Barriers to re-localisation of food production and supply.
Authors: Tim Lang and Martin Caraher, Centre for Food Policy,
Thames Valley University,
Professor of Food Policy
Centre for Food Policy
Thames Valley University
St Maryıs Road
London W5 5RF, UK
tel: +44 020 -8280-5070
fax: +44 020 -8280-5125
Principal Lecturer Health Promotion
Centre for Food Policy
Thames Valley University
St Maryıs Road
London W5 5RF, UK
tel: +44 020 -8280-5060
fax: + 44020 -8280-5125
In this paper, we use the UK as a case study with which to explore themes and issues which we believe to be not just British problems. These challenges include: how to consume more local produce, defining the criteria for success, how to bridge the gap between an increasingly industrialised countryside and an urban population which wants to protect and support the environment, how in short to turn the vague goal of sustainable development into practice. We argue that if public policy in the late 20th century was dominated by a new era of globalisation, in the first half of the 21st century, it must re-focus on the local. After globalisation, a corrective of re-localisation is in order.
We think food is a wonderful illustration of both what is wrong with current culture and what is beginning to be recognised and put right. We argue, for instance, that a new generation of markets can and should forge new links between town and country, and that planners can always use food as an opportunity to Rget realı. But for this to have a real impact, there will need to be considerable change in public policy and economic reality. We are sober optimists!
Sustainability is a modern notion, vague at times, but intriguing and useful because it provide a critique of contemporary living and captures aspirations in equal amount. In these supposedly centrist but actually New Right ideologically dominated times, there is something appealingly utopian about the notion. The thrust of thinking behind it is that policies should promote environmental protection, social equity and diversity, putting economic and social activity on a more ecologically long-lasting footing. Sustainability has an implicit recognition of the local, captured in the often quoted environmental slogan Rthink globally, act locallyı.
Contemporary food policy debates do fit this global-local dichotomy well; and although it is politically fashionable to celebrate the globalisation as unstoppable, in food policy, there are powerful arguments for a different perspective. Here we will explore some of the features that sustainability suggests for food policy and explore whether any notion of planning is appropriate.
On the face of it, modern food methods, from farm to home, appear to be extraordinarily successful. These days, a phenomenal range of foods is available to the British and hunger appears to have been banished from this fertile island. But there is another side to the coin. Food poverty has not in fact been banished, merely modernised; there may be no kwashiokor but there is under- and malnutrition. At the other end of the social scale, while it might be pleasant for the rich consumer to sample fresh foods grown around the world 365 days a year from a display at oneıs local hypermarket, this is not a sustainable food culture in any meaningful sense of the word. Besides the extraordinary expenditure of non-renewable resources in transport, a neo-colonial relationship can easily ensue.
Capital and products of the cultural industries such as films or music might fly the world, but food probably ought to be as local as is reasonably possible. Much depends, on course, on what is Rreasonableı; it is easier to agree on what is excessive, like parsnips being flown in Northern summers from Australia in its winter, but harder to agree on the way forward; planning is never a mechanistic operation but a problem of how to translate what President Clinton used to call Rthe vision thingı! Food is an issue missing from planing agendas. Retailing provision is a feature of many planning processes but not food per se.
Putting such debates to one side, the arguments within food policy which call for a re-localisation of the food system, rather than its further globalisation, could herald the emergence of a counter-globalisation vision. This however needs to be reformulated so that it is not seen by the majority as something fringe and alternative but as a vision that has meaning to all shades of society. In developing countries, it is a nonsense to assume others in the North will feed you, yet that is what we in the North partially expect of the South - green beans in mid-winter from Tanzania, fruit from the Gambia, potatoes from Egypt; all driven by consumer expectations. At a policy level, it is different; debates about food security assume the need to grow as much food nationally or regionally as possible. Yet the economic reality sends opposite signals. Since the 1994 Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), tariffs on imported foods are being lowered. This has sent a frisson round food policy circles. It might or might not make sense for capital to circulate the globe in pursuit of market opportunities, but does it make ecological or cultural sense for food to follow suit? It might be profitable for the trader to import (or export) food, but it does not necessarily feed everyoneıs stomachs. Few in food policy circles are autarkists, and most agree that a food trade can be financially useful to the domestic economy, but concern rises if staple foods are externally sourced or if land which could grow food for a needy local population is used to grow feed for animals on distant farms or for exotic crops and Rdifferentı foods for rich dining tables.
The argument that reasserts the need to celebrate the local in food policy sends a shudder down the spine of many economists. Although many political theorists know Keynesı dictum in National Self-Sufficiency that ideas, art and culture should circulate freely across borders but that capital and goods should remain national, the currently dominant economic analysis argues that, even if one wanted it, no goods or capital could be constrained within borders. The financial markets are quick to punish aberrant Finance ministers, after all. The local, according to this world view, represents the past -- quaint, historically understandable perhaps, but impractical and inefficient today -- whereas the global is the future, a culture and economy which is already unfolding. Globalisation is in fact a code-word for the primacy of neo-liberal market economics.
It is against this wider political economy, that we argue that, in the case of food policy, the goal of sustainability raises a serious challenge not just about the notion of planning but about what a desirable local food system might entail. We contend that the current planning system when it does relate to food relates to it under a number of diverse and ambiguous headings. So the rural planning examines the part of the food system to do with growing but rarely looks at issues of transport or retailing. Put another way food issues are generally regarded as agricultural and rural issues. Urban planning looks at systems of retail provision but rarely at growing of foods.
Who would do the planning? How? Where? In Town Halls? Private Utilities? International fora? To conceive of improving the present food economy by planning implies that we already have an excellent understanding of the drivers of the contemporary food system and that we know what should be planned Rinı and Routı of the future. We may indeed all have clear notions of what we individually want, but to say that society as a whole has such clarity or a consensus is surely not true. Food policy, as we shall see, is itself contested space.
The history of food policy is an epic struggle between forces which seek clarity through food and those who seek emancipation. Disagreement about the goals for any possible planning process peppers food policy history, even in war-time, a reality which raises the uncomfortable fact that current procedures for deciding what the citizenry do or do not want from their food system are somewhat weak. Generally the forces of control have triumphed. So when raising the possibility, nay necessity, that food should be more sustainably produced and distributed, some humility about achieving such a reasonable goal is in order. This is not just a challenge for public policy, but also for intellectuals. Understanding of how the current food system works, what drives it, who gains and loses, is remarkably patchy. Those academics interested in food have tended to work in departments and disciplines tied to powerful interests, notably the state and corporate efficiency. Independent research into supermarket power, for instance, is scant but there is a greater literature on trying to make them more efficient.
The problem in food policy has not just been a deficiency of non-partisan academics. It has also been a failure of public institutions. WHO, Europe, for example through both the Urban Food and Nutrition Plan and Food and Nutrition Action have begun to redress these issues by bringing the different disciplines of the food supply system together.
