Do we want an open or a closed door policy for food?

Whilst the Prime Minister’s Farm to Fork Food Summit goes on behind closed doors in Downing Street today, in Wales, the Senedd is preparing for an open debate on a Food Bill.  Here, Katie Palmer, Programme Manager at Food Sense Wales reflects on whether we need a legislative framework for our food system in Wales.

As I started pulling together some key statistics on the state of our food system ahead of next week’s Food (Wales) Bill debate in the Senedd, I was struck by some distressing statements appearing on my social media feed this morning, including:

“some families across the UK have turned to stealing baby formula as the cost of the product rises”  


“Intensive farming is the biggest cause of bird decline in Europe”

Working in this space, it’s easy to become disheartened. Sometimes, the scale and complexity of the issues are overwhelming; other times you find yourself becoming numb to the big numbers you hear on a daily basis. But I’ve found that being part of a collaborative movement that shares, listens, debates and seeks collective solutions to be both heartening and productive. I can’t help thinking therefore that a closed-door policy is not the right one for our Food System.

Henry Dimbleby’s Food Strategy sparked a national conversation about England’s Food System. The resulting strategy was well researched and widely supported – however it remains largely on the shelf. The Food (Wales) Bill, brought to the Senedd by Peter Fox MS in a private members ballot, has created a space to have a similar debate about where our responsibility lies in Wales as part of a global Food System. What type of food system do we want for Wales and how are we going to achieve it? This has opened up a choice for Government – to legislate or to risk the shelving of another food strategy?

Welsh Government has a duty in Wales to think for the long term and to collaborate, thanks to the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. In many areas across the Food System in Wales we are seeing that collaboration come to life – whether it is through an emerging network of food partnerships, Welsh Government food business clusters or Farming Connect – efforts are being made. What is missing however is a clear steer from Government about what it is we want our food system to do for us; how to link it with systemic issues such as diet-related health inequalities, nature loss, climate change or rural economies; and how to share accountability for that between Government and society.

We need a resilient food system for the long term. The changes that need to be made may take a long time, but we need to act with urgency and compassion. This is why I feel we do need a legislative footing for our food system. We need it to navigate tricky waters beyond political cycles; we need it to ensure accountability across all aspects of the food system; we need it to ensure we have a robust position in an increasingly deregulatory UK context; and most importantly, we need it to galvanise and channel all the expertise, conviction and passion that is present in the food system in Wales into positive change for future generations.

About Katie Palmer

Katie Palmer is Programme Manager for Food Sense Wales.  Katie has an MSc in Nutrition from Kings College London and in Food Policy from City University. She has worked in the world of food for over 20 years with experience in both the private sector, and third and public sector (including six years on Food Standards Agency’s Welsh Food Advisory Committee and Welsh Governments Food and Drink Industry Board).  Katie is a founding member of the Veg Power Board as well as being one of the founding members of Food Policy Alliance Cymru.   She also sits on the WLGA’s School Holiday Enrichment Programme Advisory Group and was one of the team of four who created the multi award winning Food and Fun programme in Cardiff in 2015. Most recently she has been elected as a member of the Conscious Food Systems Inner Council supporting the Conscious Food Systems Alliance, a movement of food, agriculture, and consciousness practitioners, convened by UNDP, and united around a common goal: to support people from across food and agriculture systems to cultivate the inner capacities that activate systemic change and regeneration.