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Towards a policy framework for a more sustainable food system  

Angus Chalmers

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In this month’s instalment of The Inside Track, I’m going to be talking about our food system and the need for a vision and a policy framework which harnesses the undoubted power of the market to deliver the outcomes we need on climate change and biodiversity.  

We read a great deal about our food system being ‘broken.’ While this depends on your perspective, I think it’s probably safe to say that it’s not functioning in a way that is sustainable for the climate, the economic resilience of the businesses that operate in it, and for the consumer.  

Developing a framework to deliver what society needs 

Looking at it from the perspective of businesses that work within the food system, they will always be more fleet of foot than government policy. What is crucial for those businesses is that a policy framework is developed which delivers what society needs while allowing businesses to do what they are good at, which is innovate and compete – capitalisms great attribute. A strong framework will ensure delivery on the broader outcomes whilst reigning in the more unsavory elements of an unfettered free market. 

Individual businesses can’t do it alone  

A successful business requires control over many moving parts. In recent years this has become ever more complex with the need to deliver on the biggest issue, which is the natural environment. 

ESG has been around for a long time, but it has become more intricate as we understand more of what we need to deliver to create a sustainable future. While individual businesses can influence social and economic outcomes, what is needed to address the concerns around the environment has gone beyond what a single company can do.  

Yes, there are always things that can be done within the business itself, whether that’s reducing waste or using renewable energy. And businesses are also engaging with carbon credit schemes, sponsoring projects, or planting trees. These things have benefits, but they’re not going to solve the bigger issue of climate change. How do we tackle climate change and climate impact from a food system perspective? How do we renew biodiversity and ecosystems? How do we sustainably utilise our raw materials and natural resources? There are so many things that individual companies can’t address on their own. 

That’s why now I think there’s a huge need to collaborate across supply chains to achieve the kind of outcomes that are needed to address climate change and biodiversity health, whilst allowing businesses to thrive.  

There needs to be an understandable policy framework and vision to not only enable businesses to function profitably within it but also allow us to harness the innovation and dynamism that capitalism can bring. Unfettered capitalism often brings undesirable consequences, but within a vision and a framework it can be a force for good.  

We don’t have the time  

If we leave things up to individual businesses, progress is going to be really slow. We don’t have the luxury of time to go slowly. You only need to look at what’s happening in agriculture this year and how it has borne the brunt of the impact of climate change. We need this vision and framework to enable the power of capitalism and of individual businesses to drive change at a pace that is going to start to deliver.  

We need economic resilience, and we need to have businesses that make a profit, but they need to be making that profit within a sustainable environment. 

The need for a longer-term view 

The movement towards the collaboration, innovation, and change that must happen if we are to have a healthier planet is gaining momentum. But at the moment, we’re just peeling back the layers; there’s still so much to do.  

The government, farmers, and all those businesses that are involved in the food system need to take a longer-term view.  

Politics is always coloured by politicians seeking to influence votes, particularly with an election in our sites but the issues that we’re facing concerning the natural environment are so enormous that they need to transcend the individual. We need a long-term policy, not one that just sits within a three to five-year political cycle. We need it stretched out and linked to our 2050 net zero goal. 

Let’s stop kicking the ball into the long grass and thinking somebody else is going to be able to solve the problem. Let’s collaborate and use our ingenuity to bring about real and lasting change both for the food system and for planet earth.  





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