Over the last day a lot of talk has taken place about chlorine-chicken and its place in a proposed US-UK trade deal. Most of what has been said is utterly correct, that it represents a diminution of our standards and the ceding of our food sovereignty and security to a foreign power. There is outrage, and rightly so, but the passion behind that outrage now needs to be channelled to our benefit.
We have a chance to reinforce pride in feeding our country, to enable people to have dignity in how they choose and eat their food, and combat some of the massive social challenges for which food can be part of a solution. We can’t do any of that if we don’t have a food and farming sector, and now is the time that we need to support and believe in it.
Our standards must be defended and steadily improved, but what standards often omit is that their purpose is to provide good quality food three times a day to a population of over 65 million people. Our first responsibility is to feed people and, even though we are not self-sufficient in food, our foundation, our starting point, must be British food.
It’s hard to draw opportunities out of Brexit but it has forced us to reflect on the role of food in society, and most crucially where it is failing. People all over the country are struggling to eat and food poverty (which is really just poverty) is increasing, notably for people who are actually in work. Brexit will mean harm to those who can least bear that burden. The opportunity is in how British food production can help address some of the inequalities we’re now facing, and will be exacerbated by Brexit.
Being able to have choice in our food is a privilege and it enables dignity. Our challenge is how to broaden that choice and dignity across the entire population. On one hand food production can provide purposeful jobs and coherent communities that create economic and social prosperity that allow choice. On the other it can contribute to health and nutrition, as well as national goals such as environmental protection.
Imagine going into a supermarket and knowing that anything you pick up with a British logo on meets our standards on nutrition, safety, the environment, animal welfare, and quality; and that it has been produced by people paid a fair wage and in supply chains that are open to scrutiny. Further that this food is available wherever in the country it’s needed, and accessible to everybody. Those with busy lives don’t even need to know the detail of all of this because there is trust and confidence in the producers.
This may sound aspirational but is it really any less than our food system should deliver?
We need to put people at the heart of our food system. Everyone should be fed, regardless of circumstances, and Government needs to embrace that principle. On top of that we can add that everyone needs to be fed with quality food, and in sufficient quantity.
It won’t be easy but it has to start with pride in our food and duty to make it available to all, and to have enough respect for ourselves to say that we all deserve certain standards. Only when we have that commitment to feed everyone can we start to say that we have dignity in food.