Difficulties in food governance raise important questions but we are nervous about allowing the debate to wallow in Rdiscourseı. Recent food scandals - from BSE to food poisoning - have put even European Commission structures on the defensive. Responding to a highly critical Parliamentary report on the Commissionıs handling of the BSE debacle in 1997, President Jacques Santer admitted serious failures and institutional bias to productionist elements; it was time, he said, to reassert a political control over the current food and farming scene to assert the primacy of the public health and public desire for better systems of production. Sustainability is a challenge for politics not just the mechanics of government.
We suggest that the re-localisation of the food economy will have to be a central feature of any food system which claims to move in a more sustainable direction. We cannot conceive of a sustainable food system which was not as local as possible. There might be arguments about what is local - is an apple local if it is grown within 5 miles or 200? - but the drift of policy must surely encourage trends to be more local rather than more global; this is the reverse of todayıs implicit food policy.
If re-localisation is to be the hallmark of a more sustainable food economy, the issue is: how can it be driven in such a direction? What political changes or direction are required to help make it a reality? Proponents of the status quo inevitably argue that implicit in such an analysis is a more dirigiste state, anything from eco-totalitarianism to a benign environmental dictatorship. But the strong state model, they argue, flies in the face of the contemporary drift of political economy where considerable ingenuity and will is expended on reducing the Rnanny stateı. The call to reinvent government has in fact been a call to reduce and privatise it. So to argue for sustainability and localism is folly, say the critics; the clock cannot be turned back. This is a powerful argument and one much rehearsed in international arena such as negotiations on climate change. This model of the state - replete with the Roldı ideology of commanding heights, levers and 5 year plans - is indeed one version which arguably could be invoked to pursue the vision of sustainability in food. There is another, however.
In this, the role of the state is of facilitator, rule-setter, educator. If the former model of the state is a Rpushı model, the latter is a Rpullı. In this, the consumer or, more likely, the citizen, an altogether more rounded being, becomes a key agent (see our later discussion on food citizenship). In truth, a more sustainable political economy cannot be conceived of as imposed top-down. Far from implying a more centralised, dirigiste state or social order, a sustainable political economy reasserts an older model of the relationship between economy and society, one where social relations assert primacy over economic rules of engagement, rather than the other way round.
What would a more sustainable food system entail? For the food system to move in a more sustainable direction, there would have to be change in at least five key respects:
i. how food is produced and distributed (the nature of production);
ii. what people eat and consumers demand (consumer culture);
iii. a broadening of the definition of the environment to include medical notions of health (environmental health);
All of these raise problems of considerable complexity.
The halting march to sustainability within food policy
Thinking on how to turn the notion of sustainability into practical policies is better developed for some policy areas than others. The issues of transport and town planning, for instance, have received considerable attention, in part because there is a structural split between public and private provision. In food policy, by contrast, no such public-private split in production or service provision existed. The food economy is overwhelmingly in private hands. Some welfare catering is perhaps the only relic of public provision, and that was either born or vastly expanded in dire war-time circumstances. Yet in the 1970s and again, more stridently in the 1980s, food policy became a relatively high profile policy area, with demands for more public policy involvement and controls. The case for putting food production -- particularly agriculture -- on a more ecological footing moved from the preserve of the hippie and utopian fringes to policy mainstream in two decades.
For example, UK entry to the Europe introduced politicians into the warm waters of the Common Agricultural Policy from 1974, but food policy attention really sharpened with the publicity around an apparent attempt by sections of the UK food industry to withhold a health education report by the National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education (NACNE) in 1983. This brought to a head a simmering conflict over whether an unfettered food industry could deliver a health-enhancing diet and whether consumers can be given enough information on the health impact of their diet for this to affect demand. This conflict deepened in the 1980s with the extraordinary wave of scandals about adulteration and contamination in 1988-1990, but it culminated in the theoretically de-regulatory Thatcher Government introducing an interventionist Food Safety Act 1990.
Gradually, over a twenty year period, students of food policy had to re-learn lessons their predecessors had taken for granted: that planning is important, that the state has, on occasions, to be made to act as honest broker in commerce, and that unregulated markets have severe limits on what they can deliver with respect to non-economic goals. These lessons are central 9if currently fringe- to any thinking about the role of government and sustainability. Part of the difficulty of turning food policy in a more sustainable direction stems from the fact that food is an intersection point for diverse interests: health, environment, industry, trade, consumers, international relations, culture. It is also big business, with £57 billion annual sales. But this complexity is a challenge, not a barrier.
Despite this difficulty, useful work has begun on how to turn general sustainability policy objectives into operational targets. Much of this work has been conducted by Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who have grown from their origins as campaigning critics into being producers of solutions as well. In Britain, this development is now particularly noticeable and is, in part, due to the Thatcher Governmentıs ideological commitment to the free market (a euphemism for supporting some economic sectors, but not others).
One area of food policy where there has been most discussion about the case for trying to integrate sustainability goals has been the Common Agricultural Policy. Environmental goals were kept resolutely out of CAP terms of reference until the MacSharry reforms of 1992-93. These reforms were not the dramatic change, its proponents claimed, but they did introduce a system of environmental payments, a small, but symbolic victory. Another area where there has been both campaigning and analysis is the use of agrochemicals, a key indicator of intensification of production on the farm, with marked environmental and human health effects. Years of campaigning on pesticides has engendered some degree of consensus on the need to reduce pesticide use, and how to do so. Options range from wholesale abandonment of pesticides and adoption of organic or biological pest control systems, to Rhalf-way housesı such as Integrated Pest Management.
In food processing, however, there is no consensus between industry, government and NGOs. Government and industry see environmental issues as applying only in fairly restricted terms, such as energy use or packaging, whereas NGOs tend to criticise the nature of production more fundamentally. Arguments over food additives or technologies such as cook-chill or irradiation have highlighted this fissure which was institutionalised in John Major Governmentıs Technology Foresight document on Food and Drink. This was informed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodıs (MAFF) industrial sponsorship function. It excluded consumer welfare considerations, and environmental considerations were premised upon an overall industrial strategy of 'backing winners'. In the case of biotechnology, environmental considerations have been more systematically included, but there, too, the assumption is that commerce can best be left to determine the national interest.
In the food retailing sector, attention has focused upon the role of supermarkets and their control over shopping and impact on town centres and green belt development. There is some consensus on the case for reducing reliance upon cars for shopping and on the need to revitalise more local shopping, but less agreement on whether supermarkets will, on their own, be competent to do this.
In the domestic sphere, there has probably been most interest recently in the issue of cooking. There is consensus that there needs to be a base of cooking skills -- the catering industry is one of the few growth points in employment, albeit low waged -- but policy itself is divided about whether skills should be mandatory or voluntary. There is more clarity about the impact of declining cooking skills on public health. If people cannot cook, they are more dependent upon more pre-processed, and therefore more energy-wasteful, foods. They have less control over intake of nutrients. Use of seasonal foods in cooking not only supports general goals such as bio-diversity, but also, some evidence suggests, tends to use more local rather than long-distance foods, thereby side-stepping the problem of internalising the full cost of Rfood milesı into the cost of goods. The repositioning of the consumer as a de-skilled individual is an important contribution to food insecurity. Corporate control of the food system by large companies means that consumers are provided with limited information on the products they buy; along with emphasis on processed and convenience foods - which demand less skill of shoppers and eaters - over less processed ones. A highly skilled shopper is one who knows how to find value and cook with basic ingredients, offers less profitability to the retailer.
