What Do We Really Want Our Farming to Do for Us? How Should We Measure Success?

Speakers: Colin Tudge (Campaign for Real Farming), Stephen Devlin and Aniol Esteban (New Economics Foundation)


Colin Tudge 

  • Since 1980 and the advent of neo-liberalism and the global market, the idea that only the best will survive has predominated. The notion that the only alternative to this is centralism is a lie. Read Matt Ridley’s Origins of Virtue
  • Realisation that there is a real alternative to neo-liberalism and that is an economic democracy
  • Social enterprise – must have a prime purpose to do good for society
  • Need private, public and community ownership (tri-partite)
  • All private ownership should be financed by ethical investment
  • The economy as a whole must be bio-centric (‘dark-green’)
  • At the heart of these ideas is a circular economy where everything is reusable

Aniol Estaban 

New Report: http://www.neweconomics.org/blog/entry/the-true-cost-of-food

Unless we challenge the current economic structure in which food and farming takes place, it will be difficult to move in the right direction.

We need:

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Social justice
  • Human wellbeing

The current economy is:

  • Unsustainable
  • Unfair (the gap between rich and poor)
  • Unhappy (in terms of wellbeing)
  • Unstable (dependant on continual growth or instability ensues)

The current economic model sees people and the planet as inputs to create profit.

We do not need to throw away all current economic framework and ideas but there are certain ideas that people now know are untrue i.e. wealth eventually trickles down.

Incremental change vs Radical change – we need a bit of both.


Stephen Devlin

The current food system is defective, unsustainable, unfair and unhealthy.

We need to redefine what a successful system is.

Why are we concerned?

The food industry:

  • Farms are getting bigger
  • Employing less people
  • Using precious resources
  • Operating unscrutinised and is untrusted
  • Extremely concentrated
  • Volatile (food prices and supply)
  • Killing us (obesity)

Why is this?

Have to ask what is the food system for? Since the war it has been about:

  • Increasing output
  • Decreasing prices
  • Reducing disease

These are now outdated and we need to look at things afresh.

Should be about

  • Stewardship
  • Wellbeing
  • Social justice

The following issues must be considered:

Environmental impact: greenhouse gases, environmental quality, water quality, biodiversity

Production and energy use: pesticides and fertilizers to output, energy invested vs energy return (calories consumed)

Genetics and species diversity – see graph

Employment – the food industry is a very important employer. In the UK 11% of people are employed in the food system but this is mostly in services, retail and manufacturing.

Supply chain complexity – as the supply chain becomes more complex there is more room for mistakes (such as the horsemeat scandal)

The lengthening of the supply chain ensures price increases while the farmer’s share decreases

Ownership control – 0.25% of the population of the UK owns all the agricultural land. Why does this matter? We are back to economic democracy.

Culture and health – eating habits have changed and there is a dramatic rise in obesity

Affordability – the problem is poverty. We need to question this.

There is growing inequality and distribution of working hours.

  • The tools of economics are not sufficient to understand the food system
  • We must look at the whole and not at the parts
  • We need systematic change (and not just in the food system)
  • The analytical framework needs to change
  • The NEF is concerned with land ownership and who controls the land as this could be a barrier to new models entering system
  • Present EU subsidies are not tied to the public interest
  • Land has become a speculative asset and the price of agricultural land has tripled in the last decade


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