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Michael Gove asked me to a meeting to share my expertise. I declined. Instead, I’ve given him a piece of my mind.

 

A few weeks ago, I was approached by an official at the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. She told me the Secretary of State was holding a round table discussion for ‘innovative thinkers’ on July 25 to give him ‘food for thought in the early days of the new job’. He had asked for me to be invited.

The Secretary of State is Michael Gove. I found this peculiar. Just before Christmas, when he was in the political wilderness following his calamitous attempt to secure the Tory leadership post the Brexit vote, he trolled me on Twitter. He accused me of behaving in a dodgy manner by offering to retweet photographs of my book being sold by retailers. He said it was a journalistic conflict of interest, despite the fact that none of them are retailers of the sort I review. He also accused me of failing to offer myself for public service (by implication, as he had). Hilarious: at the time, he was taking a six-figure salary from Rupert Murdoch to write for The Times when he was also employed as an MP.

It was a bizarre episode which you can read about more fully here. (I understand Gove was motivated by my having taken his wife, Sarah Vine, to task for attacking Ed Milliband over his two kitchens. I pointed out that she and Gove bought theirs using more than £7000 of public funds which they then had to return during the expenses scandal.)

And now here he was, as Secretary of State, asking me for advice. Michael Gove, the man who railed against too many experts during the Brexit referendum, was looking for my expertise. (For those wondering why he cared what the bloke from Masterchef thought, in 2013 I published a book about food security and sustainability in the 21st century).

After much hard thought, I have concluded I am just not grown up enough to play the game of British politics and sit in a room with a man of whom I think so little.

Yes, he may have done good by bringing in free school meals while at Education. Yes, he made positive moves while at Justice.

But since then he has disgraced himself. He was one of those who continued the £350 million-a-week EU lie and led us down the disastrous path to the utter folly of Brexit. He has been revealed to be a plotter and a conniver and all-round rather nasty piece of work. No, I cannot sit in a room with him and make talk, small, large or otherwise. Sorry. I’m just not that guy.

But god knows he needs advice, because our whole food supply chain has been imperilled by the Brexit vote. I have therefore decided to put my thoughts into a written submission, which I am also posting here. It should be noted that this was written prior to his announcement on reform to subsidies of today (July 21). His comments chime with what I say below, which itself is a repeat of what I said in an interview for Farming Today, broadcast in March 2017.

Some might regard this as self-aggrandising. Of course, in one sense this is true. Newspaper columnists are by their nature self-aggrandising. We believe what we have to say is worth hearing. Michael Gove can tell you all about that. No surprises there.

But I would add that, if drawing maximum attention to myself were really my aim, I would have tried to get my newspaper to publish a version of this, and earned some dosh along the way. I chose not to do that and am publishing it on my website instead.

And there is a final key point. Michael Gove has never before shown any interest in the important job he has been given. Theresa May only appointed him because she needed his support following the disastrous General Election result and the loss of her majority. He only took the job for political reasons, not because he cares about food or the environment. Politicians in these circumstances are usually found out quickly and I expect this will be the case with Gove. I don’t imagine he’ll last more than a few more months in the job before being shuffled off. Frankly, I didn’t want to waste all this effort on someone who will soon not even be there. His successor will be able to read the report too. And you, if you like.

It should also be said that writing this took a lot more time than sitting in a bloody room with him.

I emailed the document below to Gove’s office just before posting it here.

 

******************

WRITTEN SUBMISSION FOR MICHAEL GOVE MP, SECRETARY OF STATE AT THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT, FOOD AND RURAL AFFAIRS

By Jay Rayner

July 2017

 

HISTORY

In the early 1990s Britain’s self-sufficiency in food reached its highest in modern times. We were producing just over 70% of all the food we were eating. Since then the story has been one only of decline. We now produce 60% of our own food, but because of exports only around 50% of the food we eat is actually produced here. There are a number of reasons for this, but key among them is the dominance of the supermarkets. In the late 80s and early 90s a series of changes to the planning laws allowed for the building of large out-of-town hypermarkets on previously greenfield sites which in turn encouraged the boom in the supermarket sector. That created the food retail landscape we have today in which fewer than a dozen companies control over 90% of the food retail market.

The supermarkets used that dominance to drive prices ever lower, and with drastic impacts. This is no knee-jerk negative response to the concept of supermarkets. They have their positives. They have kept pace with social change, shortening the length of time it takes people to get the shopping done, thus enabling the two-job households required to keep pace with the cost of living. They have been a prime driver of food culture in the UK, providing a ready source of the ingredients consumers have been introduced to via the media. They have enabled huge economies of scale.

However, they have also imperilled whole sectors of agriculture, including the dairy and pig business. Enormous numbers of food producers have either gone bust or simply left the business because it was no longer viable. We are no longer in a position to feed ourselves adequately. And all of this is against a swiftly changing global situation.

 

THE GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE

In 2006 DEFRA produced a paper on food security which declared it was not an issue for an industrialised developed nation like Britain; that the supermarket sector had the financial heft to buy us out of any problems. It was nicknamed the ‘leave it to Tesco’ report by many in the food policy world.

It was a naïve and short-sighted report which failed to understand changing global demographics. The huge expansion of a vibrant middle class in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere has challenged the conventional wisdom on the flow of produce around the world. For many years the British supermarkets had free range over the produce from the southern hemisphere. However, many of those producers have increasingly chosen to trade with China and India. In 2000 14% of the world’s middle classes were in Asia; by 2050 that will be 68%. We no longer have unfettered access to the global larder. Given the fall in our self-sufficiency, this means we are now at risk from global shocks including exceptional weather events (which, courtesy of climate change, are becoming less exceptional), disease, war and disturbances in the commodity markets. All of this was exemplified by the huge price spikes of 2008 – caused by multiple events, including bio-fuel policies in the US, drought in Australia and typhoons in Bangladesh – which saw many countries banning exports of grains.

The importance of food price rises around the world should not be understated. The Arab Spring of 2010 was, for a long while, described as some spontaneous uprising in pursuit of democracy. In truth it was a response to food price rises and the increasing inability of authoritarian governments in North Africa and the Middle East to subsidise those costs, which had been used as a tool to keep populations in line.

 

BACK TO THE UK

And so now the UK sits with dwindling self-sufficiency, in a stormy world in which food has become one of the great economic battlegrounds. Added to that is the appalling folly of Brexit, forced through by a cabal of ideologues happy to trot out falsehoods about the sunny uplands of economic joy that leaving the European Union would bring.

Instead it has resulted in a devaluation of the pound, making imports more expensive and the exporting of our food more attractive.

If, as many fear, a bad deal is done for Britain resulting in huge tariffs and penalties on trade, food price inflation is going to be in double digits for years to come. That’s if we can get hold of food at all. The people who will suffer the most, of course, are those who already have the least. For them the buying of food will use up a massive proportion of their expendable income.

There are major implications for the nation’s health and therefore, over the long term, for educational attainment and class division. The state of our food supply post Brexit has within it the great potential to make Britain an even more unequal society than it already is.

I make no apologies for being a Remainer. The implications for this country of leaving the EU are appalling. It is a project which should be abandoned.

 

IMPROVING PRODUCTIVITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

There is an imperative for Britain to become more self-sufficient, not for reasons of petty nationalism or to fulfil some agrarian fantasy of localism but because, without it, in the current political climate, we risk not being able to keep ourselves fed. There are a number of levers that can be pulled.

 

The consumer and price

British consumers have become too used to food being sold too cheaply. In an age of austerity when many are struggling it is a tricky argument to make, but the fact remains. We need an agriculture sector in a position to invest in its base to help improve our productivity and therefore our self-sufficiency. The 10% of income (down from 20% in 1970) that we spend on food does not enable that. Many may find this unpalatable but the fact is this: unless we improve our self-sufficiency, we will be at the complete mercies of those international markets. Unless we pay a little more now, we risk paying vastly more later. This is an argument that farmers, retailers and the Government needs to engage with.

 

Subsidies

It does not conflict with my own belief in the EU that I also believe the current EU farming subsidy regime to be extremely flawed. The same view is held all over Europe, and the CAP was always going to be reformed, regardless of whether we stayed or left. Either way it needs to change.

It is a mystery to me why farmers voted in such number to leave Europe. I assume they believed the false promise that the money based on acreage would just keep rolling in after Brexit. I also assume they hoped it would free them from environmental protection legislation. Certainly, both parts of the regime are flawed.

 

Environmental protection

At present we pay farmers not according to outcomes but based on what they have done. It doesn’t matter if buffer areas around farms haven’t encouraged greater biodiversity; it just matters that farmers have created buffers. A new set of environmental protections are needed in which farmers are paid on outcomes: cleaner water, better soil quality, higher biodiversity. They are custodians of our landscape; more of them need to be encouraged to follow best practice and behave as such. There could be a series of front-loaded grants to pay for work needed to produce the outcome, but what is required is the outcome not the activity.

Included in this should be an encouragement away from monocultures and into as diverse a range of agricultural activity as the landscape will allow. Too many of our calories come from too few a set of crops.