Refinement of thinking about the public policy and cultural implications of mundane issues such as cooking skills can be both useful and inspirational, but unless they are part of a coherent strategy, they can be dismissed as single issue work within an ad hoc food policy, when what is needed is an integrated framework which incorporates rather than Rbolts onı sustainability. The point here is that experience of single issues reinforces the case for re-assessing how governmental institutions and policies help undermine the goal of sustainability which it espouses elsewhere. Governments may be enthusiastic about reducing global warming, but fail to see the connection in their own classrooms. Getting cross-sectoral policies adopted and implemented across government departments and across national boundaries is a perennial headache for government, but in the case of sustainable development goals, it has to be done. Difficulty is no excuse for inaction. How, then, can food policy be moved in a more sustainable direction?
Government rhetoric of non-interventionism is belied by its actions, for instance on regulation, wage rates, R&D policy and other ground rules which affect the food economy. Membership of the European Union also gives the lie to non-intervention.
In fact, food policy can only be understood as the outcome of a complex interplay of forces. As argued earlier, food policy is contested space. Over the last 200 years, generally, but not always, it has been dominated by trade interests. As a result, seen from our demand for sustainability, food policy has been fragmented. Except in time of war, it has suffered from the separation of economic from other policy goals such as for health, culture, employment and the environment itself. The challenge for modern food policy, and sustainability in policy generally, is to develop mechanisms, targets and objectives which integration all policy demands. In modern times, attempts to integrate policy have been regrettably few and far between. We have to turn to earlier periods of interest to draw inspiration.
The food policy challenge
Part of the attraction, yet difficulty, with sustainability and local food production as a notion is that it has been around long enough for Governments less wedded to non-interventionism than Britainıs to have begun to exert some influence on their food economies. Norway, for example, in the 1970s decided to maintain a viable but supported, small farm sector, and to keep people in the countryside. A system of grants to enable small farmers to hire extra labour for a few weeks, to enable them to take holidays, for instance, was instituted. With regard to food processing, tight standards for food quality were set; for instance a ban on artificial food colours was deemed a way of both ensuring Rrealı food and more locally derived food. The more recent German targets for recycling of packaging are another example. (Europe-wide targets are currently under discussion.) General policy objectives always need to be turned into specific targets, and equally, before specific targets are set, the general policy objectives need to be agreed. For food, globally as well as nationally, these include:
i. feeding everyone, not just those with adequate funds;
ii. security of supply for an increasingly urban population;
iii. promotion of environmentally-sound food production;
iv. a good quality, health-enhancing diet;
v. stable employment from food production and distribution;
vi. ensuring that the gap between rich and poor is reduced, within and between countries.
Food trade and British food policy
World War ll food policy gave far more prominence to the social policy elements of food policy than the British state had hitherto allowed. Undoubtedly, this was due to the decades of campaigning on the dietary aspects of poverty, conducted by an alliance of interests which ranged from women campaigners to medical interests and unemployed workers. They had made food poverty a persistent theme of social policy in the first half of the 20th century. Here, too, scarcity was a theme, but in marked contrast to the efficiency deliberations over food in time of war, which carefully weighed up national, military and morale factors, thinking about food and poverty was inevitably draped in more social features: concerns for morals rather than morale.
Such moral concerns, expressed over the mundane issue of daily food, cross conventional political boundaries. (The English language is replete with food imagery and aphorisms, such as ³a family that eats together stays together² which can in fact be just as well reversed!) It is remarkable to witness the extraordinary capacity of politicians to argue that welfare systems undermine the family and threaten the nation, a theme that crops up throughout the 20th century welfare, to this day. By the early 1970s, when Mrs Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education, the Rmodernı imperative had shifted to how to teach the young to self-serve. Out went so-called family-style meals at school; in came the supermarket revolution.
What is the relevance of this for the contemporary debate about food and sustainability? Even such a short foray into British food policy history suggests, firstly, that the British stateıs actions have on the surface traditionally been narrow and have tended to be focused upon commerce, although social and cultural consideration have also featured. Secondly, we can note the definition of food security is strategic rather than environmental. And thirdly, we note that the spotlight in food policy has been on the State rather than any other social or economic forces. Throughout the 20th century, it has been the state to which the campaigners have looked to provide welfare, just as in the 19th century they did on the issue of food safety. But, as Beveridge, the architect of the British welfare state and the National Health Service, noted in his official history of the first Ministry of Food (in which he had been a civil servant) and of state intervention in World War l, the reflex of the British State throughout had been to keep itself at arms length from commerce. It had to be dragged into acting, when in the words of Lord Milner, it really wanted to restore Rbusiness as usualı, a perennial battle cry from the Right throughout the twentieth century.
Thinkers about sustainability, in contrast, tend to be ambivalent about whether to look to the state to deliver progress. Some are decidedly anti-statist, viewing the state as almost inevitably interfering, muddled, and damaging. Trust the people, they say; the goal should be to decentralise and localise. Others regard the state with more favour. In a world where capital and corporations are considerably more mobile and less regulated, the citizen and the environment can only be properly protected and represented by some kind of intervening power. The political battle is over what form that intervention takes, and how representative the state mechanisms are.
The State and the food trade gap
If at the start of this century, European Imperial powerıs food policy had the option to rely upon colonies, rather than self-reliance, World War ll, a period of terrible food adjustment, saw the end of Empire and a painful period of readjustment.
Europeanisation has been the context for British food policy, not that policy has been static; far from it. The Common Agricultural Policy has undergone more changes than almost any EU sector. From the moment Sicco Mansholt, on his first day in office, sent a secretary out to buy six filing cabinets and a desk, determined never again to allow hunger to stalk European soil, policy has been one of adjustment to new demands: over-supply, labour policy, prices, fiscal burden, expansion of the Community (then Union) and latterly, globalisation via the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).
A main plank in the British approach to European food and agriculture policy was a decision to Reuropeaniseı its traditional trade policy. Labourıs post-war agriculture Ministry took the 1947 Agriculture Act through Parliament with the goal of ensuring an adequate supply of food. Entry to Europe both accelerated and altered this policy. Home production of key supported commodities, such as cereals and some dairy products, rose. Instead of encouraging national production, policy encouraged europeanisation. Farmers and food were supported, and protection at borders went Europe-wide. The 1974 White Paper Food from our own resources was a misnomer; it should have stated food from European resources. For Britain, this meant that where in the pre-war period, there had been external food trade, mostly imports, there was to be internal trade within Europe. The pro and anti-Europe factions were born.
