C&MW final draft
Welsh National Food Service (WNFS)
With future uncertainties this paper makes the case for a Welsh National Food Service supported by mutual aid and co-operative responses as we address future challenges.
- In Wales, we are faced with a double whammy. Brexit and a USA Trade Deal mean the UK Government is set to deregulate our high environmental protection, animal welfare, food safety standards whilst reducing access and increase food costs from our main European suppliers.
- The Covid-19 crisis has led to an economic shock that is unprecedented in its size and speed. Combined with a no deal Brexit large numbers of unemployed and a future full of uncertainty we are likely to be faced with a second wave, potential local lockdowns and reduced income.
- In assessing food insecurity the use of Food Banks or charities has remained relatively stable at 7% or 8% according to WHICH? However, those with a child in their household are significantly more likely to do so.
- Reasons for hunger go beyond income. 15% of respondents to the WHICH? survey reported food insecurity in May due to not being well enough to shop or cook food (17% in April). 18% reported this in May due to having no means to get to the shops (19% in April). 26% reported this in May due to being unable to get a delivery (down from 32% in April). This is broadly inline with the latest Food Foundation survey https://foodfoundation.org.uk/news/ .
- WHICH? also report the concerns of vulnerable people and have called upon governments to find permanent solutions. “Just over 40% of extremely clinically vulnerable consumers say they need help with accessing food and essential groceries”.
- Equally pertinent, FSA’s Covid-19 consumer tracker shows that one in six of us have cuts meals or portion sizes because of worries about money since the end of March. 26% reported this was because they couldn’t get a delivery https://www.food.gov.uk/sites/default/files/media/document/covid-19-consumer-tracker- report.pdf
- From January 2021, FSA’s role will extend to ‘looking at consumer interests’ but questions of nutrition and obesity, food supply, food poverty, food waste, and environmental cost of producing and selling food are not for the FSA to solve. These questions sit squarely with other parts of government across the UK, including devolved administrations.
- Governments often operate in silo’s or they fail to co-ordinate across departments. For example, targeting those most in need, ensuring sufficient fruit, vegetables and other essential needs of the ‘Food Box’ recipients are met. In Wales, no central data is held on the availability of ‘meals on wheels’.
- With its health and economic challenges, food insecurity Post Covid19 is unlikely to go away with mounting unemployment or under employment, that is especially impacting low income families with children, the poorest parts of Wales, part time and female employees, the disabled and those with particular dietary needs.
- To address these issues Wales will need to review all aspects of the food system and make, for example, our food supply chains shorter and more local. We believe this can best be fuelled by active citizenship and the application of co-operative values. Food businesses will need to be involved but public participation and ‘buy in’ will be crucial.
- Welsh Government has a key part to play in developing a consistent, cohesive approach, alongside. To be effective, a ‘bottom up’ approach will be required. This will need a co-operative model, with a good two-way flow of information, as part of a co-ordinated and decentralised system with local structures helping to build trust.
- This is vital to help overcome a silo’d approach - where we pull together varied aspects, including access, quality, affordability, public procurement and catering, rural regeneration and animal welfare which will all be under consideration.
- Covid19 has highlighted the anxiety created by frailties in our food system, but has also tapped into local concerns and amazing opportunities for action in seeking practical food solutions and building partnerships and community cohesion.
- To this end we propose a Welsh National Food Service (WNFS) whose goals would be to ensure access to healthy, affordable, sustainable and culturally acceptable food in contributing to an equitable and just Wales. It would be a good catalyst for maintaining food standards and localising and increasing the sustainability in different aspects of the food system – working with local government, communities, business and others.
- There is a risk that some recent actions are seen as temporary, such as delivering ‘food boxes’ and parcels during lockdown, instead of a continuing capacity to deal with challenges from food access and nutrition, essential grocery items to social isolation and loneliness.
- Temporary funding has been made available during the crisis. Whatever representations have been made on the impact and future of the ‘food box’ scheme, what is needed is a patient framework of long-term funding. During the Covid19 crisis local food solutions have emerged which need and deserve assessment – as to their effectiveness and where appropriate long funding to be put in place.
- There are many exciting examples of local collaboration, and a lot of emerging good practice involving public bodies. Many initiatives embody co-operative values, even if not in name. For example, Mach Maethlon (Edible Mach), Allotments and Community Gardens, Food hubs, local Food Alliances, ‘Food Box’ schemes. ‘Food Train’ (Scotland), ‘Food Halls’ in Sheffield and Bristol are others https://www.nationalfoodservice.uk/branches
- They exemplify how locally sourced food offers multiple benefits including healthier diets, opportunities for mutual aid, local markets for producers, lower food miles as well as a better understanding between producers and consumers. A Welsh National Food Service (WNFS) could support this activity and share best practice to help the movement grow.
- The WNFS would provide a supportive environment to enable local action based upon principles of prevention, co-production and co-operation from the ‘bottom up’. It would nurture the environment in which people can together pursue self-help food solutions and choose locally owned structures for the production, provision and delivery of food.
- Often, what will be lacking is sufficient income to purchase food required to ensure choice and dignity. Other factors can also be at work preventing access to food or prepared food due to weather, infirmity or absence of family and friendly neighbours.
- More partnership working, more data sharing, more listening, more education, support, enthusiasm and a values based approach will be keys to local action and enable a much better understanding of food insecurity and how this feeds into policy solutions.
- Relevant local interests will need to be engaged, where decision-making and capacity building is required. Local government is well placed with others to take a lead on local food issues but what we require is a collaborative forum https://foodresearch.org.uk/publications/local-authorities-food-brexit/ based upon a commitment to partnership working. The Toronto Food Policy Council model https://tfpc.to/about could provide a good starting point.
- Local volunteers, users, community and self help groups, churches and others actively involved in recent months have made an excellent contribution but need sufficient voice at all levels if there contribution is to be maintained.
- There would need to be an excellent two-way flow of information. The benefits of this will inform all aspects of national food policy and resource allocation. This would shape a Welsh National Food Service to promote and support collaboration, resilience and co-operative ways of working at all levels.
- A Welsh National Food Service, which needs to be supported by government strategy, will only succeed and be sustainable when built from below on a co-operative basis. The Welsh National Food Service would significantly contribute to the medium - long term requirements of the Wellbeing of the Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. This could be the time when co-operative and social enterprises blossom and bear fruit for their members and the wider community.
To progress a Welsh National Food Service (WNFS) it is proposed that a short, one off Task and Finish Group comprising relevant interests be established. With agreed terms of reference, it would report to the First Minister on: (a) how best the WNFS could increase localising and sustainability in different aspects of food – working with local government/NHS/public bodies, communities and business; (b) how WNFS could be best structured and organised on a collaborative basis; (c) the expertise required to capture and analyse relevant data and establish a two way communication system across relevant bodies, (e) support the identification and dissemination of good practice across its remit and all government departments; (f) identify a useful set of food targets to measure the change it could make e.g. for y% of all produce sourced through public procurement to be from local/Welsh supply, data identifying those in need and details of those being supported by government and others; and the number, price and quality of meals being provided by local authorities and third sector partners. The agreed % may seem a little arbitrary but in most of these situations it should represent a meaningful but achievable increase that would enable a more localised food economy to reach a more viable threshold.
- https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/1470203/Working-Paper-1-FINAL-TEXT.pdf (Growing fruit and vegetables) or
- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277862256_Relocalising_the_food_chain_the_role_of_creative_public_procurement Large-scale public sector procurement to improve food standards