Policy: Safe Food For All
I am consistently struck by the disparity in wealth within in our society, deprivation in Kensington, people willing to pay five pounds for a loaf of bread in Hackney. The old paradigm of wealth and poverty being easy to judge by address is long gone. However, the gap between those who have and those who don’t has never been larger. The impact of the food system on those who make decisions between buying children shoes and feeding them are the most at risk from food policy change through the Brexit process.
The first assumption being made by free marketeers is that cheaper food will be good for those living in poverty, and if that food is produced and handled to the same hygiene standards as applied in the UK I would agree. However, the opening of markets comes with a cost in terms of safety, a reduction in price instantly means a risk in terms of human health. This begs a philosophical question, given the impact of food borne disease on long term human health and the ongoing cost to society of that, is it right that “high risk” food is allowed in to the UK. Kidney Failure, Chronic arthritis, Meningitis, brain and nerve damage are all ruinous conditions to those needing to work to support a family, and uncommon but well understood ramifications of Campylobacter, Listeria, E.coli, Salmonella and Shigella infections.
The number of food scandals we see, demonstrates that even in the UK with the eyes of the FSA, Environmental health, BRC and retailer audits, the pressure to produce at the lowest possible price has an impact.
The second assumption is that the “cost of risk” is acceptable, for most families, a severe bout of food borne illness has long term impact on both physical and financial health, for those who manage on the basis that they are well and can work, being off work for a prolonged period or left potentially disabled because of food poisoning, can have a devastating life long effect on earning and caring – arguably the functions that most adults rely on undertaking to some extent.
Social sustainability becomes a hugely important pillar of food policy at this point, there is and always will be an entry level market for low cost food, but that food must be safe, it must be traceable, and it must never cause harm to those who eat it.
This increasingly means there is a need for brands and farmers to decide on their place within this market, and ensure they are delivering the right value streams for the market. It is very clear that complete provenance is less important to a price sensitive mass market consumer, than to the high disposable income values driven consumer.
For mass market brands provenance data still offers the consumer confidence in terms of brand integrity and the demonstration of a responsible mindset. Whilst those who can only afford the lowest priced food on the shelf might not be asking the questions, as a responsible society we must ensure they are well protected by both food policy and the system which it drives.