In 1983, as part of its vision for a re-invigorated, efficient Britain, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Peter Walker, set up Food From Britain (FFB), a quango, whose brief was to promote British food exports. In recent years, the food and drink trade gap has been considerable. Superficially, FFBıs promotions and marketing support schemes, such as encouragement of producers to attend foreign food fairs, have done little to stem the haemorrhage. At inflation adjusted prices, the trade gap was in deficit throughout the 1980s, a consistent £6 billion. These figures disguise other trends. Firstly, although each year, food imports have risen, exports have also risen by fractionally more. For instance, in 1992, exports rose by 13% and imports were up by 8%, a big jump on the previous year. But from a national trading perspective, such as the FFBıs, the picture is not as gloomy as the figures suggest. Whereas in 1971, exports were 25% of imports by value, by 1994 they were 60%. Even though both imports and exports were growing, and the trade gap was high, proportionately it was narrowing, if slowly. In 1996 however the trade gap jumped considerably, partly but not wholly due to the beef ban after the BSE link with Creutzfeld-Jakobıs Disease emerged. A huge proportion of the overall gap is accounted for by imports of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Many of the imports are of goods which could perfectly easily be grown or processed locally, products such as beers, sausages, yoghurts. Half of poultry meat imports, for instance, in 1992 came from France. According to Department of Transport figures, over the period 1979-94, food, drink and tobacco, which collectively account for less than 10% of GNP, were responsible for nearly 40% of the increase in freight transport. The same amount of food by weight is being transported as in the late 1970s, but it is going 50% further. Internationally, food imports by air more than doubled in the 1980s and after falling during the recession in the early 1990s rose by 15% during 1994. The increase in Rfood milesı travelled is an indicator, less of comparative advantage, than of cheap diesel and motorways.
When the Commons Agriculture Committee investigated the food trade gap, this provided the opportunity for one of the first formal occasions where sustainability issues entered the heart of contemporary food policy and where an overview of food policy was taken. Why, the Committee, wanted to know, was British food industry allowing unnecessary imports? The problem was defined in nationalist terms, but could be defined in environmental terms. For its submission, FFB calculated that of the £13.4 billion of imports, £7.5 bn were unavoidable, but £5.9 bn could be produced in the UK. To paraphrase Herman Daly, former environmental economist at the World Bank, no-one conceives of growing mangoes in inappropriate Northern climes , but why import lettuces or spinach or apples in autumn or summer when they can be grown equally well more locally? The traditional answer from environmentalists -- and deservedly so -- is that the full costs are not internalised in the cost of the food, but there are other factors. FFB argues that there are four reasons why the UK cannot produce all the food and drink its consumers require:
i. climate prevents production of certain foods;
ii. the UK season for many fruits and vegetables is limited;
iii. quotas in production of some products necessitate imports;
iv. consumer demand for Rauthenticı imported products.
A former FFB chief executive, Derek Garner, has tacitly blamed the grower, arguing that the problem is that British farmers do not grow for the market. For example, the UK imports vast amounts of vegetables, accounting for £1 billion of the annual national food trade gap, a fifth of the total. Some of this is importation of vegetables the UK cannot grow, but many could be, as the 371,000 UK hectares planted to vegetables each year testify. The reason for this marketing failure, argued FFB, was poor marketing, an inability to handle surpluses and increased supermarket shopping for vegetables. Dutch produce was imported the Netherlands, rather than home--grown, because the Netherlands had a better systems of auctioning vegetables.
This sober analysis of marketing failure suggested a connection between rising supermarket power over what was grown and sold.
The globalisation of a food culture of ill-health
Defining what is meant by food culture can be a tiresome task, but we can point to what people do, as well as what they think. Most, but not all, cultural commentators understandably celebrate the explosion of choice in the modern diet. At one level, globalisation enables a working class family in Dublin, Paris, London or Berlin to eat food from far off places. The diversity of the diet has been enormously improved by inflows of immigrants, in the UK Indian and Pakistani, people and their restaurants ion Germany Turkish refugees and Paris by North African immigrants and Vietnamese immigrants. One moment people can eat Italian, Japanese, Indian; the next moment they are listening to Latin American music, rock and roll, C&W, folk music, while dressed in clothes which take their inspiration from the world. It is easy to see how easily this cultural analysis of globalisation can be presented as liberating; it is, it can be. The spread of environmental consciousness owes much to television, for instance. TV brings the fragility of ecosystems in far off lands into peopleıs homes. There is also nothing new about the transfer of foods and cuisines. But questions are justly asked about the environmental impact, about who controls the process and whether people are losing control (if they had any), and about whether globalisation is a misnomer for Westernisation and a change in the nature of production.
Globalised food brands on offer in the international supermarket are generally pre-cooked or pre-processed. Cooking is transferred from home to factory. At one level, this can be appealing, especially to those -- women -- with prime responsibility for domestic food. But now in Western societies, generations are being produced where there are few or even no cooking skills. Far from trade creating freedom, people are actually being rendered more dependent. They are gaining skills in some spheres of their lives and not in others. In Britain, for instance, a survey of 7 to 15 year old young people found that 93% knew how to play computer games; 77% could use a CD or music centre; 61% could programme a video to record something on TV; 54% could bake a cake; and 38% could cook a jacket potato in the oven. As a vignette of modern life, this suggests a food culture in transition, gaining and losing at the same time.
In his study of consumer patterns, Alan Durning, of the Worldwatch Institute, concluded that new, global consuming classes were emerging. He suggests a categorisation of the worldıs 5.4 billion people into three consuming classes, for which food is a key characteristic(see Table 1).
TABLE 1 World Consumption Classes, 1992
|Category of Consumption Consumers Middle Poor|
|(Population) 1.1 billion 3.3 billion 1.1 billion|
|Diet meat, packaged grain, clean insufficient grain,|
|food, soft drinks water unsafe water|
|Transport private cars bicycles, bus walking|
|Materials throwaways durables local biomass|
modified from Durning, 1992, p 27.
Consumer culture, not just in food, is driven by the ecologically over-consuming class, he argues. Although ikons such as McDonaldıs tend to hog the headlines, it is important to recognise that a long and powerful transformation of society is underway. Ritzer has called it McDonaldization. Others have called in coca-colonialism. Aspirations for a lifestyle are translated in dietary form; they may be driven by the affluent but copied by the less well-off. This pattern includes, for example, an emphasis on meat eating as an indicator of progress, and a disregard for more local foods. RPeasantı becomes a term of abuse, synonymous with the past. (The numbers of farmers in Europe has in fact halved in the last two decades.)
