Food for Thought: Exciting times for Wales’ food system

In recent weeks, a series of commitments and priorities have been announced in Wales that will have a significant impact on our food system.  Here, Food Sense Wales looks at the changes being proposed and discusses what they could mean for us in Wales.

These are exciting times for food-related activity and policy in Wales and it’s heartening to see people from across the political spectrum working together, implementing a systems approach and thinking holistically about the food we produce and consume.

Food Sense Wales’s mission is to co-create a food system for Wales that’s good for people and the planet. We believe that the recent developments in Wales will help achieve this as we continue to work to ensure that sustainable food, farming and fisheries are at the heart of a just, connected, resilient and prosperous food system.

The Co-operation Agreement signed yesterday (December 1st 2021) by Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru includes a commitment to give all primary school children in Wales free school meals within three years.  This is an inclusive and wide-reaching policy that will not only benefit primary-aged children’s educational attainment but will also benefit the health and general well-being of the children of Wales.  Crucially, the policy also references the desire to increase the amount of locally produced food served in schools that will help local economies, and if integrated into other Programme for Government commitments such as the Sustainable Farming scheme, it will also have the potential to drive up environmental standards.

Until now, many children living in poverty haven’t been eligible for free school meals, resulting in deepening educational and health inequalities.  This new policy provides Wales with an opportunity to do things differently, creating a free school meal service that supports all primary school children, their local economy and protects the planet. We recognise that implementation of this policy will be challenging for Government but we also know that there is an enormous support ready to be activated – from business, third sector organisations, public sector service providers and the children themselves.  You can read more about how why schools are at the heart of the solution to Wales’ current food crises in this recent blog by Food Sense Wales’ Katie Palmer.

In another important and encouraging step for Welsh producers and consumers, the Co-operation Agreement also outlines the need to set meaningful targets to increase Welsh public sector procurement as well as stating a promise to carry out a detailed analysis of the public sector supply chain and making a commitment to the promotion of purchasing made-in-Wales products and services.  In order to support our producers and our communities across the country and to uphold our global responsibility (e.g. deforestation) we need to be able to retain value within Wales – and this pledge goes someway to recognising this issue. The development of Government Buying Standards, the forthcoming revision of Food in Schools standards, fair work commitments and continued support of the Foundational Economy work will all be key to successful implementation.

In order to create a food system that’s good for the planet, government – as well as producers and consumers – need to be fully committed to reaching net zero whilst recognising that our food system is also at risk from climate change and nature loss.  The Co-operation Agreement will result in the examination of potential ways of reaching net zero by 2035 – fifteen years sooner than originally planned and one of the targets laid out in Food Policy Alliance Cymru’s vision for a food system fit for future generations ahead of the 2021 Senedd elections .  It’s also been agreed that targets and an environmental governance body have a role to play in helping to protect and restore biodiversity for species and habitats in our terrestrial and marine environments.

Earlier this week, at the Royal Welsh Winter Fair, Rural Affairs Minister Lesley Griffiths announced a Vision for the Food and Drink Industry in Wales from 2021 in which wages were addressed.  We already know that due to low pay, those working in food sector are often more likely to be food insecure than those working in other sectors, therefore we’re really pleased that alongside the pledge to develop a decarbonisation Action Plan for the food and drink manufacturing industry, one of the vision’s objectives is to ensure that the proportion of food and drink sector employees receiving at least the Welsh Living Wage will increase, achieving 80% by 2025.

A private members bill to introduce a new Food (Wales) Bill also recently won the support of the Senedd.  Its aim is to establish a more sustainable food system in Wales to strengthen food security, improve Wales’ socio-economic well-being, and enhance consumer choice.  An integrated approach is key to creating a resilient and sustainable food system for Wales and this Bill could provide the framework help to achieve policy targets relating to health and well-being, environmental sustainability, social justice and community resilience.

And at the start of this Senedd terms, the Welsh Government committed in its latest Programme for Government (2021-2026) that it was going to develop a community food strategy to encourage the production and supply of locally-sourced food in Wales.  We already know that here’s a great deal of ‘on the ground’ work currently being undertaken across Wales and a ground-swell of support for place-based action. This strategy could also provide Wales with the ideal opportunity to coordinate food policy across all areas of government including health, education, climate change and the economy at a local level. Food Sense Wales is therefore very excited to see how this strategy develops and looks forward to highlighting the action, knowledge and experience of those already working within this space to help inform and develop a meaningful and impactful approach.

We believe the developments over the last two weeks have the potential to be transformational for our food system and communities in Wales. But success depends on effective implementation and that can only be achieved through deep collaboration between Government and all those working in, supporting the development of, and being nourished by our food system.

ENDS

Further reading:

Child Poverty Action Group/Covid Realities (2021) Fixing Lunch: the case for expanding free school meals.

Bevan Foundation – Expanding the provision of Free School Meals in Wales: https://www.bevanfoundation.org/resources/expanding-the-provision-of-free-school-meals-in-wales/

Bevan Foundation – Expanding the provision of Free School Meals in Wales: Practical considerations: https://www.bevanfoundation.org/resources/expanding-the-provision-of-free-school-meals-in-wales-practical-considerations/

Wales and Global Responsibility (WWF Cymru; Size of Wales and RSPB Cymru) – https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-11/wwf_risky_b_wales.pdf

Food Sense Wales has also been supporting the work on Children’s Right to Food with the Food Foundation – most recent report is here.

You can also read about the work that Food Sense Wales has been doing on Veg consumption in schools through our Peas Please work; Feeding our Future and  State of the Nation: Wales