Written evidence submitted by Cheshire and Warrington Leaders' Board, Cheshire and Warrington LEP (FS0044)

 

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: Call for Evidence

Call for Evidence - Committees - UK Parliament

 

Evidence from Cheshire and Warrington

September 2022

 

  1. What are the key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices – including input costs, labour shortages and global events? What are the consequences for UK businesses and consumers?

 

Key factors affecting the resilience of food supply chains and causing disruption and rising food prices are thought to be:

 

 

 

 

 

The consequences for UK businesses and consumers are thought to be:

 

  1. What is the outlook for UK food price inflation in the short and medium term? What policy interventions should the Government consider to manage these pressures?

 

The outlook is that food inflation will increase.

 

For policy interventions, the Government needs to intervene on the agricultural input supply side, primarily ensuring energy and fuel security, price stability and affordability in the short term.

 

This will reduce food costs and ensure food security in the short term. At the same time we should implement medium to long term resilient agricultural systems for example, integrated and regenerative circular arable/livestock farming systems with reduced requirement for chemical fertilisers. Some estates in Cheshire are examples of circular regenerative farming methods where farm manure is used as a valuable renewable resource. The government should provide the investment required for Anaerobic Digestion plants working in partnership with local bodiesFor example there is a sub-regional group that has now been set up to progress this opportunity, which Cheshire East and Cheshire West Councils are part of along with the private sector and LEP. Cheshire is renowned as being home to some of the best dairy farms in the world.

 

We also need / would like to see:

 

 

 

  1. How are the rising cost of living and increasing food prices affecting access to healthy and nutritious food?

 

 

Example case study: Warrington

 

Warrington Food Provision

 

          Developing a range of affordable food projects to support residents to stretch their budgets further and create a stepping stone between crisis support and supermarkets

          1 x community shop, 1 x Your Local Pantry and 1 x Bread and Butter Thing in the pipeline for Autumn/Winter 2022 launch

          Launching warm hubs initiative with The Bread and Butter Thing in September

 

 

Provision Type

Number of organisations

Number of sites

Number of days open

Affordable

7

7

15

Emergency

10

17

45

Community fridge

5

6

10

Hot meal scheme

1

1

1

Community meals*

5

5

5

 

Warrington Foodbank Data: January – July 2022

 

Month

Number of Vouchers Issued

Number of Adults

Number of Children

Total number of people supported

Jan

253

376

203

579

Feb

336

479

273

752

March

413

627

301

928

April

531

760

399

1159

May

569

834

467

1301

June

 664

 TBC

TBC

TBC 

July

 718

630 

1070

1700 

 

 

Warrington’s emergency food provision

 

          6/10 responses to survey received from emergency food providers

          All fed back that they are experiencing an increase in the number of referrals/self referrals

          5/6 organisations who responded said they are experiencing a drop in donations vs previous month

          Providers are seeing more people referred who are from working households who can’t cover bills

 

Average number of households supported per week

Average number of individuals supported per week

Average number of days supply of food

People days fed in June

(no. individuals x no. days supply of food)

534

1,620

4

21,115

 

Warrington’s Affordable Food Provision

 

          4/6 responses to survey received from affordable food providers

 

 

 

 

  1. How will the proposals in the Government’s food strategy policy paper affect:
    1. the resilience of food supply chains?

 

The commitment to a land use strategy is welcome, which could better balance our food production and responsibility to our natural environment. Support for sustainable UK horticulture could improve affordable access to healthy fruit, veg and pulses. The push to include more local and sustainable food in public sector food, if implemented, could have a powerful impact.

 

    1. the agri-food and seafood sectors?;

N/A 

    1. access to healthy, nutritious food?

 

There is little acknowledgment of food poverty in the strategy. The strategy does not consider how Government will ensure that people can afford to eat well in the current cost of living crisis. This strategy has been years in development and has suffered delay, but in this time, household food insecurity has risen sharply and this is not well reflected in the strategy.

