How fair is our food?

| 5th August 2009
Food Ethics Council policy director Sean Roberts
Food Ethics Council policy director Sean Roberts
Food Ethics Council policy director Sean Roberts explains why a debate on fairness in food and farming is long overdue

Just how fair is our food? News of hunger, obesity and bumper supermarket profits constantly assail us over our Fairtrade breakfast brew. The world’s not perfect, but are we doing enough?

As the global food crisis and tight family budgets make this quandary sharper than ever, the Food Ethics Council’s Food and Fairness Inquiry aims to steer a path through the political and personal dilemmas that underlie our relationship with food. 

Why now?

We have launched the inquiry now because we believe that concerns about social justice must take centre stage in debates about sustainable food and farming. 

Recognition of the importance of sustainable development has risen markedly in recent times, but the main policy focus to date has been on economic and environmental considerations. 

As UK citizens and companies continue to feel the effects of the recession, it’s time to turn our attention to these difficult questions about fairness, and about responsibilities for tackling social injustice.

To make sure that we have the greatest possible impact on food and farming policy, we have assembled an Inquiry Committee comprising some of the most influential voices in the food and farming community – including business leaders, academics, civil society organisations, the statutory sector and the media. 

The Committee will be conducting a series of hearings with expert witnesses, and considering written evidence from authoritative sources on all aspects of social justice in food and farming. 

What is fair food?

The Committee will address two fundamental questions: how fair is our food system? and how can we make it fairer?  To get to grips with these challenging questions, the three hearings will adopt the following perspectives:


  • Fair shares’ – issues relating to equality of outcome, such as food poverty, diet-related disease, and environmental justice;



  • Fair play’ – issues relating to equality of opportunity, such as buyer-supplier relationships, worker pay and conditions, and sustainable food;



  • Fair say' – issues relating to autonomy and voice, such as ethical consumption, community initiatives, and the accountability of public policy.


Once the hearings have taken place this autumn, we will be drawing up a series of recommendations for what government, business and civil society organisations should be doing to promote a fairer food system.

And then we’ll be spending next summer persuading policy makers and opinion formers to take seriously their obligations to tackle the injustices that pervade the system as it stands.

Useful links
Food Ethics council: online debate

News: food fairness debate launched