Food Supply and Security - Motion to Consider

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:14 pm on 14th May 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 2:14 pm, 14th May 2020

I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, for securing this debate and for her comprehensive and deeply sobering introduction. I associate the Green group with all the concerns that she expressed. I do not know whether in recording this debate, Hansard plans to put the phrase “cheap food” in scare quotes, but it certainly should. So-called cheap food is costing us the earth and our health.

I know that when farmers hear criticism of the food system, they often feel that it is directed at them, but many noble Lords have rightly focused on the over- weening, enormous place of supermarkets in our food distribution system. The National Farmers’ Union has highlighted how farmers get just 6% in the food chain. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, focused on how supermarkets advertise, promote and push highly processed food that is disastrous for our health. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, rightly said that government procurement should look to support local food-growing and distribution systems rather than supermarkets. Here in Sheffield, I have been lucky enough to get great Yorkshire cheese from local suppliers, and just this morning I got a fruit and veg box from a local cafe. These should be supplying schools, hospitals and prisons.

We also need to think about how food is grown. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to European workers doing the heavy lifting. In a report in the Times, an asparagus grower was quoted as saying, “British workers just won’t do 12 hours a day of back-breaking work”. But I think that no one should be asked to do that. That means that we need a different kind of food system: small, market garden, biodiverse crops, which pretty well anyone could work on. That also means that we need reform of our land ownership. We need tens, even hundreds, of thousands of small businesses around our towns and cities, growing healthy food and supporting horticulture, building a different kind of food system that works for people and planet.