As Britain prepares for Brexit to disrupt many of its established trade networks, a coalition of more than 80 English food and farming organisations has launched A People’s Food Policy.
The group described their manifesto, developed after 18 months of consultation with “grassroots” organisations, NGOs, trade unions, community projects, small businesses and individuals, as “a comprehensive proposal for a more just and sustainable food system … rooted in the lived experiences and needs of people most affected by the failures in the current food system.”
According to the document’s authors, it is a much needed initiative. They state:
The lack of a coherent, joined-up food policy framework in England is becoming increasingly problematic.
In this country we have shameful levels of food insecurity, with food bank usage rising year on year, and an estimated over eight million people now in a state of such financial precarity they can’t afford to eat.”
Like Australia, the UK has a serious problem with overweight and obesity and there is also a growing problem with healthy food supply, with a recent Unicef report revealing that one in five children under 15 years old are currently food insecure.
A People’s Food Policy is an attempt at a holistic, people-led view of food and nutrition, taking into account governance, food production, health, land, labour, environment, knowledge and skills, and trade and finance, as summarised on the nifty wheel below.
A model for Australia?
The full document is well worth a read, but could it be a model for a similar movement in Australia?
Professor Amanda Lee, public health nutritionist and Chair of the NHMRC Dietary Guidelines, told Croakey that when it comes to food and nutrition policy, intersectoral collaboration such as that in the Peoples Food Policy was essential as there are “a lot of synergies”.
But Australia currently had a “food and nutrition policy vacuum”, she said.
Lee said Australia’s existing nutrition policy dates from 1992. At the time, it was held up by the WHO as a model for other countries because it championed an integrated approach to address our “sick food systems”. The policy led the way by giving consideration to equity, environmental sustainability and health.
But it needs updating. Lee led a scoping study to inform the development of a new National Nutrition Policy: an exhaustive review of what was and wasn’t working. The group suggested areas for improvement and change, and submitted its report to the Commonwealth in 2013.
In the past few years further information about nutrition policy development has emerged, including evidence highlighting the need to guard against undue industry influence in food policy making.
“Recently, there is increasing evidence that strong vested interests should be involved in policy implementation, but not development,” she said (as an aside, we should perhaps send a memo on this to the US, where it was revealed last week that the new CDC head has “strong ties” to Coca Cola).
Another landmark document, produced earlier this year by the Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, provides a national and state-by state scorecard, examining policies for tackling obesity and creating healthier food environments, to guide best practice.
What we are lacking is not knowledge, understanding or evidence – it’s political will and also, to an extent, public will. The public is more concerned about acute services than preventive health.
The idea of A People’s Food Policy is interesting because it helps produce a demand, and harnesses public will.”
Sharon Friel, Professor of Health Equity at the Australian National University, agrees. She was a co-author on a interdisciplinary modelling study study published this week, that examined where Australia’s food security is headed under current policies, and how that relates to health.
Friel told Croakey that “all policy should be people policy.” She said people respond to their food environments, which are shaped by policy across a number of sectors including trade, health, agriculture, planning and social factors.
“A people’s food policy would enable the expression of people’s agency, empowering citizens to shape policy so that it addresses their needs (and not just profits!) and also the implementation of action that acts fairly,” she said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience a range of challenges to good nutrition, including an estimated one in four Indigenous people reporting food insecurity in a given year.
Yet simple, locally developed initiatives to increase the affordability fresh fruit and vegetables have shown measurable improvements in health outcomes. A recent article highlighted what doesn’t work and concluded that initiatives that are community driven, well governed and supported, and make healthy food more available and cheap, have the most likely chance of success.
Canada faces its own set of problems in its current goal of developing a national food policy, but a set of principles put forward by Food Secure Canada and highlighted in this summary at the Conversation seem particularly relevant to Australia.
- Realise the human right to food.
- Champion healthy and sustainable diets.
- Support sustainable food systems.
- Make food part of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
- Invite more voices to the table.
Perhaps the one upside of the inordinate delay in developing a new National Nutrition Policy for Australia is that we have an opportunity to work with such aspirational goals.
A tremendous amount of information, evidence and advice is available, including that vested interests should wait outside the room while good policy is developed.
The great appeal of any “people’s policy” is that it brings diverse voices to the table. As Sharon Friel told Croakey, “wouldn’t it be fantastic to think that all policy is oriented towards the public good.”