post, recording the Sunday Times’ finding that supermarket chain Sainsbury’s Traidcraft coffee is grown in Bukoba, Tanzania; the coffee beans then travel 656 kms to Dar-es-Salaam and are shipped to Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, 3,250 miles from Dar-es-Salaam. In Vijaywada the beans are packed and shipped to Southampton in UK – 5,000 miles. From there it goes to Leeds and is then redistributed to Sainsbury stores worldwide.

He expects that, with the approval granted recently to FDI in retail in India, Sainsbury will find it convenient to ship the packed coffee from Leeds to New Delhi.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) and climate negotiations work at cross-purposes

Going to the heart of the matter, Sharma points out that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Climate negotiations actually work at cross-purposes:

“While WTO will push for more of such trade, it doesn’t pay any heed to the resulting carbon footprint such trade generates and the impact it has on global warming. Similarly, Climate negotiators are not calling for restricting such unwanted trade as a precursor to climate control standards”.

His recommendation: creating and popularising local markets is perhaps the only viable alternative to the madness of making food travel across the globe.

Consumers have a very important role to play here. Try to avoid being lured by products which claim to have brought you the same processed stuff from far away which is grown in your neighbourhood. Keep a close watch.

apple juice urban harvest

Why go for processed orange drink from Chile or from US, when you have fresh and tasty juice available in your local market (eg. courtesy of Urban Harvest above)? By making such sensible choices you will have played your small but effective part in limiting the global carbon footprint.#

Read Sharma’s article at Ground Reality at 1/14/2013