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The RSA Commission on Food, Farming and Countryside, which will be run by the RSA and is launched today, will also look at measures to improve the public’s health, the countryside and rural communities.

The Commission’s launch prospectus outlines some of the changes in the UK’s food, farms and countryside since the UK joined the then EEC in 1973.

  • UK rural areas have lost population equivalent to Cardiff, Manchester and Edinburgh combined; from 12.7m to 11.3m.
  • The amount we spend on food has decreased, as a proportion of our weekly household budget, from 31% to 17% of household budgets.
  • The UK has lost 51% of farmland birds, several species have become extinct, and over 1,000 species today are threatened with extinction.
  • Poor diets have become more common as a cause of poor health. The latest estimates put the cost of obesity at £16 billion a year, obesity has risen from 5% of the adult population to 27% today and Type II Diabetes rates have doubled since 2000.  

Over the past 40 years, the UK has come to depend on rules and money from Brussels including laws that protect our wildlife and water. Of the £3.6 billion net income made by UK farms in 2016, £3.1bn from EU farm payments, and less than half of our fruit and veg is homegrown, and 90% of that by EU-born workers [see Notes for source].

Sir Ian Cheshire, Chair of the new Commission, said:

“We rely on the countryside even when we don’t see it; not only for food but so much we take for granted, like clean water. It’s part of who we are.  We have come to depend on EU laws and money but they haven’t been working well enough, and they are set for the biggest shake-up in a generation.

“Farmers groups, conservation charities and others are already putting huge thought into this. But they don’t have all the answers and might not agree. The role of this Commission is to learn what people want, as well as the established experts, what’s working in communities around the country, to come up with some creative answers and find a way through.”

The Commission is funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and will be launched at RSA House on Wednesday, with speakers including:

  • Sir Ian Cheshire, Chair of the Commission, also Chair of Barclays UK
  • Helen Browning OBE, Chief Executive of the Soil Association
  • Lord Curry of Kirkharle, Farmer and Businessman
  • Caroline Mason, Chief Executive, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
  • Sue Pritchard, Director of the RSA Food, Farming & Countryside Commission

Sue Pritchard, RSA’s Director of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission said:

Every single person in the UK has a stake in our food, farming and countryside.

“The UK has great strengths but real challenges too. We are a global leader in food manufacturing, but we rely heavily on imported fruit and veg. And while some people have more food choices than ever, inequality in the UK means for too many the reality is little choice and food poverty. 

“What’s on our plates affects all of us, and what is on our neighbours’ plates affects us too: the effect of food inequality is a public health time bomb.

“So we need both optimism and realism in spades. The Commission will take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to renew our food, farming and countryside for the next forty years and beyond, helping to turn our shared ambitions into actions.” 

Caroline Mason, Chief Executive, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, said:

“We have funded this Commission because we believe there are ways to produce higher quality food that are better for people and the environment. Our support for 170 sustainable food initiatives over the past 10 years - from community allotments to healthier fast food - has shown us that the food system is disjointed, but that many people want the chance to make it better. The Commission represents a perfectly-timed, once in a generation opportunity for people and communities to influence the role of food in their lives.”

 

Contact:

Ash Singleton, ash.singleton@rsa.org.uk, 07799 737 970.

Notes:

Source on EU migrants working in agriculture: Written evidence submission to House of Lords EU Committee inquiry, made by the British Growers Association.

  • A short report setting out the challenges the Commission will address.
  • A limited number of places are available for accredited media for the launch. Please contact Ash Singleton on the above.
  • The RSA [the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce] is an independent charity whose mission is to enrich society through ideas and action.
  • Our work covers a number of areas including the rise of the 'gig economy', robotics & automation; education & creative learning; and reforming public services to meet changing population needs and rising public expectations.

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