 

Single Farm Payment

This is the greatest blight on British farming. It has enabled inefficient farms to stagger on and, as a result, blocked a new generation of entrepreneurial farmers from coming into the sector. There is anecdotal evidence that Single Farm Payments based simply on acreage have encouraged the rise of the ‘slipper farmer’, which is to say farmers who put their feet up, slippers on, and simply do not farm but collect the subsidy.

The Single Farm Payment was designed for a post-war Europe that wanted to secure a continuous and stable supply of food as a way to stave off conflict. It was there to even out the risk faced by farming be it through disease, weather issues or price fluctuations.

As risk in agriculture is the issue, resources should be directed at managing that through the sort of state-backed insurance scheme used in North America. Farmers should get the support when they need it, rather than in some chronic manner which embeds poor practises and inefficiencies.

 

Carbon footprinting

In food policy circles the oft-repeated mantra is the need for ‘sustainable intensification’: the ability to produce more food while having a smaller impact on the environment. It’s an exceedingly tricky bit of calculus. Gains made in one corner can lead to losses elsewhere. Large-scale livestock farms can, for example, have a much smaller carbon footprint per kilo yield than bespoke organic farms, but the impact on the water table can be dire.

So carbon footprinting is a blunt tool, but it still has much to recommend it (when combined with environmental subsidy based on outcome, as per above). Anecdotally, producers have told me that the process of engaging with it, and therefore of trying to enable a smaller carbon footprint, has led to greater efficiencies across the food chain. Examining one element of environmental cost leads to an engagement with all of it. The expertise behind carbon footprinting is now widespread. The Government should introduce a wide and easily accessible set of grants for producers both big and small, wanting to engage with the process. A lot of work has been done on this by the equivalent of DEFRA in the Republic of Ireland – Bord Bia – which has carbon footprinted the entire beef industry. There is much the UK can learn from this.

 

SUSTAINABILITY AND THE CONSUMER

As ever the agricultural sector will, in the end, be led by the consumer. And for the consumer what matters is knowledge. It is my firm belief that, over time, some form of sustainability rating should be introduced on food. We expect to see energy ratings on white goods like fridges and washing machines; why not on our food, given that we spend so much more on it? Such ratings would need to cover two points: the comparative sustainability of a product within its own category, and against others. You need to know which chicken product is the most sustainable AND that chicken is much more sustainable than beef.

Producers would be incentivised to get as good a rating for their food as possible; part of that would be a reduction in waste, and that has to be a good thing. Extending sustainability ratings to retailers themselves would again be an encouragement to reduce waste. It need not be mandatory, but those who refuse to participate would be telling their own story when it comes to the environment and their commitment to it.

 

LOCALISM

Many in the food world, embracing a committed anti-corporatism, will argue for a food policy which encourages localism. There are arguments in favour of sourcing your food from as nearby as possible. In rural areas it is a way of supporting your local economy and your neighbour’s. It also ensures short supply chains. It provides a strong and engaging narrative.

However, do not be fooled by environmental arguments around localism. What matters most when judging environmental impact of food production is the full life cycle: you need to look at the carbon (and other inputs) not just of the trucks getting produce from field to fork, but in the farm buildings and machinery, the fertilisers and the workforce. It involves a large and complex set of metrics. When you do that the proportion of the carbon footprint caused by transport falls to between 2% and 4%. What matters is not where food is produced but how. The example I always give is of potatoes. In the right soil you will get 20 tons an acre; in the wrong soil you will get 16 tons. So, in the latter, you will need 25% more land or shed loads of carbon inputs to get the same outcome, even if it happen to be closer to you.

(The same arguments extend to both urban farming and ‘grow your own’. They are interesting educationally. Allotments are good for mental wellbeing and general fitness. But the carbon footprint of the food produced tends to be appalling.)

 

THE SUPERMARKETS

Light-touch regulation has, in effect, allowed a set of huge corporations to become custodians of our food supply chain. Scandals like that involving horsemeat suggest it is one to which they are not suited. In July 2013 I interviewed Philip Clarke, then Chief Executive of Tesco .

He made serious and compelling commitments to openness and to his suppliers, recognising that he was running more than just a business. At the very same time, the public was unaware that a criminal investigation was under way into gaping holes left in Tesco accounts and the way they were dealing with their suppliers. In short, the supermarket sector still has to prove it is up to the job it has been given.

 

The Groceries Code Adjudicator

In a shameful display of political cringing in the face of large corporations, every political party resisted the introduction of a grocery ombudsman to police the dysfunctional relationship between supermarkets and suppliers. Eventually, in 2013, one was introduced and the incumbent has attempted to do as good a job as possible within the regulations as drawn up. But they were written in an extremely naïve manner which showed little or no understanding of the food supply chain.

By restricting themselves just to the relationship between supermarkets and direct suppliers, they ignored the fact that farmers are often at the mercy of the supermarkets at second or third hand (or more): their produce often becomes the raw ingredients for manufactured products then supplied to the supermarkets by one or two or even more links in the chain. And all of those links can be victims of supermarket pressure on price, which pushes down to the farm gate, exacerbating the crisis in British self-sufficiency. It makes no sense. If we are going to protect farmers from short termism then the remit of the Groceries Code Adjudicator should be extended to the entire food supply chain: i.e. whoever farmers sell their produce to and upwards from there – not from the supermarkets down.

 

CONSUMER HEALTH AND FOOD CULTURE

The writer Bea Wilson, writing in the New Yorker, made a compelling argument for the health benefits for the British population as a result of EU membership, and the opening of trade in fresh fruit and vegetables.

Even allowing for the horsemeat scandal (which affected the UK food supply chain more than any other), the EU has provided a strong regulatory system which has ensured safer food and higher animal welfare than is the case elsewhere in the world.

By leaving the EU the UK will be forced to open itself up to food production practices that are far less healthy, palatable or even safe. Likewise we may end up importing much more meat produced at a much lower welfare standard than we are used to. In short, Brexit risks exposing UK consumers to much lower food standards than we have come to expect.

Suggesting EU membership has been responsible for a more vibrant food culture is, to my mind, less relevant. Yes, freedom of movement must have made the UK a more open country but, in an increasingly globalised world, it’s likely this would have happened anyway. Shortly before the referendum vote, a round-robin letter was circulated by the writer Paul Levy, and signed by many big names from the food world, which argued we were imperilling our increasingly cosmopolitan society. Compared to the risks of not being able to feed ourselves adequately, the possibility that we might have less access to well-made focaccia is an irrelevance.

Access to a labour force from elsewhere, however, is not an irrelevance. I refer you to my Observer piece on the challenges of getting the harvest in if the free movement of labour comes to an end.

Industry experts including Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation estimate we will need somewhere in the region of 500,000 worker permits a year if we are to keep our current food production active. However, there is evidence that increasing suspicion of xenophobia in the UK, encouraged by the toxic rhetoric in support of Brexit, is dissuading migrant workers from coming here. Why come to Britain when you could go to Spain, and be paid in euros, a much stronger currency which is only likely to become increasingly so?

 

PRODUCT PROTECTIONS

One of the arguments for staying in the EU given by many in the niche and aesthetic end of the food world is our ability to remain in the scheme that protects traditional products through designations based on geographical origin or recipe.

While I’m obviously a part of that same food world, in the grander scheme of things, these protections seem to me an irrelevance. I am well aware I am in a minority for holding this view, but any certification which codifies a recipe – say, for a Cornish pasty or a Melton Mowbray pork pie or a particular type of cheese – fails to understand the drift of food history: that there is no such thing as an official recipe for anything; that all recipes change both over time and even within our own kitchens. Likewise, defining a product as coming from a particular area is entirely arbitrary. A brilliant Stilton could just as easily be made in Yeovil as in the precisely delineated area that a Stilton must currently come from.

I can see that these are important issues culturally but this, to my mind, is how they should be regarded: as issues of culture, to be passed out of DEFRA to the DCMS.

 

CONCLUSIONS

I find it extraordinary that, in the correspondence inviting me to the meeting of food experts called by you, your colleague Fiona Gately said that Brexit would not be part of the discussion. She later retracted that verbally; said it was of course something we could discuss. The point I made to her then and I make now is that, where our food supply is concerned, Brexit is the only subject. It is implicated in every single aspect of our food supply chain and risks imperilling the very health of the nation.

A few years ago, when discussing food security in the UK, Lord Cameron of Dillington – a farmer and first head of the Countryside Agency – said Britain was just ‘nine meals from anarchy’. It would take just three days of empty supermarket shelves, just three days of meals missed by hungry children and despairing parents, for the country to descend into massive civil unrest.

When I first heard that statement I regarded it as an interesting and diverting piece of hyperbole. Now it feels to me like a prediction.

Of all the things that were said to me when I was researching my recent an article on the importance of migrant labour to our food supply chain, the one that stayed with me most came from Ian Wright of the Food and Drink Federation: ‘If you can’t feed a country you haven’t got a country’.

Amen to that.

 

 

Please Note: Many of the points above are a summary of those in my 2013 book A Greedy Man In A Hungry World.

 

 

126 comments on “Michael Gove asked me to a meeting to share my expertise. I declined. Instead, I’ve given him a piece of my mind.

