VON Statement on the Foresight Report: The Future of Food and Farming (2011)

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The report can be seen at
http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report

The comments below were sent to the Government Office for Science, with copies to the APPG for Agroecology, the Secretary of State for EFRA and the Secretary of State for International Development.

The Vegan-Organic Network (VON) welcomes this Report but with very substantial reservations.

The Report rightly emphasises the interconnectedness of food security and the environment and states that much can be done in farming to limit environmental damage.  We applaud its emphasis on the needs of poor countries and the crucial importance of biodiversity.  However, we deplore the myth of ‘sustainable intensification’ which the Report presents.

Our biggest reservation is the underlying proposition that technology will save the day, and particularly the Report’s strong inclination towards GM technology.  It suggests that objections to genetic modification derive from ‘ethics, values and politics’ – which amounts to a crass dismissal of the careful scientific case made by those who oppose GM.  And it welcomes, for instance, the continuing experiments in GM cattle fodder which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy and beef cattle.  VON considers this a waste of research resources and would like to see the unnatural and environmentally harmful practice of feeding grain to animals phased out altogether.  Neither does VON share Sir John Beddington’s enthusiasm for the use of cloned livestock.  As for increasing the supply of grain for human consumption, we are sceptical when we read, for instance, that the world class agri-business Syngenta, in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, will ultimately benefit the poorest in the poor countries.

It is disappointing that a Government Report should hold to the perspective of the economic status quo, talking of ‘maximising the benefits of globalisation’ and seeing no need to limit the growth of huge food corporations (provided that competition is not threatened). VON’s unambiguous position, by contrast, is to welcome local markets and to encourage co-operatives, thereby increasing sustainability and equity.

The Report states that livestock products require considerably more resources than other foods – but talks of ‘the importance of a balanced diet and the role of a moderate intake of livestock products’, as if the health, environmental and animal welfare benefits of a vegan diet were not widely acknowledged. It states that ‘increases in the consumption of meat … will have major implications for resource competition and sustainability’ and even goes as far as to suggest a possible tax on livestock produce – in other words, meat in the future will be available only to the rich.  VON’s recommendations for closed-system, stockfree farming would benefit everyone’s health and the environment at the same time.

We profoundly regret that the Report does nothing at all to encourage responsible organisations and individuals who are already taking action through their activities and food choices to limit food’s environmental impact and benefit health.  We look forward to a future Report which recommends a healthy diet of pulses, grains, fruits and vegetables which can be grown locally in most climates, without the need for animal inputs.  Such a Report would point towards the healthiest, most sustainable and environmentally beneficial of all options currently open to us for tackling the most formidable challenges of our time.

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