Ecologist: What are the biggest food challenges currently facing us (UK or globally)?
Dan Crossley: There are huge inequalities in access to adequate and healthy diets that need to be tackled urgently – globally and here in the UK. We’re already degrading the environment at an alarming rate, with huge biodiversity loss and declining soil health for example. Population growth will put more pressure on our food and farming system, and climate change will hit hard too. At the heart of this is people in many parts of the world not valuing food enough – hence being disconnected with their food and throwing too much food away. Throw in issues around imbalance of power and lack of political will to bring about a better food system – and you have a series of huge challenges facing the food system now, that will only grow in the future unless we act now.
Eco: Is enough being done to address these issues/problems? If not, what needs doing?
DC: Nowhere near enough is being done. Food – and ethical concerns around food – need much greater attention. It’s time to turn the spotlight firmly on food and recognise that food is a critical part of our culture, our economy and our existence! We need greater political attention on tackling the root causes of our failing food system. We need more funding and research into fairer, greener, healthier food. And we need to harness some of the great grassroots work going on around food at a local level and replicate that in other places.
Eco: What is the Food Ethics Council currently working on?
DC: We have a broad programme of work. Firstly, our food manifesto project: we’ve kickstarted a project exploring what should be on the next party political manifestoes about food, given that the next General Election is less than two years away. We’re bringing together a group of leading food and farming NGOs to drive concerted action on priority issues that we would like to feature on an ethical food manifesto. Raising food up the political agenda was also the subject of our recent Business Forum meeting, where food and farming executives come together to explore an issue in depth, and will be the focus of the next issues of our flagship magazine, Food Ethics.
Secondly, sustainable diets. We have worked with WWF on a programme of work called Livestock Dialogues for the last few years. The UK is a high meat-consuming country. This brings benefits, but also negative environmental and health impacts for people eating too much meat. We brought together different groups affected, from livestock farmers to campaigning NGOs, to try to navigate a way through the often thorny issues around meat consumption – including exploring how and whether a ‘less but better’ meat message might work. I’m delighted that our work has helped catalyse a new independent alliance called Eating Better, which launched at the beginning of July 2013, to create an ‘eating better food revolution’.
Thirdly, food poverty in the UK. There are hundreds of thousands in the UK who struggle to be able to afford to eat. We’ve been working with the University of Warwick to do research for Defra (to be published soon) looking at the extent and effectiveness of food aid provision (e.g. foodbanks) in the UK.
Eco: Who (or what) - in the food sphere - have you recently found inspiring or tasty?!
DC: I’ve been inspired by Food Tank, launched in the US by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson recently. They’ve built up an impressive following in a short space of time. I love their positive approach, highlighting opportunities and solutions to tackle the world’s food problems. We all have to work together if we’re to create a fairer and more resilient food system!
Dan Crossley is Executive Director of the Food Ethics Council
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