 

For example, rates of overweight and obesity in Cheshire West and Chester are 22.8% for reception, 34.9% for year 6 and 60.2% for adults. Government has committed to halving childhood obesity by 2030 partly through increasing the proportion of healthy food sold. Regulations such as the soft drinks levy have been effective in reducing the sugar content of fizzy drinks, but little else has been proposed to improve the nutritional value of the food we are able to purchase and the food we are encouraged to purchase through advertising and marketing. Healthier foods need be more affordable, more local and more accessible. Food needs to support the health of our populations as well as our planet. It is a shame that any consideration of the impact of low quality, high fat salt sugar food and drink (junk food) has been pushed back to be included in the forthcoming health disparities white paper, despite the impact that this junk food cycle has on health, which highlights significant issues with our food system.

 

  1. Is the current level and target of food self-sufficiency in England still appropriate?

 

According to the UK cross-government programme on food security research; The UK is not self-sufficient in food production; it imports 48% of the total food consumed and the proportion is rising. Behind the always full-looking supermarket shelves lies a supply chain that is sensitive to economic and environmental events.

 

  1. A) How could the Government’s proposed land use strategy for England improve food security?

 

In order to address climate change issues and tackle the obesity epidemic, a change in diet should be promoted and the land use strategy should reflect this. A healthier and more environmentally friendly diet would include less meat and dairy. Food being produced locally needs to impact positively on local people. There needs to be an increase in food security for those in food poverty, through:

The government should work closely with farmers to find solutions to food poverty and food insecurity. Farmers are part of the solution and their response to policy over the years attests to that. Government policy must be clear and practicable.

 

B) What balance should be stuck between land use for food production and other goals – such as environmental benefit?

 

There is a need to strike the right balance between environmental benefits, food security, farmers’ economic and social wellbeing. Farmers are well placed to deliver on all outcomes if the policy drivers are enabling. Historically, farmers have been custodians of the British countryside and their experience over generations is a vital resource in developing the land use strategy.

 

If policy is well drafted, there need not be an inherent conflict between food production and environmental benefits as if it is an ‘either, or’ situation. The goal should be to develop successful Environmental Land Management policies and practices that address the concept of payment for ‘public goods’ and the value of Natural Capital as part of any strategy on food security.

 

Policy on food security should also take account of and respond to changes in dietary habits, some of which can directly influence the health and climate change agenda.  For example, a reduction in meat consumption and changing patterns of production to focus on quality, traceability and short supply chains, can free up land for other food production, improved biodiversity and/or carbon sequestration.  Food security is threatened by climate change, so policy still needs to ensure that land-use helps to both tackle the causes of climate change and mitigate its effects.

 

Where suitable, technologies such as vertical farming and other ‘agritech’ should deployed to augment food production and ensure food security. The complementarity of such technologies should be sought including working alongside and improving the current agricultural production methods. Cheshire West Council has initiated vertical farming within the area by firstly consulting the New Anglian LEP who facilitated the setting up of the One Farm vertical farm in Suffolk. Operators of One Farm are providing guidance to the Cheshire based businesses who intend to set up a vertical farm. Reaseheath College in Cheshire East is demonstrating and training people in the use of vertical farming.

 

The anaerobic digestion (AD) of farmyard manure can be used for energy generation and the by-product digestate used as organic fertiliser. There should be sufficient investment to roll out these initiatives at scale and pace within Cheshire. Grosvenor Estates for example are developing an AD plant to produce biogas to feed into the National Grid. They have been using farmyard manure as part of their crop nutrition for a while which reduces the need for fossil intensive chemical fertilisers. They also practice regenerative farming to improve soil health and soil carbon sequestration and therefore reducing the carbon footprint of their dairy produce.

 

At Barnston Estate, they are championing the Triple Bottom Line philosophy of balancing people (social capital), planet (natural capital) and profit, and this is embedded in their farming system.

 

A farmer in Cheshire West, Andrew Worrall – Agriculture; grows Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop and as part of catchment sensitive farming for water quality improvement for United Utilities. Additionally, Andrew grows cover crops and practices reduced tillage on his land to reduce soil erosion and build soil health and increase soil carbon. These practices improve natural capital and biodiversity.

 

In addition, of relevance to this submission, a Cheshire and Warrington Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission has just launched its final report which includes an evidence base, a vision and a set of recommendations to support four themes: Inclusive Economy, Sustainable Transport, Sustainable Land Use and Climate Change and Net Zero.  The Commission was set up by the Leaders’ Board in November 2020 with the aim of moving further and faster towards realising Cheshire and Warrington’s ambition of becoming the most sustainable and inclusive subregion in the UK. The report can be accessed here: Report Summary and Final Report.

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