Food Justice

'Food Justice' is a report of the Food and Fairness Inquiry. You can find the whole 55 page report (105 pages in book format) here:

The inquiry looked a wide ranging issues related to our food system. Although it concentrates on the UK food system there are links to our large food imports, how these imports are controlled by a few international corporations and how poor farmers in the developing countries are losing out.

The report looks at the three major challenges for the UK food system: ensuring food security, making food environmentally sustainable and promoting public health. So far fairness has been largely absent in this debate, which the report makes up for. The report involved researchers, campaigning organisations, producers and distributors of food and consumer groups.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security this way: "Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life."

The report argues that only by creating a fairer society can the health of the whole population be improved. Social justice is just as important as environmental and economic aspects of the food system but often receives less attention.

"More than a billion people are undernourished worldwide, meaning that almost one-sixth of the world's population cannot meet their minimum energy requirements. ... Nearly 200 million children under five in poor countries are stunted or chronically undernourished, while close to 130 million are underweight." (page 34 of the report).

This is at a time when the world produces enough food to feed everyone and where even in countries with food surpluses there are millions of malnourished children.

The report argues for greater UK government involvement in addressing these shortcomings. The OECD countries - the rich countries - give support to their domestic farmers to the tune of US$258billion in 2007, representing 23% of total farm receipts.

Agricultural research has shifted from the public sector to the private sector over recent years, with the result that the research is concentrated on where the largest profits are expected, usually for the benefit of large food corporations. This shift in research funding has particularly hit small-scale farmers.

The food system is a big contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, about a fifth of the UK's consumption-related emissions, rising to around a third if proportionate indirect emissions from global land use changes like deforestation are included.

Likewise, our food system also has a huge impact on our water use. About 70% of the world's abstracted water is used for irrigated agriculture. Two-thirds of the water used the UK originates from imported goods (often in the of food) - much of it from water stressed regions.

"Food production is by far the biggest cause of land and marine species loss. Globally, over 4,000 assessed plant and animal species are threatened by agricultural expansion and intensification." (page 44).

The report is quite clear about the tension between making the food system more sustainable (reducing greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, safeguarding biodiversity, etc) - which will make food more expensive - and the need for everyone to have access to sufficient and healthy food. Only a fairer society can solve that tension.