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‘We need a new long-term vision for food in Wales’

24 Jul 2023 6 minute read
The cost of living crisis is exacerbating a complex twin problem of malnutrition and obesity.

Derek WalkerFuture Generations Commissioner for Wales

From farm to fork, food is critical to the health of our people and our planet. 

I learned from an early age, growing up on a farm near Cwmbran, that what and how we grow and consume food is fundamental to our well-being.

Now, in my role as Future Generations Commissioner, food is at the centre of almost every conversation I’m having on how we can make Wales a better place to live, now and for people to come.

As the Royal Welsh Show opens, it’s a good time to ask, how can Wales adapt to a world where food insecurity and climate instability are creating huge challenges to how we feed ourselves?

Well, in Wales, we have a law, the Well-being of Future Generations Act, which means people in power must act today for a better tomorrow, and that law can help us create a massive shift in how we think about food.  

A polycrisis of health, poverty, nature and climate change

High food prices mean one in five people in Wales are hungry, disproportionally affecting more disabled people, Black, Asian and minorityethnic people.

The cost of living crisis is exacerbating a complex twin problem of malnutrition and obesity.

While many families cannot afford to buy food, many households can only afford the cheapest, most highly-processed meals, high in calories, low in nutrients.

People face a poverty of time and money and we’ve lost our connection between how we produce and how we eat our food.

Meanwhile, the global food system is responsible for a third of harmful carbon emissions and is the biggest contributor to nature loss.

Agricultural waste pollutes our rivers, while UK households waste nine million tonnes of food a year, and an area equivalent to 40% of the size of Wales is lost in tropical forests annually due to the goods, including animal feed, that we import.

How we grow our food, reduce waste, and what we eat is key to our well-being, and we all need access to affordable, healthy, sustainably produced food. In Wales, we can build a nation where that’s possible. 

We can do better things

We need a long-term vision for food policy in Wales, and we can work together to achieve it, learning from what we’re already doing here, and what’s happening around the world.

Liege in Belgium plans to feed itself only using local and sustainable food sources – we can match this level of ambition, so more Pembrokeshire potatoes feed more Welsh school children and more of our loved-ones in hospitals.

Carmarthenshire Council is working on a future generations school food menu made up of local and sustainably-sourced ingredients, social enterprise Menter Môn promotes new sustainable farming techniques, and Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board created an anti-obesity coalition. 

Local food partnerships, such as in north Powys, are making a real difference on the ground by developing local food networks.

Farmers are critical to our nation’s health, rural communities and a thriving Welsh language – they helped maintain the food chain through the pandemic, play a leading role in restoring nature and reducing emissions, and should be a vital part of this long-term food plan.

Using the Well-being of Future Generations Act for a long-term vision

We grow only 2% of the fruits and vegetables we consume in Wales, and we’re missing the opportunities for a wholesale food solution that makes the most of our ideas, talents, natural resources and of our unique well-being legislation.

Currently, the well-being plans that councils have to publish under the Act don’t mention healthy diets, and our well-being goals and the 50 indicators that measure our success against them, leave out food. 

Yet there’s a huge appetite for a new approach, and public bodies are taking action on food insecurity, while council leaders tell me they want a national plan.

What next? 

My office, which supports and challenges public bodies to act in the interests of current and future generations, Welsh Government and councils must work together on good food policies, indicators and outcomes, linked to our well-being goals. This work should involve people facing food insecurity, farmers and community food projects. 

Welsh Government is already acting. The First Minister wants to establish how national food policies from land use to free schools meals are joined up. Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths is leading efforts in this area, including on a community food strategy. 

Wales is beginning to look at working in a joined-up way on this, between national and local government and everyone involved in this mission.

Next, we need a long-term vision for sustainable food production and consumption, which delivers good food for everyone in Wales and sets a national direction of travel where we can measure our progress. 

This autumn, I will publish my priorities for my role for the next seven years, and the long-term questions I’m exploring include – how can weinvolve communities to shift diets to meet the nature and climate emergencies and create green jobs? 

And, what kind of support do food businesses and consumers need to grow and eat more fruits and vegetables?

We might not have all the answers now, but the problems are well known. 

The Welsh Government wants to join the dots on existing policies, councils want to explore what more they can do, and we all want access to good, affordable, local food that supports a healthier Wales – and one that better respects planet boundaries.

Let’s maximise action and a vision through the goals and duties under the Well-being of Future Generations Act to work on our long-term plan for food.

Derek Walker, the Future Generations Commissioner, will be convening a discussion between farmers, local councils, and community food groups for a conversation on the future of food policy at the Royal Welsh Show.

He is also hosting Food Fit for the Future, A People’s Assembly this Friday, July 28. For more information and to join, see HERE

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11 months ago

We have enough farmland here in Cymru to produce seasonal fruit and vegetables and make us much less reliant on others to cater for our needs. It annoys me when I see English, Spanish, French etc. produce in our supermarkets when we should be competent enough to grow these things here at a reasonable cost with less transportation costs. Having said that a few years ago I got into a discussion with a Gower fruit and veg farmer who told me that he sold directly to supermarket giants who insisted that the produce was advertised and sold as “English”!!!

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
11 months ago
Reply to  Frank

Welsh products such as ‘Welsh lamb’ should be labelled as such.
Any other label is undervaluing our products.

Only English products should be labelled as English.
People choose to pay extra for ‘Scottish porridge’ etc because it is a better product then English porridge.

They must always label the correct label of origin as per EU regulations.
The farmer should be advised to only sell to retailers that label their products correctly.
Gower lamb is a quality product.

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