Similarities of lifestyle bond the rich of North and South, as well as the poor. The rich, Durningıs consumers, eat unprecedently copiously. They -- we -- can chose from 20,000 items on the hypermarket shelves, drawn from around the world in a brilliantly efficiently run system of production and distribution. This delivers fresh, green beans in mid-winter, flown in from Kenya or the Gambia. Biodiversity in the shelves is not necessarily reflected in the contract fields whence this abundance comes. And the poor continue to starve. According to the United Nations Childrenıs Fund, 'one in five persons in the developing world suffers from chronic hunger - 800 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Over 2 billion people subsist on diets deficient in the vitamins and minerals essential for normal growth and development, and for preventing premature death and such disabilities as blindness and mental retardation.' While such facts are sobering, inadequacies of income affect dietary intake in affluent countries too. The emergence of global consuming and under-consuming classes is accompanied by a globalisation of inequalities. All this leads to confusion in the mind of the public who are bombarded with messages about the abundance of food and are then told that there are many in society who do not have access to culturally sufficient amounts of food and who regularly go hungry.
Thirty years ago, the combined incomes of the richest fifth of the world's people were 30 times greater than the poorest fifth. Today their incomes are over 60 times greater. The rise in numbers of dollar has been estimated by the Institute of Policy Studies, Washington DC, as 358 by 1994. This relatively tiny number of people was calculated to be collectively worth some US$762 billion, which is approximately equivalent to the combined income of the world's poorest two billion citizens, i.e. well over a third of the worldıs population. This sharp division within the globalisation of consumer food culture is the result of the rapid concentration of national and international economies everywhere.
The assets of the largest 300 firms in the world are now worth approximately a quarter of the productive assets in the world. Transnational corporations (TNCs) now account for 70% of total world trade (i.e. in all goods, not just food). Of those TNCs, the top 350 now account for around 40%. In food, such power is common, according to research by the United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations and high levels of concentration are common in the food system. Cargill, a family owned commodity trader, has 60% of world cereal trade. The biggest five corporations control 77% of the cereals trade, the biggest three have 80% of the banana market, the biggest three have 83% of cocoa, the biggest three have 85% of the tea trade. In Europe, small, craft and local food producers and traders are under pressure. As a result, between 1980 and 1990, 11% of UK farmers and 34% of farm workers stopped farming, continuing a process, it should be stressed, begun long before the European Unionıs Common Agricultural Policy. Nevertheless, the fiscal impact of CAP is considerable. For instance, 80% of farm support that actually gets to farmers (as opposed to traders or storers) goes to the largest 20% of farms. These trends do not help the case of localisation and the sourcing of foods from local areas. These TNCs are no longer selling goods but themselves as brands. Many of these large companies do not themselves produce goods they sell, but sell ideas and images. A product is something grown on the farm or produced in the factory, a brand is something that is bought by the consumer. While Naomi Klein in her ground breaking book deals with factories and industrialisation of the world ecomony where she talks about the discarded factories of the first world. Similarly it is our contention that the farms of the first world have been abandoned in favour of the cheap labour and land of the developing nations. The supermarkets marketing of brands such as RSaninsburyıs organic foodı further succeeds in isolating the consumer from the growing and production of that foodstuff.
To health specialists, a key contemporary cultural indicator is not the number of farmers and growers, but fruit and vegetable consumption. Generally, there has been a shift from fresh items (unprocessed, uncooked materials) to frozen or pre-cooked foods. Illustrative of this trend is the declining consumption of fresh potatoes and a rapidly expanding market for value-added potato products such as frozen chips. This shift in consumption patterns has ecological implications. The food travels further (see below), but also its energy use rises. The British eat less vegetables than any other European country, at least half the amount of France, Spain and Italy. This is a significant factor in the UKıs lamentable record of food-related ill-health. Vegetables (and fruits) contain many of the protective factors for coronary heart disease and some cancers which are Britainıs main sources of premature death. A government study of the health of the Scottish diet, for instance, found that Scottish children's diets were "the worst in the western world". A high proportion of children eat neither green vegetables nor fruit. If this is the picture today, in 1960 it was even more marked, with Scotland eating over 60% less vegetables, for instance, than the national average.
After rising proportionally from the 1950s to the 1970s, expenditure in Britain on fruit and vegetables declined from 1980 to 1990. In fresh green vegetables, there has been a decline from 14-15 oz per person per week in 1960 to 12 oz in 1980 to 10 oz in 1990. Consumption of other fresh vegetables has risen from 14-15 oz per person per week in 1960 to 16-17 oz thereafter. While fruit consumption appears to have increased significantly since the mid 1970s this is largely accounted for by the very sharp rise in purchases of fruit juice which does not provide equivalent nutrition to its fresh counterpart. This fruit juice consumption, however, is often of juices from long-distant fruit, notably oranges from Brazil. A study by the Wupperthal Institute in Germany calculated that 80% of Brazilian orange production is consumed in Europe. Annual German consumption occupied 370,000 acres of Brazilian productive land, three times the land down to fruit production in Germany. If this level of German orange juice consumption was replicated world-wide, 32 million acres would be needed just for orange production. The increasing range of fruit available throughout the year also contributes to this rise in consumption.
Reviewing half a century of the UK national diet, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods' National Food Survey concluded that "better communications, more uniform prices and changing tastes have all contributed to a degree of convergence in consumption levels" between the regions. Although diets have changed in unimaginable ways, in nutritional terms they have changed far more patchily. Fat intake, for example, has remained almost static, but the source of the fats has not. People might be drinking less full fat milk, but the fat is consumed in different forms.
The epidemiological evidence on the contemporary diet is clear. Having conquered hunger in the West, food is now the primary cause of premature death. Food is implicated in the Westıs great killers, heart disease and some cancers (breast, colon). Eating a more RWesternı diet is seen as a cultural yardstick for development, when probably it ought to be seen as cultural failure. The huge medical study of the Chinese diet undertaken by researchers in China, England and the USA has shown conclusively that Western diseases are associated with changes from the peasant diet, low in saturated fats. Compared to, say Americans or British, the Chinese eat a diet low in animal fats. But even within the Chinese population, those who ate a higher saturated fat diet, had more medical problems than those who did not.
There is near unanimity in the scientific literature about the ideal diet for humans. Sometimes this is referred to as the Mediterranean Diet, in honour of the work by Ancel Keys and colleaguesı epidemiological work comparing the diet and disease rates of seven countries, first provided evidence for the failure of the Radvancedı diet. The population of Crete, Greece, set the model, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, carbohydrates, low in meats and with some fish. The Mediterranean diet as it has been called has been tried to be introduced into other countries, possibly not recognising that the diet is a subtle interplay of supply, regional and cultural factors. The isolation of the diet to a nutritional focus ignores the issues of local supply and production of food.
Today, as food styles are exported and -- let us not pretend otherwise -- taken up by people, the desirable diet seems a luxury. People are being encouraged to think of food and drink as coming not from farmers or the earth but from giant corporations. A study by opinion pollsters Gallup has found recently that 65% of people in China recognise the brand name of Coca-Cola; 42% recognise Pepsi, 40% recognise Nestlé. This change is not just one of brand items, but of how work and social exchange is organised. McDonaldization, Benneton-isation, whatever the names researchers give, they point to a similarity of process, the triumph of distribution. In the post-Fordist economy (marked by flexible specialisation systems of production), the distributor not the consumer is sovereign.
