Last Monday I trooped off to Parliament to join the launch of the Fruit & Veg Alliance. With everything else going on in Westminster this week, you may not have heard about the successful launch of the Fruit & Veg Alliance on Monday. This alliance is made up of a number of farming and food organisations, including the Organic Growers Alliance, with the aim of boosting fruit and veg production by 25 billion more portions, to be in line with the amount needed to hit the ‘seven a day’ target. In order to hit this target, more support and recognition is needed from government, hence the invitations to ministers and MPs.
Helen Whately MP was hosting and chairing the event and introduced the Minister, who briefly summed up the the current position in relation to the agricultural white paper and Brexit. He was at pains to stress that although the future is uncertain, that by the end of 2018 there should be agreement on the withdrawal bill and the likely ‘new economic partnership’ post 2021. Farmers will have access to seasonal migrant labour as usual until 2020, and the Agriculture and Horticulture bill is in its early draft stage with a planned launch in September.
Mr Eustace also suggested that larger businesses would not necessarily come together marketing support from the government, but would for technical support; and that this sort of support would be open to all scales of businesses. There will also be some kind of seasonal agricultural workers’ scheme again. There was also a lengthy discussion on how to attract UK workers and new entrants to growing: the lack of courses was cited as the main reason for the lack of qualified workers, and the courses have dried up due to lack of demand over the years. It was generally agreed that this was in part due to lack of opportunities and career progression, and lack of kudos in the industry, so the sector needs to be more attractive to our brightest talent.
There was then a good discussion on how to make fruit and veg more affordable, as this is perhaps one of the main reasons why the average consumption of fruit and veg is only 1.6 portions per day per adult, rather than the recommended 7 per day. Some thought that fruit and veg were actually already very cheap; it was the potential waste factor if people don’t know what to do with them that could make them seem expensive. Other thoughts included finding different ways to get food to people, such as via schools if children grow food themselves; taking part in a council-supported subsidised scheme such as Tamar Grow Local; and getting the public more appreciative and involved in food growing, which would lead to less waste, such as CSA organisations. Supermarkets are currently the main way in which most people have access to fruit and veg; and Andrew Burgess pointed out that because supermarkets took the stigma out of buying ‘own brand’ fruit and veg years ago, this has been perhaps too successful in that there are currently hardly any brands in produce. Perhaps more brands would help this and be more recognisable, induce customer loyalty and so on?
Laura Sandys was keen to explore how to get the ‘health’ element drawn out and woven together more tightly with food production, and getting the health department working more closely with DEFRA, pointing out that while there was lots of excellent material about the environment in the spring consultation paper, people are as important as the environment, and we also need to work on protecting human health and making that sustainable. Claire Donovan suggested that gene editing should be advanced in order to drive advances in crop production, which the minister agreed with, and said that education in schools should be more supported, and school meals need to be looked at again. Helen Whately suggested that a financial reward could be offered to farmers and growers for the education element when children and adults are encouraged to come onto farms; and that farm visits could be subsidised. The ‘public goods’ mentioned in the Health & Harmony consultation paper could also include education.
Most around the table agreed that big corporations had their roles to play too, and that MacDonald’s 5-a-day push several years ago had a major impact on fruit and veg consumption, so credit should be given for efforts made.
Kirstene Hair wondered why tasting tables at supermarkets were never fruit and veg, and that perhaps some pressure could be placed to encourage this with innovative ways of using fruit and veg at home; although several producers pointed out that those tasting tables tend to cost around £5,000 which is money fruit and veg growers tend not to have.
There was also a lively discussion about food being a public good; and how food in hospitals should be healthy food to encourage good health. Several alliance members asked if a representative from the health department could be present at the Fruit & Veg Alliance’s first roundtable meeting with DEFRA, planned for September, and Maggie Charnley from DEFRA said she would work on this.
After a packed evening it was time to draw the discussions to a close, and Helen Whately thanked everyone for taken part, and was thanked in turn. The launch was a success, and all the members looked forward to coming up with many solutions to the discussed challenges.
Present: George Eustace (Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food) Emily Nash (of the Minister’s office), Neil Parish (MP), Helen Whately (MP), Kirstene Hair (MP), Laura Sandys (Chair of Food Foundation), Courtney Scott (Food Foundation), Amber Wheeler (Peas Please), Rebecca Laughton (Landworkers’ Alliance), Maresa Bossa (Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Network UK), Jack Ward (British Growers Association BGA), Ben Raskin (Soil Association), Clare Donovan (Gs Fresh) , Andrew Burgess (Produce World), Kate Collyns (Organic Growers Alliance OGA), Maggie Charnley (DEFRA), Nick Marston (British Summer Fruits)