Get real, Britain

Tim Lang

“Get real, Britain”, was the message from panellist Professor Tim Lang during the second Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) Bitesize webinar which examined the state of Britain’s food security. 

Professor Lang, alongside fellow panellists including: Joanna Lewis, Strategy and Policy Director at Soil Association; Rebecca Speight, CEO of RSPB; and, George Young, an agro-ecological farmer revisited the theme of the 1958 conference - Towards Greater Self Sufficiency. Chaired by Liz Bowles, OFC Director and Associate Director Farming and Land Use at Soil Association, the series of six webinars draw on the conference’s rich history for debating the agrifood sector’s biggest challenges and opportunities.  

Speaking on the future of food security, a topic brought into sharp focus during the Covid pandemic, Professor Lang noted the uncomfortable truth of Britain’s imperial legacy, where the nation has relied on other countries to supply our food, leaving the UK vulnerable. 

We have this extraordinary imperial legacy where we think other people are going to feed us and we are now getting a very cold dose of water reminding us how fragile our relationship is to ecosystems and food supply.” 

But Professor Lang noted that it is a complex issue in which many different aspects must be addressed to ensure sustainability and resilience.

“What do we mean by food security? It’s about juggling, at the same time, supply, health, quality, acceptability of culture, ecosystems, economy – a multicriteria approach – which is not what we have now. We still think others are going to feed us.  

Get real, Britain. We need to grow up and shed our imperial past and inject sustainability into food security. Britain is parasitic and overconsuming with a mismatch between policy, evidence and reality.” 

With hundreds of viewers participating in the debate online, the focus soon turned to resilience and sustainability of our food system. 

George Young, an agro-ecological farmer from Fobbing in South Essex, highlighted the importance of micro-supply-chains and hyper-local food systems. 

“Food sovereignty is important, and we need local communities to have a bond with the food they’re eating. 

For me, local food hubs are the crux of where we need to get to with food supply. We need more local butchers and bakers and need incentivisation for local food hubs and to get more people involved in agriculture to ensure that local food hubs can be served.” 

Professor Lang said that there needs to be a devolution of power to create real and sustainable change. 

I want a new food resilience and security act. An act with very clear guidance and a devolution of power that gives us the ability to get on with it at a local and regional level. An act that gives direction and has power and deals with everything we talk about - health, environment, culture, jobs. 

“Will Covid-19 leave a lasting legacy on food security? Well, that’s down to us.” 

 The recorded debate is available to watch here.