In the UK 5 food retailers control around 60% of the consumer market, while in Finland, the top five have 95%. Every decade the number of grocers goes down by half. In almost every processed food sector, one or two manufacturers now dominate. The main concern of these giants is not saturated fats, but saturated markets. This concentration of retailing is also occurring in other areas and regions. Hungry had over 5000 super and hyper markets in 997, Poland had 7 in 1995 and is estimated to grow to 70 by 2001 (see figure 1).
FIGURE 1: Increase in number of supermarkets from 1991 to 1995 in Central Europe
A review of the impact of this emerging hypermarket food economy conducted in the UK showed how the hypermarket economy has led to the same amount of food travelling further, up and down the motorways. A German study of strawberry yoghurt found ecological absurdities in the system of processing, packaging and distribution, such that a theoretical truckload of 150 gram yoghurts would travel 1,005 kilometres. Independent small retailers tend to source their food more locally, whereas giant stores want the regularity of supply that can only be given by large factories, large contracts, large growers.
This changing nature of global contracting and distribution has enormous implications, not just for consumption and shopping patterns but also for the position of the producer on contract, who might be more or less distant. There are signs that developing countries are being set against each other to compete for the favour of feeding affluent areas of the globe, for instance Kenya against the Gambia on vegetable production. This also has the effect of institutionalising the 'ghost acres' phenomenon, where the supposed efficiency of Northern farming is in fact subsidised by cheap inputs from abroad, notably in the form of animal feeds.
This hidden shift in social and ecological relations in the post-war food revolution is consumed and purchased daily. The average European weekend shopping trolley contains goods that have already travelled 4,000 km before we take them home. In the USA, one study calculated, each food in their trolleys now travels an average 2,000 kilometres (1,300 miles) between grower and consumer. The European Commissionıs Task Force on the Environment calculated that there would be a 30-50% increase in trans-frontier lorry traffic from 1993 following the opening of national borders within the Single European Market. Total lorry traffic was expected to double between 1989 and 2010.
The reality of hypermarkets is that people have to use their cars to get food. According to the UK governmentıs National Travel Survey, the number of shopping trips in Britain rose by 28% between 1975/6 and 1989/91 and the total distance travelled increased by 60% over the same period. Instead of shopping locally, often on foot, an environmentally damaging type of transport is used. The number of car-dependent trips and the distance travelled have gone up rapidly. In 1985 62% of people used their car for their main shopping. By 1993 this was up to 73%.
The emergence of the supermarket dominance of retailing has resulted in inequitable access to food, the reality is that out-of-town supermarkets with their plentiful supplies of cheap food are not easy accessible by vulnerable groups. In addition if vulnerable groups do not have access to land to grow food or markets selling locally produced in season fruit and vegetables their choices are severely limited. As can be seen from figure 2, food comprises one of the largest components of household expenditure. In low income groups any savings made can be made available for non-food expenditure and improvements in living conditions.
FIGURE 2 Percentage of income spent on food in Accession Countries compared with the EU average
This change in distribution not only gives retailers power over the entire food system, but also affects what the farmer grows and how she or he grows it, by the use of contracts and specifications, and also affects poor consumers. They have to pay for transport that they can ill afford. Needless to say, the specifications stipulate that food is unblemished, of a certain size, uniformity, and so on, which only a narrow form of farming can produce. Shops sell vegetables which can and used to be grown locally, which are now brought 1,000 miles.
All this contributes to the illusion of choice. For the consumer the Rfearı of localisation may be a reduction in choice and the imposition of standardisation.
Standardisation versus diversity: the effect of choice
No-one has contributed more to the process of food standardisation than the supermarkets. Even though there are now some attempts to introduce local sourcing of speciality products such as cheeses, broadly the rule is that what you see in one outlet of a chain, you can also purchase in another. The style and feel of the chain is deliberately homogeneous. Variations do happen, of course. The customer profile of one store might lend itself to being a trial store for new products. And rather like clothes retailing, some stores might be bigger and have a more 'flagship' status within the company than others.
A food culture is not just inherited, it is made, in a complex interplay, by family, friends, commerce, and other factors. Consumers are barraged with food information from companies. By 1990 over £500 million a year was being spent on advertising food in Britain. Food is one of the most heavily advertised of all products. Bodies tell people, after all, when and that they need food. There is almost no advertising on fresh fruit and vegetables. One third of food advertising is spent on television, and in general food advertising is dominated by the desire to sell processed, usually fatty and sugary foods. A fifth of Radspendı is on confectionery.
The top twelve retailers spent £46 million in 1986, rising to £72 million in 1990. The figures have risen since. Even something as mundane as the packet design can have drastic effects on product sales. In the USA, the average person is bombarded by all media with 3,000 messages (to consume) a day and gets 326 direct marketing packages per year, compared to the UK average of 43. To the advertiser or direct marketer, this suggests the UK has lots of room for expansion. In 1994, H.J.Heinz announced that its marketing strategy was changing to direct marketing, in order to build up profiles on consumers. Tesco, the largest UK food retailer, launched its loyalty card in 1995, with the same intent; the other big retailers quickly followed suit. In an astonishingly short space of time, the giant UK supermarkets have become banks!
The debate over the influence of the food industry on food consumption is a minefield, with the industry and its pundits claiming that advertising has a limited impact on food choice. The fact remains that very little is spent on promoting vegetables and fruit, the emphasis being instead on sweets and snacks foods (see figure 3 for an illustration of this phenomena).
FIGURE 3 The relative expenditure of advertising foods in Scotland 1991
Consumers are furiously fought over by food companies. Every year, an estimated 10,000 new food products are launched onto the European food market. One in ten will survive the year, and only one in twenty survive two years. The key mediators between what is grown on the farm (wherever that is) and the consumer is the supermarket. The supermarket has become an icon of the present age. The daily miracle of bringing food from all over the world, whether wrapped or loose, lurid or wholesome, to urban centres is an awesome feat of modern management.
Demand for a uniform product translates into pressures for uniform plants and growing conditions. Standardisation has resulted in a huge loss of genetic variation in our main food crops, which has reached its apogee in the case of apples: there are 2000 varieties of apple in the National Collection of the UK but today just 9 dominate in our commercial orchards. Within the limited range of varieties in demand by the large food retailers, typically single ones will be grown on a very large scale. "(T)he use of a restricted range of varieties over large areas approaches genetic monoculture. This has profound effects on the interaction of crop plants and their pathogens, and can lead to epidemics of disease and to calls for new disease-resistant varieties." The tendency of genetic uniformity to optimise conditions for both pest and disease attack in turn increases pressure for pesticide usage.
At the same time, supermarkets are demanding products out of season "shopping anywhere in the world at world surplus prices." Stocking policies and promotions are no longer "planned according to crop development to coincide with periods of peak production. Now they seem to be at the whim of the sales director, imposed on a pre-programmed calendar basis for marketing purposes."
