Rethinking Food Policy as Public Policy in Wales – Now Needed More Than Ever with ‘Brexeat’?

It’s hard to focus after a political earthquake. The vote to leave the European Union is a political earthquake of the highest magnitude. We are still in a period of many after-shocks.

So what to make of this report about Welsh food policy from the Public Policy Institute for Wales that was published just after the referendum result? The authors wrote it before the referendum result and were not asked to consider the possibility or ramifications of a leave vote.  But the authors of “Food Policy as Public Policy”, Professors Kevin Morgan and Terry Marsden, raise a range of important problems from increasing inequality leading to household food insecurity, to a reduction in the number of farm businesses, the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. They also identify various positive developments, such as new urban-based multisector food councils as well as innovative and ground breaking policies in Wales notably the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

They are disappointed with the progress made since the publication of the report “Food for Wales, Food from Wales 2010 – 2020”. They lament the delay from 2010 to the birth of the narrower and more focused strategy produced by Food & Drink Wales in 2014 called “Towards Sustainable Growth: An action plan for the Food and Drink Industry 2014 – 2020”.

The key problems they identified with this Food & Drink Wales plan were that it divorced farm-based production from the downstream sectors and failed to connect sustainable consumption with sustainable production.

The Brexit vote, while it may not change everything, changes a great many things – from the governance of the food system, to the funding and direction of research and development, to the funding available for rural development and farmers. After an earthquake, there is an opportunity to build anew. Wales has the basis to create new food policies that address the range of issues that must be grappled with if we are to develop fair, healthy and sustainable food systems and societies.

The authors suggest a wide range of sensible proposals which will help address some of these challenges – although some will have to be rethought in the light Brexit. The Welsh government, along with those in Scotland and Northern Ireland, has a great opportunity to be at the forefront of connecting sustainable consumption and production of food in Wales in a way that delivers a range of sustainability and health benefits. It does mean, as the authors suggest, making food central to understanding how public policy can both reflect and lead to a fairer, healthier and more sustainable societies. If it can do this, England would do well to follow suit.

About the author:  Geoff Tansey is curator of the on-line, open education resource, the Food Systems Academy, member of the Food Ethics Council and chaired the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty