The Commission’s set up is in response to changes seen in the UK’s food, farms and countryside over the past forty years that give an indication of what’s to come particularly in the wake of Brexit.
Currently, the UK depends on Brussels to enforce laws that dictate food production. Of the €4.0bn (£3.6bn) net income made by UK farms in 2016, €3.5bn (£3.1bn) comes from EU farm payments, with less than half of the country’s fruit and veg being homegrown. Around 90% of this produce is harvested by an EU-born workforce.
“The UK has great strengths but real challenges too,” said Sue Pritchard, director of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission at the RSA, a multi-disciplinary think tank based in the UK that combines research and innovation in order to generate change.
“We are a global leader in food manufacturing, but we rely heavily on imported fruit and veg. And while some people have more food choices than ever, inequality in the UK means for too many the reality is little choice and food poverty.
“The Commission will take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew our food, farming and countryside for the next forty years and beyond, helping to turn our shared ambitions into actions.”
RSA goals outlined
In a major, two-year independent inquiry, the Commission will set out ways to achieve a safe, secure, inclusive food and farming system for the UK.
Its accompanying prospectus attempts to address the future challenges for food, farming and the UK countryside, identifying a series of approaches which recognise the opportunities and benefits.
On climate change, for example, the RSA asks how cutting greenhouse gas emissions at home affects the consumption footprint of the UK’s food imports.
“Not only are reductions in UK agricultural emissions lagging behind other industries; our demand for food and energy has led us to ‘offshore’ our impacts,” the Commission said.
“For every 100 hectares of UK farmland, another 70 hectares globally is devoted to meeting UK consumption.”
Food security is subsequently affected, with farming currently accounting for 30% of the total greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of fresh water use.
RSA also highlight that around a third of the world’s arable soils have been lost to erosion and pollution over the last 40 years.
The report said that the UK has different rural environments, and different national priorities for social and economic development over coming decades.
‘Once in a generation opportunity’
“The health of our communities, farming and environment rely on each other. We need balanced solutions that serve them all, not trade one off against another.”
Caroline Mason, chief executive, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, said that the reasons for funding the Commission came down to the belief that “there are ways to produce higher quality food that are better for people and the environment”.
“Our support for 170 sustainable food initiatives over the past 10 years - from community allotments to healthier fast food - has shown us that the food system is disjointed, but that many people want the chance to make it better.
“The Commission represents a perfectly-timed, once in a generation opportunity for people and communities to influence the role of food in their lives.”
The Foundation is one of the largest independent grant-makers in the UK contributing €48m (£42.4m) towards work within the arts, children and young people, the environment and social change.
The foundation also has a €50.8m (£45m) allocation to social investments for organisations with the aim of creating social impact.
The Commission is expected to publish its interim report in autumn 2018 with a final report out in Spring 2019.