The Food System
The picture being painted of the sustainability of the present food system is one which is both dynamic and multi-dimensional. Table 2 constructs a typology of the key dimensions. According to this schema, the thesis advanced in this chapter is that the current food system is being pushed inexorably to the left hand side of each dimension, when in theory, if we desire sustainability, policies are needed to encourage the food system to veer more towards the right hand side.
TABLE 2 Open Futures?: tensions in the food system
globalisation vs. localisation
urban/rural divisions vs. urban-rural partnership
long trade routes (food miles) vs. short trade routes
import/export model of food security vs. food from own resources
intensification vs. extensification
fast speed, pace & scale of change vs. slow pace, speed, scale of change
non-renewable energy vs. re-usable energy
few market players (concentration) vs. multiple players per sector
costs externalised vs. costs internalised
rural de-population vs. vibrant rural population
monoculture vs. biodiversity
science replacing labour vs. science supporting nature
agrochemicals vs. organic/sustainable farming
biotechnology vs. indigenous knowledge
processed (stored) food vs. fresh (perishable) food
food from factories vs. food from the land
hypermarkets vs. markets
de-skilling vs. skilling
standardisation vs. Rdifference' & diversity
niche markets on shelves vs. real variety on field & plate
people to food vs. food to people
common food culture vs. fragmented (diverse) culture
created wants (advertising) vs. real wants (learning throı culture)
burgerisation vs. local food specialities
microwave re-heated food vs. cooked food
fast food vs. slow food
global decisions vs. local decisions
top-down controls vs. bottom-up controls
dependency culture vs. self-reliance
health inequalities widening vs. health inequalities narrowing
social polarisation & exclusion vs. social inclusion
consumers vs. citizens
source: Lang 1999
Localisation needs to be focussed around the concept of community food security and the related issues of "food citizenship" or "food democracy", necessitating a move beyond the notions of food as a commodity and people as consumers. One of the limits of anti-hunger advocacy is that it accepts the logic of consumer rights, and does not challenge the structures of capital in any significant way. The split we have observed is between those who are centrally focussed on social justice and those who are equally committed to the dual goals of environmental sustainability and social justice. While critics would argue that it is more than just the food system that is organised around capital, we argue that there are few other systems that touch people's lives in such an intimate fashion on a daily basis, and thus provide such a strong motivation and opportunity for citizenship.
The concept of ³consumer² is far too limited in that it acknowledges a personıs interests and power primarily in terms of his/her ability to buy (or reject) products and services. The language of ³citizen² implies some complex membership in a society, with both rights and responsibilities. Citizens have capacities (rights and responsibilities) beyond those of consuming goods and services. Similarly, society is more than simply a marketplace. The process of reframing the local supply of food not only requires a stage of conceptualising food as more than a commodity and people as more than consumers, but it also requires a process or model for the expression of food citizenship. Food, like no other commodity, allows for a political awakening, as it touches our lives in so many ways. "Food citizenship" draws on and helps to nurture authentic relationships.
Food citizenship is inconsistent with current approaches to profit making in the food system. Although most businesses have not consciously ³deskilled² and misinformed their customers, it is a side effect of the rules of a capitalist food economy. We see four particularly important dimensions to this process of diminishing food citizenship: 1) corporate control over the food chain;
2) providing consumers with limited information on the products they buy;
3) manipulation of the supermarket environment;
4) emphasising processed and convenience foods - which demand less skill of shoppers and eaters - over less processed ones.
The food system to successfully exert control, firms must, as much as possible, predict and influence their consumersı shopping and eating behaviour. Food citizenship is for the corporate world an impediment to profit making. The corporate equivalency of local is convenience. Convenience has been defined primarily by store location and car accessibility, product availability and ease of product preparation for the consumer. The convenience requirements of those who do not meet the standard shopper profile, particularly urban low-income citizens, are not given much consideration.
Another problem is that food citizenship ahs been targeted at the poor and disadvantaged. Thus turning the risk group into the risk factor. Using the Toronto experience we suggest that food citizenship should meet the following criteria:
The food citizenship debate needs to be reframed in terms of the north/south debate. It requires consumers to re-establish their mindset so that the balance sheet is not that of deutsche marks, punts or pounds but of social justice. The issues of local sustainability need to be conducted as a battle for the hearts and minds of consumers and engage in raising awareness of issues related to food.
The markets of the south which are an important part of local culture, acting as places of personal exchange and contrast sharply with the sterile spaces -the new cathedrals of consumption -of the supermarkets of the north. Buieıs idea of the market as a spiritual space as the erotic space of commerce. This commerce is not simply the exchange of money but also includes the personal exchange and gathering as an event. Where market sellers are closely connected to their goods the personal is enhanced.
The countries of the North need to revisit the shopping experience they offer. Local foods and goods are one way of reintroducing the social into the Rshoppingı experience and helping reconnect the consumer to the local.
The producers of local food seem to think that the rusticification of their presentation is an attraction. So the brown rice and sandals approach where food is presented in surroundings that are far from ideal for social discourse are not the way forward. There is a need to return to the agenda of the market as a place of social interaction. The architects and planners of the Victorian age recognised this in their design and sting of covered markets.
BOX 1: Farmersı Market: Kuopio, Finland
Sustainability - new forms of governance for old?
The above arguments underline the enormity of the challenge posed by the simple, but plastic notion of sustainability. Food policy is one area where some thought has been expended over the last 20 years into what a more sustainable food system would look like. It may be summarised as a challenge of immense difficulty and complexity. The adherents of old-style central state dirigisme could well argue at this point that this complexity merely proves the value of having a strong state which can cut through the difficulties and impose its will on the recalcitrant parties. At times of slow progress one can sympathise with such a view, but it is ultimately wrong. This chapter has argued that sustainability in food requires a tremendous shift in both production and distribution, culture and politics, economics as well as environmental thinking. It is a truly revolutionary analysis. To have recourse to tried and failed draconian government would be inappropriate which is why the green movement has consistently argued for a softer state. The vision of the state propounded by green theorists from Michael Jacobs to Paul Ekins is not the currently fashionable Rhands offı variety but does in fact argue for tough regulations, particularly on the issue of cost internalisation. Much of the critique we have made of contemporary food systems could be addressed by the rigorous application of higher energy costs. The politics of this approach suggest that this will not happen. Wherever there have been attempts to introduce tough carbon taxes, for instance, there has been furious resistance from big business. It is more realistic, barring some unforeseen new oil crisis, to argue that sustainability can be edged towards on multiple fronts than through a Big Bang approach such as an energy tax.
What would this entail?