  1. Richard Lee on

    A most compelling and timely article. Thank you for it and calling out the egregiousness of Gove.
    PS I think there’s a rogue “%” in the para about potato growth – should it be “only get 16 tons”?

    Reply
    • Margaret Moran on

      Thank you Jay Rayner for an excellent and thought provoking piece of writing.
      Two of my daughters live in Italy and France. Both benefit healthwise and financially from the stunning array of locally produced, in street markets and in supermarkets. This is in stark contrast to our country where orchards lie deserted and fields fallow.
      We have so much to reflect upon.

      Reply
      • Marina Caird on

        I have just come back from Germany, where even the humblest cheap shop like Metro stocks organic produce. Lidle in Germany is almost half organic. Butter, a range of cheeses, fish, meat, eggs, milk, yogurt, cereals, even personal products are available in Lidle in organic form. The streets are full of small retailers of fresh produce, a lot of which is also organic, and costs not much more that non organic. I went to Tesco today and nearly cried in dismay and frustration at the poor produce and acres of junk food!

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        • LttP on

          We are so barbaric in this country. I suspect it’s because businesses are run by accountants rather than innovators, and because everything is about money instead of people or other sentient beings. We’ve been taught to want cheap, unhealthy food that is making us sick rather than valuing food and our time spent preparing and enjoying it. For anyone who has studied health and nutrition in any way at all, it’s obvious that ALL food should be be organic and all meats pasture raised or wild. But no. we’re so hypnotised about being productive and slaves to the machine, that we don’t notice these absurdly obvious things.

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    • Doug Reeve on

      Thanks Jay for such a great and well presented article, it is a terrible shame that Golm, sorry Gove, will not read, comprehend or take any notice whatsoever as he is probably the second biggest waste of space after his once mate Boris.

      Reply
      • Horace Sutherland on

        I feel all agriculture land must be preserved for generations to come And not sole for building. If a person wishes to sell they must sell to another farmer

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    • Lynda Osborne BA Econs on

      This article raves against Brexit at beginning and end, but the content contains good arguments for us to leave the EU! Only when we can make our own laws, free from the dictatorship of the EU, will we be able to improve the UK’s production of food. Yes we need to make our empty fields productive and give good incentives and prices to our farmers. We can become more self sufficient, we need to be, even if it does mean higher prices. In 1980 we, personally, used to spend 33% of our income on food. It is the most important thing in order for us to live, and people need to realise this, and stop wasting money on other things, like eating out in restaurants, if they can’t put food on their own table. Jay we need to leave the EU, in order to be free to do some of the things you suggest in your article.

      Reply
  2. Simon Reynolds on

    As a small farm rearing sheep and beef in the Black Mountains. We are mystified why our neighbours voted to leave the EU. Farmers around here are ,with very few exceptions working other jobs. We for example have a holiday cottage, my wife teaches, we foster and I production manager in theatre. The loss of subsidies would be difficult but not impossible. The subsidies are passed on down the chain as at the moment we do not receive enough at market to make viable. We have calculated we could be better off slipper farming. But l love my cattle and our way of life here.
    Keep it up Mr Rayner Mr Gove is a shit

    Reply
  3. Miles King on

    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this riposte to Gove, though I have to say I would have been sorely tempted to attend the meeting, if only to put on the table some “home truths”. I certainly would not have been constrained by anyone who sought to keep Brexit out of the discussions.

    I wrote a report last Autumn (published in January), which you might be interested to look at. http://peopleneednature.org.uk/public-realm-policy/pebble-in-the-pond/ It’s coming at the issues from a slightly different perspective, but nonetheless I agree with many of your conclusions.

    I’d be interested to know your thoughts on it. I’m still hawking it around politicians and the media and anyone else who might be interested, in the small hope that things will change in the right direction and Brexit will not be a complete disaster.

    Reply
    • Nigel Tolley on

      If it goes ahead, it’ll be a disaster. Only the scale of the disaster is what is now up for debate. Loss of market, sudden removal of the CAP (though it seems likely the rich land owners would be insulated from this calamity), import costs rising further due to further currency collapse, and tariffs on exports are four solid reasons off the top of my head. Any single one of them should be enough to stop this whole stupidity, but all four will add up to a calamity that this country hasn’t seen since the (second hand) Irish Potato Famine. And all self-inflicted!
      Quite remarkable.

      Reply
  4. Vic Gardener on

    Well said, Jay. I’m not alluding to the circumstances which caused it (though a fall-out with our European neighbours is a common factor) but look at what happened in 1939, when we HAD to bridge the gap in food self-sufficiency very rapidly. Like you say, it’s better to take some action now, rather than more, more drastic, and expensive (in more ways than one) action, later.
    For those who cannot take the written facts on-board, I recommend the contents of the BBC series, ‘Wartime Kitchen and Garden’ from the 1990’s, or ‘Wartime Farm’ (2012), for graphic explanations of the privations which ensued (and probably gave rise to the way food production in the UK went, post-war).
    Perhaps you should now have that discussion with Michael Gove? Though not in an office at DEFRA but live and on prime-time television. It’d be one way to ensure that he actually reads what’s in your letter.
    Well done, and thank you.
    Vic.

    Reply
  5. Jo Barlow on

    Excellent article thank you. Let’s hope Gove reads it and takes note!
    My only addition is that you could have included reducing the reliance on meat and increasing consumption of fruit, vegetables and grains. From a environmental, economical and ethical perspective, it would be a game changer – I believe (correct me if I am wrong) but when WW2 broke out, animal farmland was changed over to arable as it was seen as a more efficient way to feed the nation. (And yes I am a vegan).

    Reply
    • Miles King on

      it’s certainly true that 6.3 million acres of pasture and meadow were cultivated (at some point) between 1940 and 1943, though quite a significant proportion of the land that was ploughed was only used once or twice before the farmers gave up and converted it back to grassland, or allowed it to “tumbledown” back to grass again. Whether it was efficient or not (in terms of energy conversion) wasn’t really the point, as the prime motivation was to stop people from starving, and make sure they were getting enough calories to be able to continue contributing to the war effort.

      What is clear is that since then there has been an inexorable decline in the UK agricultural area used for “horticulture” ie growing fruit and veg. We now import around 75% of all fruit and veg consumed in the UK (excluding potatoes). As Liz Truss might have said “this is a disgrace.” One of the reasons why our home-grown F & G production has declined is because much falls outside the current subsidy regime. At the smaller end of production, any farm with a utilisable area of less than 5ha is deemed too small to qualify for subsidy, which seems entirely wrong-headed to me. The average farm size across the EU is only 16ha. Conversely, we are more or less self sufficient in meat. One of the reasons for this is that most (around 80-90% depending on the year) of the grain produced in the UK is fed to animals, not used for direct human consumption. This is a tremendous waste of resource, as well as creating less nutritious lamb and beef, when compared with grass-fed only diets.

      Shifting the nation’s diet away from meat, towards more vegetable protein and more fruit and veg is of course desirable, but probably a decades-long process. A decent post-Brexit food policy, as proposed by Professor Tim Lang and Erik Millstone in their recent paper, would be a necessary first step. Does it need legislation? Probably not. But we could start by ensuring school children know where the food they eat comes from, how it is grown, and the impact of different foodstuffs on the environment and society.

      Reply
    • Felicity webber on

      I would refer you to the section in Mr Rayners letter Localism. The WW2 policy telling farmers what to grow and where was very often counter productive, in that much of the land used for arable production was wholly inappropriate and often resulted in total crop failure at worst or poor quality grain at best. Also in areas where soil is shallow, cultivation can lead to erosion and lead to watercourses becoming silted up, thus impacting on biodiversity of streams and rivers. Pasture serves more than just a means of feeding animals but helps protect ecosystems and contributes to flood alleviation.

      Mr Rayner is correct in identifying the need to include an assessment of sustainability insofar as it looks at a wider picture that would include carbon footprint. Unfortunately, at the moment there isn’t a single empirical formula recognised to carry out a sustainability evaluation.

      Reply
  6. Christopher Evans on

    It does worry me, (Grove as head of environment)! He’s not some one I feel I can trust.
    On the matter of farm subsidies there’s a lot in the press about getting rid of the acreage payment . No system is perfect but what it does do is compensate for fluctuating farm prices which in turn helps maintain level prices in the shops. If it’s done away with shoppers will see much greater price fluctuations which they may not like. I’m quite sure they insurance idea will not work in many farming operations, e.g. Livestock.

    I see there is talk of payments for environmental work based on results, sounds fine in principal but how is it going to be measured. In my view it’s a weeze saught up by civil servants in DEFRA to protect their jobs, just imagine how many people will be employed going round farms measuring results, far more than employed measuring acreage that’s for sure and they won’t be able to do it sitting in an office looking at a screen.
    If thebpresent scheme has nightmarish aspects the future looks like a horror movie .

    Reply
    • Nigel Tolley on

      But we must aim for improvement. Aiming for the same useless targets year after year makes no sense. Also, they’ll be plenty of unemployed ex-civil servants, police, army, etc kicking about after Brexit backed by a decade of violent Austerity against the less well-off. Getting them off the streets and inspecting farms would certainly be better than having them roaming the streets.

