Tim Lang : Coronavirus and the Food System : Farming the Future 2020

10 June 2020. Farming The Future feeds the movement towards a healthier food system by supporting an ecosystem of change-makers, who work hard on the ground with a growing community.

The 2020 collaborative process began with an online convening of the community, to assess the environment, and explore how we might be able to collaboratively create the components needed in the current landscape. The event began with introductions from Rob Reed of The A Team Foundation and Sam Roddick of The Roddick Foundation, followed by keynote speakers who inspired both hope and urgency: Professor and hill farmer – Tim Lang from the Centre of Food Policy, and scholar, environmental activist and author – Vandana Shiva.

Professor Tim Lang has been Professor of Food Policy at City University London’s Centre for Food

Policy since 2002. 

  • He founded the Centre in 1994. He has been a consultant to the World Health Organisation (eg auditing the Global Top 25 Food Companies on food and health 2005), FAO (eg co-chairing the FAO definition of sustainable diets 2010) and UNEP (eg co-writing its 2012 Avoiding Future Famines report). 
  • He has been a special advisor to four House of Commons Select Committee inquiries, two on food standards (1998-9 & 1999), globalisation (2000) and obesity (2003-04), and a consultant on food security to the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House 2007-09). 
  • He was a Commissioner on the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission (2006-11), reviewing progress on food sustainability. He was on the Council of Food Policy Advisors to the Dept for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (2008-10), and is a member of the Mayor of London’s Food Board (2009 – present). 
  • He helped launch the 100 World Cities Urban Food Policy Pact in Milan 2015. He was a COmmissioner on the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (2016-19) which published the highly acclaimed ‘Food in the Anthropocene’ report (The Lancet, January 2019)

Professor Lang described the convening as an opportunity to reach beyond the usual perimeters, commanding us to “be realistic, demand the impossible”. We’re seeing food banks, which were supposed to be an emergency response, buckling under growing demand as 8 million people could face food poverty in the UK. 50% of us own only £400, as inequality frays our social fabric, and, despite our overall wealth, we slip down the EIU Global Food Security and Sustainability Index.

Britain’s import tradition has caused issues of equality, sustainability and health for growers, eaters, animals, and the elements. Our food supply has shown itself to be vulnerable and a national strategy is needed; yet, whilst defence receives a budget of £39.5 billion, food and environment gets £1.9 billion. But we have an opportunity for change, as we create new policies, from a pandemic perspective, looking towards a post-carbon future.

Vandana Shiva explained a measure of yield per acre that counts crop diversity, true cost accounting, and feeds twice the population of India. Yet globalised agri-business, which receives subsidies – from our money – to produce biofuel and animal food with resource-intensive methods. Exploitation and pollution by industrialised food production causes disease, social inequality and ecological destruction. The cost of cheap food is high. Yet when food is grown organically, by people on a small scale, more food can be produced in more sustainable ways. 

Lockdown shut down 1.1 billion peoples’ livelihoods; farmers became refugees as 1 billion joined the hungry. 150 million people could starve in the next 3 months. Yes, people are being more compassionate, but that won’t last unless the system is fixed. The crises are both consequences of and responses to war, and can be combated with non-violent agriculture, locally and globally, by all justice movements uniting. By redesigning the food system around people and our planet, rather than money, we can redefine economics and restore health.


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