Lately I have been eating porridge for breakfast. I had forgotten how much I liked it, but there is another reason for having taken it up again. Oats are very good, apparently, at helping to restore gut flora and as I have been recovering from an infection which meant taking an awful lot of antibiotics (read part of the story here) I have been eating them to help my gut ecology recover. “We are what we eat” may be a tired cliché, but it also holds some fundamental truths.
Stating the obvious, food is something we all consume every day. And how that food is produced has a profound effect on us and on nature. Each spoonful of delicious porridge (with a dash of full fat milk) I eat, has embedded in it, an impact on nature. How many of us think about that impact when we are eating?
More and more apparently. A recent survey indicated that 49% of the British population had changed their food preferences to increase consumption of food produced ethically. Organic food sales have increased by nearly 5% in 2016, while RSPCA Freedom Food sales have soared, up 28.6%. People care more and more about how their food is produced, and that includes the impact its production has on nature.
Brexit is happening and with it brings many risks, but also opportunities. One of the biggest opportunities is to change the way that society supports farmers and landowners, support that drives the way that they produce food for us. The Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union has been an Albatross around the neck of nature here for the past 43 years. That Albatross may have morphed over the years, but it’s still an Albatross. Most payments are still made to farmers/landowners with a minimal requirement to provide for nature, or provide any other “public goods” that land provides, such as flood prevention, carbon storage, and so on. Equally, the sanctions designed to prevent environmentally damaging activities by farmers are weak and ineffectually enforced – sediment loss from Maize stubbles after cultivation is in theory sanctionable, but I’m not aware of any prosecution or even a warning being given. Perhaps it’s time to apply the Polluter Pays Principle widely across farming.
People Need Nature was established in 2015 to promote the value of nature for things like inspiration and enriching people’s spiritual lives. We also work to promote the value of nature in the “public realm” – for example the future of publicly owned land and the way that public policies affect nature. Food production could not be a more significant policy for affecting the future of nature, so with this in mind we have produced a report “A Pebble in the Pond”, which explores the impact of farm subsidies on nature, and how a new approach could help to rebalance the use of land in England (yes just England) so nature can recover some of the ground lost over the last 40-odd years of the CAP, and the even more damaging period of intensification after the war.
The report can be downloaded from the People Need Nature website here. The report includes case studies and contributions from individuals and organisations (including one from this blog’s esteemed author) and a series of proposals, which we hope will help to promote a public debate about our relationship with food, and its relationship with nature.
Miles King, People Need Nature.
Miles King is Chief Executive of People Need Nature a new charity working to highlight the sensory, emotional and spiritual values of nature. He has worked in nature conservation for 30 years, leading the conservation work at Plantlife, The Grasslands Trust and Buglife. He has also worked for English Nature, Natural England and as a consultant. He is co-author of Arable Plants: A Field Guide (2003), and The Nature of God’s Acre (2014).