      Reply
  7. Chris Smaje on

    Well, there’s some good stuff here, but the idea that agriculture must be led by the consumer coupled with a critique of localism essentially on the grounds that it’s best for each area to focus on what it can produce most efficiently leads straight back to the problems that Mr Rayner is highlighting – monopsony retail capture, price-driven bottom lines, environmental externalities (which aren’t all reducible to per yield carbon footprints) and flight from an unremunerative industry. We need to start thinking about food as citizens rather than consumers, based on what a realistic local/national foodshed can provide rather than on what global food resources our money is able to draw down.

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    • LttP on

      Exactly. We need to stop thinking about efficiency and profits, and start think about sustainability and welfare. Fluctuating food prices are normal and we’re all used to that e.g. british strawberries in season and cheap, compared to southern hemisphere strawberries in winter. Plus, I’ve always felt that consumers are lead by supermarkets more than the other way round. People have too much to think about already, and too many decisions to make which taxes their brain power, without petitioning their local supermarket for what they want. Frankly, most of us just chuck whatever is available into our shopping trolleys without questioning it too much.

      Reply
      • Peter Boorman on

        “Frankly, most of us just chuck whatever is available into our shopping trolleys without questioning it too much.”

        I think that is less and less the case. Rising poverty means more people look carefully at price; the more informed and also hard up look at price plus nutritional value; there is more interest in healthy diet; more ‘food fads’; more people concerned about animal welfare; more awareness (not all of it well founded) around avoiding certain ingredients – from gluten to MSG; more concern about environmentally destructive production methods in, eg., palm oil; more interest in organic production; and so it goes on. Even without factoring in things like the Slow Food movement (doubtless more relevant to farmers’ markets than the average supermarket) I think there are more people than at any time since, perhaps, the war paying serious attention to what they put into their shopping baskets. Certainly there are many who do ask few questions, but they seem to be a decreasing proportion.

        Reply
  8. Kate Harris on

    Thank you for this article. On the topic of M Gove, what incensed me and my husband was his comment to Paxman pre Referendum vote ‘The EU are interfering with oven gloves and crème brulee torches “. The greedy little boy tucks his bib in every day in the HOC dining room with no thought for safety of chefs. He appalls me.

    Reply
  9. alice bouilliez on

    The Single Farm Payments system in France especially has the merit of making the future clearer. Without this system, which is basically a corn exchange, farmers like myself would be totally unable to commit to ANY long term investment in our farms. The single Farm Payment, which comes to about what we have to pay the MSA (Mutual Securité Agricole) for a minimal social security cover, gives an amount through which we can lever security from the banks. This allows visibility and security for the tractor, the seed or the fertilizer that is needed to grow next year’s crop. With the grain prices being liable to vast changes because all the grain is quoted in dollars, and the difference in one year can be of a ratio of one to ten or more, depending on the international exchange rates. Simply relying on last years prices to estimate next year’s income has been proved to be wildly dangerous. Far from causing ‘slipper farming’ the Eu has enabled farmers to stock, and to comply with norms and safety needs.

    Reply
  10. Steve Gavin on

    Thanks Jay Raynes, I work I the Port Industry and have been harping on about the fact that we will potentially have to pay in advance for our food imports which will hammer our balance of payments. I had not thought of the fact that those imports may not be available at all due to not only climate change but exiting the EU will massively diminish our ability to purchase on an “economy of scale” basis. The nation will suffer but the poor will suffer the most.

    Reply
  11. Marianne Malonne on

    Thank you for this insightful and brave article. At last, someone who dares tell the truth about how Brexit will wreck the livelihood of so many in so many ways.

    Reply
  12. Jeremy Broster on

    Really great article Jay and gave me some new insights. I’ll buy the book!
    I’ll just make a couple of comments if you don’t mind…
    Nick Clegg introduced free school meals, Gove actually opposed it. When the Conservatives realised it was a popular move they claimed it as their own idea. (According to Nick in his recent book if I remember correctly).
    Recently they tried again to remove it in the election manifesto and look who’s back in cabinet?!

    Regarding the carbon footprint I’m not sure if I agree. This from the soil association.
    Why is organic better for the planet?

    Organic works with nature, not against it.
    Intensive agriculture causes soil erosion, chemical run-off into water systems and can mean some weeds and insects become resistant to herbicides and pesticides. Organic farming on the other hand doesn’t rely on synthetic or petroleum-based pesticides or fertilizers. It significantly reduces water and soil contamination. Wildlife can thrive. Don’t you think organic is a breath of fresh air?

    Combating climate change

    Agriculture plays a big part in climate change and is responsible for around 14% of total green-house gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. The widespread adoption of organic farming practices in the UK could offset at least 23% of UK agriculture’s current official GHG emissions.

    This is because healthy soils are a major store of carbon, containing three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and five times as much as forests! The impact of switching to organic farming could save 64 million tonnes of carbon over 20 years across all UK cultivated land – the equivalent of taking nearly a million family cars off the road!

    https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/why-organic/better-for-the-planet/

    Reply
    • Dr Keith Dawson on

      Recent German research has shown the organic diet to have no better carbon footprint than conventional, party due to extra land and cultivations involved

      Reply
    • Nigel Tolley on

      Organic is, probably, worse for the wildlife. It is very energy intensive, people intensive, and the organic food is carefully scoured of pests daily to prevent damage – which means no wildlife or anything else!
      There are pros and cons, like everything in life – except Brexit, which is just a con!

      Reply
    • LttP on

      Over and above that, food grown organically should have better vitamin and mineral composition, plus you get the beneficial gut bacteria that we need. When the food that you eat actually nourishes you properly, you don’t need to eat so much of it.

      Reply
  13. Edward HENRY on

    Dear Jay, this is a masterly and compelling analysis. Unfortunately for us all, what you say is absolutely true. The only issue might be, in the trade war that follows an exit without a deal that we will export less. The analogy is drawn on the Anglo Irish trade war of the 1930s which destroyed Ireland’s dominance in the bacon market and led to the influx of inferior Danish produce. That’s no comfort, at all, of course. Thank you for publishing this compelling piece.

    Reply
  14. JackiePool on

    Compelling reading Mr Rayner, thank you for taking the time to set these arguments out so clearly
    I’m sure that I’m not the only person who would be grateful if you were to change your mind and attend Mr Gove’s meeting. Whilst it would be unappealing it certainly wouldn’t be a waste of time as you would help to ensure that your points remain on the table (along with our protected food resources!)

    Reply
    • John Tucker on

      I agree with your correspondent who suggests that you should attend the meeting. You need to be there ensuring that Gove is not surrounded by his yes-person supporters perhaps equally concerned about their personal political futures. You have the mastery of the facts as they really are and the personal qualities to assert them and reveal his woeful inadequacies on the issue. Go to it and go for him, please.

      Reply
  15. Trevor Jordan on

    On BBC News just now Gove said future subsidies will need to be earned (a variation of May’s “work is the way out if poverty”) and listed the environmental goals you list: cleaner water, increased biodiversity etc. But given the Tories past behaviour that will have farmers chasing unattainable targets rather than actually farming, and the targets will be set to avoid any subsidy even approaching the £3 billion EU grants: he can’t afford that much as today’s news on Government borrowing emphasises. Better to Remain in EU and Reform it than suffer Gove’s “green Brexit.”

    Reply
    • Caroline Raffan on

      Some farmers are likely to be forced out of business by this government’s fanatical support for further fossil fuels of a “home grown” variety, ie unconventionals. These unconventionals are moreover subsidized by tax payers. And can threaten water integrity as has been clearly shown by what occurs in the US and other countries. This is a weak government with no overall plan.

      Reply
  16. Derek Hayes on

    Thank you for this. I wonder if the Daily Mail, Express or Sun would be interested in publishing it? Perhaps you could precis it for them using words of no more than 6 letters…..

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    • tim preston on

      The headline could be: Gove leads the way on green farming. OK, farming has 7 letters, but the alternative was agriculture.

      Reply
  17. Cibdylou Turner-Taylor on

    Fabulous and clear…but I bet Gove won’t read it. Just curious about allotment carbon footprints. Why are they appalling…we have always walked to ours, grown according to what we actually eat, used horse poo to improve and maintain soil structure, collected and shared seeds, only watered seedlings using collected rain water and inevitably grown loads of nettles, comfrey etc for wildlife and horticultural reasons. Why an appalling carbon footprint?

    Reply
    • Jay Rayner on

      Thanks for this. I’ll just give a small example. The embedded carbon in the food required to fuel your walk to the allotment is (depressingly) rather more than if four of your shared a car to get there. And how did that horse manure get to you? And then you have to look at the relatively low yield compared to a full scale farm, to come up with carbon per kilo. Allotments are great but there is a carbon benefit to large scale

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      • ladybird on

        Hi. Does that embedded carbon in the journey made by car include all that in the total life cycle of the manufacture and disposal of the car, and in the road infrastructure on which it drove to the allotment? Genuine question.

        Reply
        • Jay Rayner on

          A purist would say yes, but certainly a proportion of it should be counted against the yield. the same applies to machinery on farms.