Firstly, there would need to be reform of the institutions of government. The Blair Government in the UK has set up the new Food Standards Agency and is planning reform of the MAFF rump left behind. Such reform is to be welcomed, but it will not succeed in promoting a more sustainable food system if it, as at present, excludes the environmental dimension of food policy. The huge super-ministry of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions has functions which centrally affect food sustainability. The committees which monitor and regulate food quality also have narrow terms of reference. These all should be reviewed. Within Europe there is a need for a rationalisation of the EU, not just the CAP but the whole approach towards food. Food needs to be conceived as an integrated issue incorporating all elements from farm to plate and not split between the various Directorate-Generals.
Secondly, no goal of sustainability is possible if the current Common Agricultural Policy is left intact. Since the MacSharry Reforms of 1992 some acknowledgement of environmental goals is now made, but environmental protection is really an excuse for other ways of paying marginal farmers to leave the land to be intensively farmed in larger holdings - the Refficiencyı argument by another name. For sustainability to be realistic within CAP, the subsidy system would have to be radically overhauled. The Agenda 2000 reform document of 1997 shows little sign of entertaining this. Pressure is unlikely to subside, however. There is considerable public support for integration of environment and food and farming policies, judging by public opinion polls. The UK compared to Germany has been particularly slow to help farmers in the transition from chemical to organic systems, compared. Ideally, organic farming should be subsidised at a EU level as opposed to a national government level, rather than high-input farming or set-aside, if there are subsidies at all.
Thirdly, local food supply and sustainability issues along with environmental goals would have to be included into the agriculture regime of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to encourage local production and supply of food. Despite considerable lobbying during the 1987-94 Uruguay Round, the final textıs approach to agriculture was narrowly economic; there was little conception that nearly three fifths of humanity inhabit rural areas. And despite evidence that Africa, the poorest region of the world, would lose, the agreement was pushed through. The realpolitik was that this was a treaty which favoured and was brokered by the USA and Europe. In addition, the disputes procedures and food standards setting systems were far from desirable.
Our fourth proposal is on territory closer to home for traditional conceptions of planning. The analysis of the food system given in this chapter suggests that much could be gained by implementation of a tougher retail planning and competition policy. It has been argued elsewhere that food retailing concentration should be judged more in local terms and that environmental objectives should be written into the terms of reference of a reformed Office of Fair Trading and Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Food sold in corner shops is often more expensive than that sold in large supermarkets, but the latter are now often located out-of-town and are difficult for those without transport to get to. The full cost of transport is also externalised. The trend towards locating food retail outlets out of town should be discouraged by changes to planning and competition policy. There needs to be a review of national policy on food retailing. Ironically, as the most traditional form of home delivery declines, such as the daily delivery of milk (a practice dating from the 19th century in the UK), many retailers are now actively expanding home delivery, utilising the internet to place orders. Farm diversification through, for example, farm shops and community supported agriculture (CSA) and direct deliveries, is of increasing importance. All over the UK, a new generation of markets, often modelled on US so-called Farmersı Markets, has expanded. This has been born out of desperation among small and organic producers of being squeezed by the huge supermarkets, plus a yearning for some retailing of authenticity among consumers.
Fifthly, the present analysis argues that the current food system is being driven in an unsustainable direction not by any hidden hand on levers, that could be thrown into reverse, but by a complex interplay of desires and tastes. These are both economic and cultural. The consumer Rdemandingı (i.e. buying) fresh green beans in mid-winter is a key factor in unsustainability, yet would probably be horrified to think of him or herself in those terms. We are all Rgreenı now, after all. The missing link in this respect is a structural dearth of consumer information. Consumer education in the UK is weak, and with the decline of home economics, will weaken further. Reliance upon market mechanisms, such as labelling to deliver sustainability goals, is inadequate to the task. It might be more realistic to plan on the basis of a thirty year task of re-directing food culture. Imaginative schemes experimenting with new forms of education and training for life skills are proliferating world-wide; these range from reinvigorating ways of communicating practical cooking skills to class work where children learn to 'read' advertisements, to realise that they are marketing targets, objects not subjects.
Finally, what about traditional planning? The Local Agenda 21 movement, inspired by the 1997 UN Conference on Environment and Development, has led to a mushrooming of interest in Chief Executivesı departments in new ways of popular consultation and involvement. LA21 programmes attempt to involve local communities in helping Renvisionı the locality in a more sustainable direction. Many have chose to focus on food, auditing, for example, the availability of foods grown as regionally as possible. Their experience warrants more attention than this chapter can give, but suffice it to say that the LA21 movement appears now to be well ensconced in many Town Halls. But it is still marginal where it matters most, namely the budget process within local authorities. Unless local authorities have more autonomy over budgets, community involvement might peter out.
When faced with a public health crisis at the end of the 19th century, local authorities were empowered to act in a variety of ways, ranging from setting up covered markets (i.e. direct food provision) to health monitoring. With the modern food supply so concentrated and in private sector hands, what can the local state do? It is financially stretched already meeting its legal requirements to monitor and enforce hygiene standards under the Food Safety Act 1990. Environmental Health Officers have led the local authority debate about what a more sustainable civic role could be, but unless central government liberates them to undertake this role, the vision will remain fantasy.
Our conclusion must therefore be that in food policy, at least, the promise of sustainability is greater than the reality. A new vision for food is emerging, in which the consumer is beginning to flex his and her muscles. (The catastrophe of BSE could not be hushed up because consumer eyes were on the issue.) New forms of planning are bound to emerge. They are certainly required. Although concerned citizens can be important in this process, the present analysis is cautious about leaving all the effort and responsibility to individual consumer action at the point of sale. Information and education is currently too patchy and restricted to be effective in meeting environmental goals as speedily as is desirable. Ultimately, we have argued, to shift the food system in a more sustainable direction requires a new involvement for the state.
Only the state, as voice for the public interest, can be a sufficiently powerful lever against unfettered commercial interest to set new economic rules. Already powerful interests within the food industry are beginning to recognise that if everyone was given the same targets and if these were gradualist enough, sustainability and the market need not be incompatible. Although market mechanisms can deliver more sustainable food production, this is unlikely to happen unless the state encourages a new framework. This requires international as well as local action. Herein lies the opportunity for planning. The two keywords for this new planning will almost definitely be co-ordination - to cover the inter-sectoral nature of the food system - and appropriateness.
While we have stressed the strong case for re-localisation of the food system, it should be recognised that a blanket localism would be just as stupid as the current worship of the globalisation god. Localisation does not mean an end to trade or everything being produced locally. It does mean seeking a better balance between the local, regional, national and international markets. The truth is that while food supply might be better if pushed in a relocalisation direction, some issues in food governance can only be addressed at the local level and others at the regional or international. The distinction between the food system and its governance is critical to any new notion of planning. The key issue is to give the appropriate powers to the appropriate level of governance and to do this in a way that carries food culture with it. This, as we have argued, requires state action. It may be unfashionable to talk of state action, but that is the hard reality. Any state action requires to be linked with the issues of food citizenship and the public interest. Local food and sustainability issues are welcome as they introduce these elements and help steer a way that recognises locality and local food production as important and view food not as the link in the consumer/retail discourse but as social spaces that help enrich our lives.