Inquiry puts spotlight on fairness in the food sector

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food ethics council Fair trade Nutrition

A major new inquiry is seeking evidence on fairness in the global food system and will deliver a set of recommendations for food producers, retailers and governments on ethical practices.

Sales of fair trade products are continuing to grown even in recession, the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation International reports, indicating a solid base of interest in ethical consumption. Food security and sustainability top government and business agendas.

Helen Browning, chair of the Food Ethics Council, which is running the inquiry, said there has been much focus on the environment – stopping climate change and the amount of food the land can produce. But that is only part of the picture.

“This inquiry reminds us that sustainability and food security are at root social issues, and fairness is central to achieving either,”​ she said.

The inquiry’s committee is asking for opinions and experiences on how fair the global food system is. It wants to uncover the reasons why some people eat healthily and others do not; whether food workers and farmers have a fair deal; and whether consumers have enough say about what goes into the food they eat.

“We have an idea of the sort of issues that need to come up, but there will be other unusual and unpredictable ideas,”​ Tom MacMillan, executive director of the Food Ethics Council told

He added that the open inquiry means the process can be held to account. People can raise issues they know need to be on the table.

Some early contributions have already been received. Amongst these Professor Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington drew attention to healthy diets.

“Fat is a class issue,”​ he said. “Healthier diets cost more, so policies to tackle obesity must reduce economic inequality”.

Global view

The approach recognises that food fairness issues are global, and is “alert to ways government and food business work across international boundaries and consider impact beyond their back yard,”​ MacMillan said.

He added that food companies need to see the progressive impact they make through their purchases, supply chains and foreign policy.

One case study that illustrates the global-to-local connection particularly well is fair trade, which has created a context for global production-consumption relations. The strength of feeling this provokes rivals the feelings buyers have for local producers, whom they know personally.

The 16 committee members count Food and Drink Federation chief executive Melanie Leech amongst their number, as well as Andrew Opie, food policy director of the British Retail Consortium, and Paul Whitehouse, chair of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Others come from civil society and academia.


The responses will be discussed at three hearings this autumn, where witnesses will also make presentations and others will have a chance to contribute. The first hearing, on 16th September, will tackle food poverty and malnutrition.

After deliberating on the evidence and the discussions at the hearings, the committee will put together a report that will make recommendations for food producers, retailers and policy-makers.

The report is due to be published in early 2010. The project does not officially wrap up until October next year, allowing time to disseminate the work.

More information on the enquiry is available at​. Evidence can be sent by email (preferably as .rtf attachment) to

Related topics Market Trends Sustainability

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