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          • Sandeha Lynch on

            I had understood from reading John Seymour’s ‘Self Sufficiency’ years ago that smallholding and market gardening, using natural fertilisers and largely carried out without heavy machinery, were more efficient than large-scale farming – his point being that while farming was more efficient per man-hour, smallholding was more productive per acre. Was that just opinion on his part, do you think, or has more recent data disproved the point? I appreciate that the details make the bigger difference in any comparison, but I’d generally expect yields to be higher where the land is worked more intensively, such as in an allotment.

          • Tony Holmes on

            This study suggests that allotment soils may be better at storing carbon than soils on conventional farms.

            https://phys.org/news/2014-04-allotments-yield-food-healthy-soil.html

            You point out that food is necessary to provide the energy to walk to the allotment. But what would the individual’s food consumption / energy budget be if they didn’t walk to the allotment ? We don’t know – they might choose to exercise in other ways which use food / energy.

            It seems to me that a comprehensive comparison of the carbon footprint of allotment and conventional food production would be a very complicated process, if all the embedded energy were to be taken into account, and various externalities considered, and I doubt if any such detailed research has ever been done

          • Jeff Glyn-Jones on

            An excellent article overall, but I do find it difficult to correlate the home grown food question. An allotment or garden can produce per acre more usable human food, recycle the waste and promote the exercise needed to keep a healthy lifestyle than any other occupation open to everyone. I fail to see how that can happen by sitting on a tractor or having the ‘efficiently’ produced food brought to you wrapped, bagged, and delivered; or by driving to the allotment however many calories it takes.
            None of us have the breadth of understanding of the complexities of the food cycle, but we can see the waste created by the present global circulation of materials, fuel and plastic required to maintain it .
            Whatever the statistics say, give me my own home produced food anytime.

            Jeff GJ (retired farmer)

      • Emily Prestwood on

        Though there are carbon benefits to large scale I’m not keen on these types of arguments. Calculating embedded emissions has a high level of uncertainty due to all the assumptions you have to make. The walkers’ higher carbon footprint assumes they would eat more to replace calories lost from walking rather than it perhaps being that they regularly walk rather than drive and are fitter, slimmer and eat less than car drivers. Also, what are they eating? A high carbon footprint if it’s a daily serving of beef but not if they’re a vegetarian, or even if it’s chicken or pork, And what car are they driving? A low emission vehicle or an old 4×4? Too many assumptions! Also, it doesn’t consider air pollution.
        I would be interested in seeing the calculations comparing allotments and full-scale farms though to see how they estimate embedded emissions at all stages. I was going to ask you for a link but I can google it!
        Otherwise, really enjoyed the article.

        Reply
      • Karen Newman on

        Surely we can discount the carbon cost of walking to the allotment – if Mr/Ms Turner-Taylor drove the allotment, he/she would have to exercise to keep healthy. Better to get that exercise by attending to food production than use oil-based fuel to get there and then do physical exercise another way – that would be a double carbon hit…or am I missing something. My father-in-law uses his car to get to his allotment, no passengers, and then goes for a daily walk to keep fit.

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      • John Barrett on

        That methodology isn’t making a lot of sense to me. Is there somewhere I can read a more detailed explanation? For a start, what has yield got to do with carbon footprint? If my low-yield veg plot is somehow bad, then what about the rest of the garden? Is it worse, ok, or somehow not counted? (And I’m pretty sure the land is more-or-less carbon neutral given virtually no inputs and the soil isn’t getting any thicker or thinner.) And, yes a lot of carbon goes into keeping me alive while I’m digging the plot, but, hey, I’m going to be alive anyway, veg plot or no! I’m not on this world for the purposes of digging veg, it is just part of my exercise regime…

        Reply
    • Valerie Adams on

      I was thinking exactly the same about my home grown vegetable patch. Much of the article is compelling but the argument about the carbon footprint of home and locally grown food is not properly explained and is not persuasive.

      Reply
  18. Dorian Speakman on

    Excellent points on food security though I would draw attention to permaculture and agroforestry as ways of reducing carbon and increasing biodiversity and reducing rainfall runoff. This can be in both urban and rural contexts, so higher carbon from allotments isn’t a given.

    Reply
  19. Adam Costello on

    This needs a wider audience, for example the type of audience provided by a national newspaper, or a popular television magazine programme that is broadcast at about seven o’clock on weekdays…

    In the meantime I’ve shared it on social media…

    Reply
  20. Catherine Miller on

    I enjoyed reading this article, and enjoyed your Greedy Man book too. Just wanted to make a couple of points.
    I have worked with community garden projects in London for many years. Their educational work showing people where food comes from, by practical work close to where they live in their local areas, showing how you grow it, is really valuable. I have also seen how their work brings people together from different backgrounds, and how it has numerous other social benefits.
    It’s a relief to see you make the point that the actual food grown in such places may have a high carbon footprint, as so many people want to believe the opposite. As you said, you need a whole life cycle analysis to make a comparison.
    The Defra 2005 publication “the validity of food miles as an indicator of sustainability” explains some of the issues.

    The other point I wanted to make was about food security. My recollection of the statement by Margaret Beckett that “the UK was currently food secure”, was in a global context. As I remember she said that food insecurity was primarily caused by subsistence agriculture and poverty. Poor countries could not produce a surplus, and did not have money to buy food when harvests were insufficient. Whatever the problems of the UK, they are not in this league. That’s not to endorse complacency at all, and you only have to look at eg the IWM’s exhibition a few years back “The Ministry of Food” to see how awful rationing and scarcity were.

    Reply
  21. Yvonne Day on

    Much respect to you Jay. You have gone up in my estimation.
    Thank you, for a well thought out, and well written piece, from a fellow-remainer.

    Reply
  22. Nicholas Walmsley on

    Thank you, Jay. Wonderful piece. A couple of thoughts sprung to mind:

    – I may be mistaken, but I seem to remember that Lord Cameron of Dillington’s comments about the UK being “nine meals away from anarchy” gained extra traction after the eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in April and May 2010. Media coverage focused on the disruption to passenger flights, but it also highlighted the reliance of UK food suppliers, i.e., wholesale distributors and supermarkets, on air-freight. Two issues: air-freight makes a monstrous contribution to carbon levels in the atmosphere, and whither inspection and monitoring of food being flown into the UK?

    – fishing: whither fishies and the Eu’s Common Fishing Policy (CFP) in the your analysis? EU fishing quotas were a perennial bete noire of Brexiteers avant la lettre. I’m assuming the Brexiteers have no thought-out plans on exiting the CFP, preserving fast-dwindling stocks, or enforcing the post-exit scenario.

    Reply
    • Antony Robbins on

      An excellent and thought-provoking piece. Thank you. Unpalatable though the thought must be … you really should grit your teeth and go to the meeting. Good luck, Antony

      Reply
    • mark brierley on

      Regarding fishing – I agree. It was the mechanisation of commercial fishing that led to enormous catches of fish for British fisherfolk at the start of the last century. The entry into the EC came about just as scientists had been predicting the devastation of fishing within the UK fishing zones due to under-regulation and over-fishing by the UK. The UK fish catches were declining rapidly in post WW2 years. When the quotas came from the EC, many of these were sold for short-term gain to foreign vessels by those UK fisherfolk that received them. At this point, while I would still concede that British waters have been continually over-fished both before and during membership of the EC/EU, stocks are bouncing back – mainly because quotas are a proven, successful way of reinvigorating fishing stock world-wide.

      In a perverse way, the EC/EU could be seen as the saviour of UK fishing stock as the UK was blissfully ignoring the issues with fish stocks.

      Now that it appears that stocks are finally recovering (quotas don’t produce immediate effects – in can take decades) it seems that someone has their eye on making some quick, short-term profit by returning to over-fishing practices (especially as the UK has no Brexit plan for anything).

      However, the real problem is ignorance. The ignorance of the historical context of British fisheries, ignorance of management systems, and ignorance of data, which could all simply be summed up as ignorance.

      Reply
  23. Maureen Clements on

    A really interesting article. Thank you Jay Rayner.
    I wish someone would stop Brexit right now, it is madness!

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  24. Don Andrews on

    You’re probably wise not to bother attending his meeting. When he was in charge of education, I was incensed that he never listened to anybody who know what they were talking about and as a result left behind him a mess that continues to cause chaos. I am sure many tried to talk to him. The only person he appears to listen to is Rupert Murdoch.
    I can just see farmers as being the sort of people that Gove would naturally talk down to – it should set the hedgerows a-rustling in the true-blue Tory shires!

    Reply
  25. Jon Moore on

    The free school meals was a Lib Dem policy not a Gove one, it was David Laws that brought that policy through Gove just went along with it, so you can’t even give him credit for that. Anyway good on you for saying no to him.

    Reply
  26. John Redding on

    As the production of food continues to decline and the world population increases along comes Monsanto with their problem solving super seeds.
    Monsanto. lobbyists and their political cohorts will have succeeded in what turned out to be their long term strategy of agricultural and political dominance.

    Reply
  27. Caroline on

    Well said , agree with this 100% apart from the reason May rehired Gove – she did this because Rupert Murdoch told her to ‘or else’ she would receive unfavourable headlines.

    I have good reason to know that the farmers who voted to leave the EU for inexplicable reasons are going to be very shocked at what they have done to themselves when certain events transpire in a couple of years ‘ time.

