One of the more unpalatable news stories of the week was the survey by West Yorkshire councils that seemingly innocuous food was made up of all sorts of things that either weren’t what they claimed to be, or weren’t very much like food at all. It’s another sign of the food problems that this country faces, on top of food banks and poor diet. Recently, though, the food debate has become as poisoned as vodka made from antifreeze, with politicians using food banks in particular as a political football to prove their own points, rather than bothering to examine the complex problems behind them.
But one of the MPs who has spent some time thinking about food in 21st century Britain is now trying to encourage independent study of how to improve the food system in this country. Conservative Laura Sandys, who is leaving Parliament in 2015, is setting up an independent think tank called the Food Foundation, which she hopes will do the same for the food system that the King’s Fund has done for health and social care. Its trustees include former Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, Professor Charles Godfray, who directs the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, Boris Johnson’s Chair of London Food Rosie Boycott, and Sandys.
Sandys wants the Foundation to be ‘a challenging and also safe place for fundamental discussions about the future of the food sector, the big issues facing industry and government and act as a non-confrontational environment to discuss competing public policy issues’.
The Foundation will focus on food and the consumer, food health, food and economy, food and environment, and food and global security. Its first inquiry will focus on the consumer, particularly the affordability of food. The launch document for the consumer theme says:
‘”Food and the consumer” is not an area of policy that either government or industry is focusing on enough. There are short-term crisis that poorer consumers are facing, however it is the wider business model that needs greater analysis to assess whether it is really delivering 360 degree value to the consumer.’
This all sounds very sensible. And if Sandys’ efforts succeed in extracting some of the poison from the food debate, then that will be a very worthy legacy for this MP to leave Parliament when she moves on at the general election.