    Gove is really only concerned with the cleverness of Gove and with delivering Murdoch’s instructions to the heart of power . Like Boris Johnson, he is completely morally bankrupt.

    As an insider, it has been interesting to see, just lately, the brexiter hubris in the government coming up against the realities of brexit
    Finally.

    Reply
  28. David Jones on

    An excellent article highlighting in detail the concerns that many recognise as being the consequences of Brexit. I would add one more issue and that would be the Customs Union and the free movement of goods across borders. If as expected the French insist on our Customs Offices being relocated to ports like Dover then significant problems will arise with processing all the lorries that go through each day. Ultimately lorries carrying perishable goods will get held up and won’t arrive in time at depots for distribution to shops. Consequently, this will be another factor in raising prices.

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  29. Christinwevill on

    Yes you have gone up in my regard, I hope more folks read this, thank you we need more intelligent thinking!

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  30. Wendy Knight on

    A really thought provoking article. I am appalled by Gove heading up the Environment dept, and continue to be bewildered by Brexit and all that it threatens. I also believe that you would get him squirming by a face to face meeting.
    Re Carbon footprints: How does old fashioned veg and fruit growing in the back garden do on the carbon footprint scale? My husband and I break all rules on plant spacing, use every cm of space, the manure comes from 6 doors down by wheelbarrow, we compost, keep hens and swap produce with neighbours. Yields are often enormous. Because we grow a lot, we eat meat no more than 3 times a week. Surely garden produce is less heavy than driving to Tesco? No packaging waste either. Sitting here munching on strawberries!

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  31. William Avery on

    I wish more of our elected representatives had the spine to speak out on these issues. They can’t be so ignorant that they cannot see for themselves, but are seemingly all in thrall to supposed electoral tactical advantage to their parties.

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  32. Dr Keith Dawson on

    Excellent article. Another great effect of this brecht debacle will be on landscapes but this is rarely referred to.

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  33. david on

    “It need not be mandatory, but those who refuse to participate would be telling their own story when it comes to the environment and their commitment to it.”

    Great article! But disagree with this. Too many people either dont care or arent wise enough to understand how important it is

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  34. Ros on

    Very interesting article. Maybe a rise in prices will force Brits to eat whole chicken again?
    Instead of dumping chicken in South Africa thereby killing off another country’s agricultural sector?

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  35. Tom Bennett on

    Large-scale livestock farms can, for example, have a much smaller carbon footprint per kilo yield than bespoke organic farms, but the impact on the water table can be dire.
    I guess this is just measuring CO2 and not taking methane into account. 20 times more potent as a green house gas!
    Otherwise a good read.

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  36. Jean Stevenson on

    Excellent, authorative article; however, as others have stated, Gove tried to block free school meals, and the uninformed, wanton destruction of the British education system that he initiated is still progressing today. The possibilities that he will do the same to agriculture is mortifying. Odious little man.
    I also agree with Jo Barlow, that in the face of this (and a whole host of other reasons – not least the dismantling of the NHS) – we need, as a country, to reduce our dependence on meat consumption. The oft quoted ‘7 kilos of grain/500l of water to produce a single kilo of beef’ whilst somewhat subjective (most beef in the U.K. is raised on grass), is important; the land used for either the grain or grass could be used for direct protein sources, also having the effect of lowering the carbon footprint, reducing water contamination and decreasing admissions to hospital.
    I’m not advocating widespread vegetarianism/veganism, but even in less threatening times, eating meat two or three times a day, seven days a week is unsustainable.

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  37. Frances Williams on

    This is a very well written and compelling piece of work. I understood before the referendum that Brexit would put our food security at risk but your report has put it into context. Food security is crucial for the defence of the realm and feckless, ignorant politicians have put it at huge risk. Feeding our population should have been one of the top issues during the referendum campaign. Surely we remember the lengths we had to go to the feed the population during the Second World War – Dig For Victory, rationing, all those people who lost their lives in the convoys. Of any country in the world you would think that Britain would put our food security first but our collective memories are so short. I hope this report gets widely distributed and understood by the population at large.

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  38. Gareth Evans on

    I would add to the “slipper farmer” the “builder farmer” who has sold off most of their land but keep a small kernel onto which they build a never ending array of property without any oversight all while racking up the subsidies. And before you shout I live on the other side of the hill to one complete with his UKIP posters at referendum and his Conservative posters at the last election suckers! The same (as I write this Gove has spoken ) subsidies value £4B that Gove has just shaken the magic money tree to continue to provide, this largesse is I feel the reason someone so unsuitable was placed at agg when the furore has died down, if it ever starts, Gove can be moved on like a pound shop Grayling into the next dept that “needs’ some wealthy people placating over Brexit.

    Meanwhile my subsea engineering career is still being done in India , my garden is feeding us thank god and and the national insurance I paid into for 30 years expecting to pay out in this circumstance makes me a “scrounger”

    Don’t be surprised if I go pop in the next couple of years from now and start harvesting tories

    Reply
  39. Sarah H on

    Thanks for a really interesting and informative article. I was disappointed there was no explicit mention of animal welfare in there. I worry because intensification in dairy and meat production invariably means more suffering for animals. Do you have a view on how more humane animal husbandry can help us meet our food security needs? It’s a topic that’s important to me and lots of other consumers. Thanks.

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  40. Richard Allen on

    I had two great uncles that died at Arnhem in WW2, another was the flight sergeant at The Battle of Britain Bunker and another was a driver on the Flying Scotsman. These are the kinds of images that tossers like Gove reference when spewing their tin pot nationalistic bile to convince weak minded people that they represent the majority of people in this country. They don’t and the message of division and hatred that they encourage is not only as far away from as my understanding of what it means to be British as is humanly possible but it is below contempt. My ancestors didn’t fight for Gove and Co’s vision. Far from being the ‘sunlit uplands’ that toad Johnson suggested (lifting Churchill out of context) but it represents a divided damaged and weakened Britain divorced from the rest of Europe. Well said Jay.,…keep going. Eventually the emperor will be seen to be wearing no clothes…

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  41. Martin Holmes on

    I am an arable tenant farmer ( mono cropping approx 450h ) and am forced to rely on the Basic Payment System ( BPS ) but the subsidy goes into my farm account then goes straight out again in the form of higher land rents, chemical and fertiliser prices and machinery. It is a crazy system but if removed or changed to “earned” environmental outcomes many tenant farmers would be driven out of business as arable farm costs, as described, would only reduce gradually over many years. Jay has made some excellent observations and politicians are playing with fire if massive and radical changes are adopted in the way that Mr Gove is proposing.
    Farm subsidies, for all their faults, have still enabled affordable and reliable food production but I would be pleased to see reform that rewards food production derived from a move away from mono cropping arable. This would enable healthier soils and less reliance on artificial inputs that trap farmers into ever increasing costs for less yield. A move toward greater self sufficiency must be of paramount importance for all the reasons Jay has suggested as a result of Brexit but all the indications are the opposite will happen. Feeling in the eye of the storm and mixing metaphors the perfect one is brewing. It is an extremely worrying prospect and the real risk of empty supermarket shelves should concentrate politicians minds like nothing else.

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  42. Patrick Cosgrove on

    In general I have no problem with the idea of people committing a higher percentage of their income on food, but a move in that direction must involve some redustribution of wealth which is unlikely under a Conservative government.

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  43. Richard Fisher on

    As others have said, excellent article. One point missing is the need to include cooking and food knowledge in the UK teaching ciriculum. Understanding the science of food will help to offset the appalling food ignorance and the rise of the ready-made meal and the takeaway.

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  44. Simon Tipping on

    I totally agree with your refusal to meet with that odious little man. He and his like have no morals and only care for themselves

    I think this is an excellent article. What we need now is a body of people to get to the bottom of the food supply issues and come up with the right solutions without the interference of greedy corporates. We need to educate and feed our school children better (is it any wonder kids hate tomatoes when schools buy untie fruit and keep in the fridge or when a food inspector tells my local gastropub chef to keep his eggs in the fridge) and we need our farmers to learn from techniques abroad and not just blithely harp on about British is best.

    For once let’s sort this out for the benefit of all. After all aren’t we supposed to live in a democracy?

    Thank you Jay

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  45. raoul Morris on

    Interesting article. One of the many things that amaze me about the Brexit policies for farming and the brexit supporting farmers arguments in favour of it, is that it seems to want to embrace the Macsharry policy for CAP reform which the Tory secretary of state John Gummer (remember him, he was the ‘here dear just eat this burger for me’ Minister), described as the ‘Sligo-isation of European farming, because of its support for small farmers and removal of subsidies from large commercial farms. So much of this idea seems to have the character of denying previous Tory policies and blaming the EU for them. On this as on many other points the press, (broadcast and print), have amnesia and are silent.

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  46. R thimas on

    Thank you for your article. Scary reading. Could you explain the carbon footprint of allotments and urban farms? Is it to do with their size and what they grow?

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  47. David Blenkinsopp on

    Fantastic article, thanks for that. I hope Gove and company pay you the courtesy of reading and analysing it in full. How they respond in a valid manner remains to be seen.

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  48. Andrew Williamson on

    Every time I encounter you Jay, you go up in my estimation, from your articles, television appearances and a recent live show we attended. It is a shame that some sanity will not be injected into one, somewhat critical, part of the BREXIT farce. No doubt when the crises point does occur you will be on hand to help suggest solutions. We will need insightful honest individuals, that know their area and can cut through the spin in the increasingly probable case that it all goes serously wrong.

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  49. carol hedges on

    Michael Gove has ***ed every ministery job he’s had. As a teacher, I utterly deplore what he has done the secondary curriculum. The ‘banning’ of American literature at GCSE in favour of ‘English traditional’ writers is on a par with censorship. This vainglorious fool thinks he is the master of everything he takes over. The truth is the reverse As for his odious wife: check out her spite-ridden article on Macron’ wife ~ Women Beware Women. Time he was taken down a whole bagfull of pegs!

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  50. Lincoln Phipps on

    Yup, I think the politicians are worried; When you are a net importer of food (and the UK has been a net importer since the 1830s I think) then that is a weak position as you can’t stand back and let your nation starve to hold out for a better deal. You can but it isn’t morally right – a moral obligation exists on politicians to feed the nation and not have the politicians turn the UK into a big Hunger Games competition.

    You need food and you need a continuous supply with less than a few days gaps in the supply chain. You can be a net importer of cars for example and you can stand back and tolerate a lag of a month without a complaint. On the other hand a human cannot survive a few weeks without dying for food. The society collapses at just 3 days.

    The remaining EU is a net importer of food and is paranoid about food security. The supermarket foods you see are there because the EU has the clout to strike up trade deals for everything it needs and ensures there are no gaps in the chain of items needed to make food: from duty free fertiliser imports to seed development, the EU ensures the UK can always feed the UK in some way. It is after all 440 million (remaining) in the richest region in the world the EU has the clout. The UK is just 65 million, at less than 1% of the world, it waits in line. The CAP is a symptom of that and ensures the UK has always had food but austerity by the UK government has worked out how to poison society against the EU. It doesn’t make sense that the UK and EU would end up with a FTA given the UK and EU would compete with each other for food.

    The UK has to be very careful how it is gambling with people’s lives on the matter of food. Austerity has caused malnutrition and food insecurity to rise in the UK. All the food is there with all the might of the EU to ensure no one goes hungry. The UK has worked against the EU and the side effect is that today hunger is rising in the UK. Brexit will mean this will get worse and deliberately so. It is almost like a war mentality with politicians planning on starving out the core of the country without understanding what they are doing.

    Run the maths on calorie sources. The UK is a developed country so has a low deficit now but a trade glitch for 25% of our calorie imports moves us immediately to the 3rd world until the UK gets rescued. And the rescue won’t come cheap; you can be sure whoever does the food deliveries will be handing in a very profitable bill and the UK will gladly pay it as it becomes subservient to the food suppliers.

    That’s how the world works and how it has worked since the discovery of crops about 10,000 years ago. You eat, you live, you starve, you die. Welcome to brexit. The funny part is that I feel that the path to a post scarcity economy is through food but I don’t think this government is doing what it is doing with this in mind. I do not believe that the government will be fully automating food production and then giving the food away to citizens. I don’t believe that the government will implement a cryptographic token system so supply and demand is regulated to human needs. Watch this space though, we can’t keep doing what we’re doing for the next 1o,000 years.

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  51. Steve Peel on

    Thanks for this, Jay. Like you I voted to remain and am saddened by the message Brexit sends to European citizens that we think we’ll be better off co-operating less with them. I agree with many of the points you make but I think there is a risk in claiming that we are no longer in a position to feed ourselves adequately. The simple analysis done back in 1975 by Prof Mellanby, updated 2009 by Simon Fairlie (see Can Britain Feed Itself?) suggests that yes we could, quite easily, but we’d eat less meat. I would also suggest less dairy. Like you, I think, I am an enthusiastic consumer of animal products but I recognise that globally the rapid upward trend in this is unsustainable.
    Assuming Brexit happens, and arguably even if it didn’t, there is a strong case to be made for increasing our food self sufficiency. And rather than ‘sustainable intensification’ I think this needs to be done by keeping less livestock and feeding them far less grain. (Incidentally the oft-quoted finding that ‘chicken is much more sustainable than beef’ is not true if the cattle are eating fibrous forage that we can’t eat). And of course massively reducing food waste.

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  52. Dr Stephen Elphick on

    I presume that only praise is acceptable, but here goes. In the 1960s the U.K. had a clear choice. It could have accepted an aging and falling population, and allowed market forces to rebalance the economy to a high skill and automation base. Food sustainability would have improved, as would the prospects of the poorest sections of the population. But the political mainstream elected to import cheap labour to solve a non-existent problem, for reasons set out in https://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/04/27/us-immigration-effect-on-wages-society-public-opinion-83614/ for the American case. The Liberal Left suppressed any discussion by conflating racism and immigration control, and continues to do so. So we end up with an article such as this, which nonsensically skirts the basic problem of too many people on too little land, concentrates on market mechanisms, and bemoans our fate because in Brexit we choose to keep political responsibility in our own hands, rather than relying on the wisdom of the European Liberal Elite. If we have problems in market regulation, they are more easily solved locally than through undemocratic centralist European institutions. The latter have repeatedly proven themselves extremely resistant to popular protest or common sense, in fact, politically corrupt. We are now rapidly sliding into worldwide catastrophe, with the looming prospect of a total economic and ecological collapse, and yet Mr Rayner still peddles failed collectivist dogma, and is too self-important to engage in discussion where it might actually do some good. I am sorry, but you are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

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    • Pam Thompson on

      At last………………’ the basic problem of too many people on too little land’. Not a very gracious letter from Mr Rayner. He and his supporters need to be reminded that the country voted to leave the EU. Would it not be better to forget all the sniping and unite, with all the great talent that we have, him included, to cooperate for a successful conclusion for our country?

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    • John Caldwell on

      An island of sanity, in a sea of pompous, arrogant, self-satisfied, petulant, and sometimes quite vicious, comments.

      Reply
  53. Chris Attkins on

    As many above have already said, “Well done!” This is a very well thought through submission and deserves to be taken seriously, though I am pessimistic that it will – until too late. Nevertheless, do please keep banging the drum; your message needs to be heard.

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  54. Edward Sutcliffe on

    “It is a mystery to me why farmers voted in such number to leave Europe. I assume they believed the false promise that the money based on acreage would just keep rolling in after Brexit. I also assume they hoped it would free them from environmental protection legislation.”

    Thank you for the article which is a very well informed assessment of the current situation. As a fellow remainer employed in agriculture who happens to know many farmers who voted for brexit, I would however suggest that your assumptions are far from correct. From my limited sample of such farmers, I would say they largely despise subsidies and contrary to ‘popular’ belief voiced by the press, also value the environment they live in.

    They see the status quo as not working for them or the country. They want to work in an industry producing food on the basis that if they put in a hard days work, there is an expectation that the harder they work, the more profitable they could become (the antithesis of subsidies?). They resent the fact that the single farm payments are needed to remain in business and are not linked to how efficient a farmer you are. They remain objects to be used for flagellation of hard working farmers (see recent discussion on the subject of subsidy reform by some media commentators and uninformed members of the public) and often act as a barrier for farmers engaging with the public.

    I do not believe the brexiteers amongst the farming community were looking for continued hand-outs or weakening of environmental protections, but simply looking for change. I personally do not believe this to be change for the better, but it will certainly be change.

    Lastly, I disagree with your comments which imply that the EU lead the way on Welfare legislation. Certainly in the Pig industry, the introduction of new welfare standards of housing for pigs in 1999 (unilaterally imposed within the UK) remained above those of our EU brethren until 2013, and even the EU wide legislation then imposed remained below that of the UK in certain key areas. This legislation was one of the main reasons pig production stopped on the family farm as pig production was not profitable enough to make the investments necessary.

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  55. Thomas Standley on

    Excellent words. Please keep beating the drum with other like minded remainders, louder and prouder. I don’t think people who have voices that can be heard (like yours, as a journalist and media personality) are doing enough. We, the UK, need to stop the sleepwalking into economy and social oblivion – your peers can do more, please rally them, we/I will follow. Thank you.

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  56. lesley adams on

    Excellent analysis.
    I agree, please attend the meeting. What counts is making visible challenges and getting them recorded in the media etc where possible. Use whatever fame you have to draw attention to this issue from your readers and others who wouldn’t otherwise have a clue about UK food and environment policy.

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  57. Andy Seaward on

    I’m not an expert but…..the British EAT TOO MUCH FOOD. And waste too much. After two years living in France (I’m 58) I eat literally half as much, but over a longer period of time. I spent the last 5 years in England eating petrol station snack lunches at the wheel of a White Van whilst rushing to the next job – it has become normal(ised) there to lunch on sandwiches sat on a bench or at your desk. Whereas the French still ‘Close For Lunch’ like the UK did in the Sixties and two hour lunch breaks are normal. They don’t do ‘Sweet Shops/Corner Shops’ selling cigarettes, chocolate, crisps, soft drinks, pasties and sandwiches. But EVERY town has LOCAL bakers shops, local butchers, veg shops, cheese shops, fresh food markets happen usually twice a week. The food tastes better, you don’t feel the need to stuff your face and you don’t pile it up on your plate as is the British tradition, instead eating half as much over a few courses. The terrible British food culture needs to change as much as anything. The British really need to brush up on their culinary skills and stop all the inverted snobbery – I remember “If Carlsberg Did Barbeques’ which was a giant burger with a comically small side salad. That sums up the attitude for me. I have never had a lunch or dinner with French people that didn’t start with a salad, often just lettuce and dressing; the British never did get the hang of salad dressing did they. Or even how to prepare a tomato. Maybe in your circles things are different, but that is the case for a lot of the people I know at home. The overall impression I have is that the French eat better quality but in smaller quantities. Things like cakes and pastries and chocolate tend to be expensive, but then again they don’t really do 50p jam doughnuts or a thousand different chocolate bars, preferring hand made cakes and hand made chocolate creations. It’s rare to see a French person walking down the street eating a chocolate bar, that sort of ‘grazing’ behaviour just doesn’t happen much. Kids should be taught how to cook, it’s no good leaving up to the parents, the knowledge isn’t there any more. If the British learnt a few basic skills they could drastically reduce their consumption. And their waistlines.

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    • Mark Swinton on

      On this point, I’d hope that everyone – Remain or Leave voter alike – could agree. Whether in or out of the EU, our diet is a laughing stock compared with the diets of other countries. Our ability to cook and eat well pales in comparison to the domestic skills and culinary habits of other countries. Politics could lead us to better habits – but only if the right policies are pursued. Every post-Brexit government will need to take this into account.

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  58. Helena Halme on

    Brilliant article. As an EU citizen living in the UK for the past 33 years, I cannot understand why Brits voted to leave Europe, especially farmers in places like Wales where they enjoy such large EU subsidies. But as you say, the issues with British food production are much more far reaching than even Brexit – although Brexit will make everything much, much worse. I’ve shared this article on FaceBook and got various comments saying how leaving the EU will make food imports cheaper – mainly from people who hadn’t read the whole of the text. Says it all about the Brexit vote, really, doesn’t it?

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  59. David H on

    It seems to me that the one thing that is so taboo that it’s never raised is the issue of the unsustainable level of births and population on this planet.
    Its a very well written and thought provoking article, but a lot of the impending problems would be considerably lessened if we were not so pleased with ourselves that we now number more than 6.5 billion. A numerical rise in any other animal, insect or whatever would be seen as an epidemic to be controlled, but many of our precious religions find this unpalatable. It’s disguised under a “God talking about the sanctity of life” or “Human Rights” cover, but I suspect that they are terminally addicted to an ever increasing power base. Major religeons do not move with the times and “have less kids or the planet dies” is an anathema to 2 in particular.
    Perhaps we should also look a population density v sustainable land. Our closest European neighbour France has slightly less than half our population for twice the landmass. If we are going to be strictly scientific in the way we look at things, all land will need to be ruthlessly analysed for its production possibilities, and consumers so-called “demand” for certain foods perhaps unmet, or certainly restricted if they are very resource intensive.
    EU subsidies are not some free gift from a benign being – they come out of your taxes, and currently Britain is a big net contributor. Undeniably some of our ability to be in this position comes from our membership, and this will be jeopardised to some degree by Brexit. Our very strong financial sector, for example, is vulnerable to attempts by both the German and French stock exchanges to make London less of the go-to place for Euro trading which earns hundreds of millions each year. But will we be worse off overall? It seems to be somewhat a matter of opinion given the current restrictions, however we still manage to trade very happily with many other nations on earth outside of the EU comfort blanket. The collective bargaining and negotiating that has been left to supermarkets is really only a microcosm (and to a degree the result of) what the EU carries out. Some might claim that the EU have more than profit as a motive, and that they are elected representatives and accountable, but in reality, a big operation whose profits are threatened by adverse publicity will generally move much more quickly that a remote EU committee.
    You can vote with your wallet today if you don`t like what X retailer is doing, politicians and administrators take years to dislodge

    Its also worth noting that the EU`s own auditors have not had the confidence to sign off the EU accounts for about 17 years now, but it blithely carries on, and continues to shuffle (at vast expense) its administration, interpreters etc between 2 cities for no good reason. You have to ask yourself why this has not been addressed in all of this time, as, at the very least it does not engender much confidence in the organisations working methods or probity of decision making. Brexit itself is a bit of a leap into the unknown, but scarier yet is the seemingly unbriefed no-idea-of-exactly-what-what-outome-we-want team that has been chosen to do the negotiation. If its true we are a 60 billion a year net importer from the EU then we should be treated like any other good commercial customer, but can these blunder`s pull off a decent deal?

    Reply
    • Janet Page on

      Interesting – but not true about the EU auditors – a myth which is persistently peddled by Brexiteers. Even the BBC has confirmed the reality: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36276175

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  60. Oakhill on

    Wonderful piece. I learned a lot and it’s written super clearly. Why can’t we have people like you running the country instead of the worst of the worst?

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  61. chris wright on

    Jay, the Govt service overseeing adjudication is just as bad if not worse in the pubs sector – Pubs Code Adjudicator (PCA) – in a similar move they BEIS Dept have sought to base the PCA on the GCA and water down and neuter the intent and with that stop any meaningful reforms or redress for unfair practices in the sector by the pub companies. Don’t blame you for quitting the lobbying here Jay – i will press on for a little longer yet in the hope we can get what was voted on in the house some years ago. Regards, Chris – Head of Pubs Advisory Service

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  62. Abhishek Mallik on

    This is a remarkable article. I know your work from your excellent restaurant reviews but didn’t know you had such an in depth knowledge in other areas too.

    I learned a lot, but it inadvertently hits upon another one of my Brexit bugbears. The idea of calling a referendum was so incredibly stupid when there was no chance the electorate as a whole could be making an informed decision. This isn’t just a commentary on Leave voters but Remain voters too. I consider myself well educated, well read on current affairs and voted Remain. Yet much of the information in this article was news to me. And this is but one way in which Brexit will have a huge influence on our every day lives. There are so many others – from trade to the City to Euratom and dozens of other areas where lengthier submissions than this could be written. And chances are the vast majority of all voters will not have been aware of the grave implications for our country in most of them, though some may have specific areas they know more about.

    Doubtless Leave voters will dismiss this as “Project Fear” because who cares about experts? Remain voters tended to heed the advice of experts, though how much of that was because they were simply backing their views up and how much of it was because they were genuinely swayed by them we’ll never know. The actual issues surrounding our relationship with Europe had such a little bearing on most people’s votes it was farcical. For most, including most Remainers, it was a proxy vote where people expressed which set of values fitted in with theirs the most. And this dictates the catastrophic course we’re embarking on. What a mess.

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  63. Diana Baur on

    Broad as well as detailed. Extremely informative and well researched. Very much hope that Gove takes it all on board, although not holding our collective breath. All he’s interested in is the fishing industry for very personal reasons!

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  64. Pete Norman on

    Thanks, Jay. As a Socialist Foodie who’s occasionally had enough money to blow a couple of hundred on a meal for two, I appreciate your insight, expertise and snark. Your Mum would be proud of your honesty.

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  65. Giuseppe Belli on

    Thanks Jay for a thorough critical analysis that should be widely shared.
    As for Gove, I couldn’t agree more.
    Untrustworthy; a Yes man of low morals willing to tread on the shoulders of friends to climb another rung of the ladder.

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  66. Chris Ambrose on

    Thank you – a thought provoking and powerful piece.
    Spending a fair bit of time in France and shopping in markets where local growers sell their produce the most notable thing is their seasonal nature. Tomatoes peppers aubergines in abundance and cheaply for a few weeks. People buy and preserve in one form or another for the rest of the year
    We will need to get used to seasonal produce again in the UK. Shipping/driving fruit and veg across Europe is one thing – flying/shipping the same from the southern hemisphere is something else.
    A very strong ecological reason for remaining in Europe – amongst so many others imo.
    I agree – it is all about Brexit.

    Reply
  67. Lorenzo Colo on

    An excellent piece. Thanks Jay Rayner!
    I have one observation with regard to the paragraph about Product Protections.
    Among the points the British government omitted developing in its “plan”, is its position on these protections on designations of products.
    In the case of the UK food production their role is marginal but for a few EU countries, Italy and France among them, the value of protected products exported to the UK is significant. The EU commission gives quite a high priority to this sector (see the recent trade agreements with Canada and with Japan).
    If the UK was to object to maintain recognition to EU protections after brexit, the negotiations on a FTA between UK and EU will become even harder.

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  68. Biddy Broiler on

    Fascinating piece Jay Rainer Cluck, and rightly locating Brexit within the framing of the challenge! Looking forward to the response.

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  69. Alex on

    Great stuff. But please reconsider the decision not to meet Gove. We need you in the room when this is being debated to fight for us. A written response, no matter how compelling, can be sidelined.

    Please go. Take a long spoon.

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  70. Val Allen on

    Well done – well written JR! So many of us [including farmers] see Brexit as an enormous chasm into which we seem to be falling. Exit Brexit would be a wonderful thing.

    Reply

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