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by CEL October 2001

Christian Ecology Link (CEL) is a national, Church-based organisation which aims to increase awareness of people's impact on the environment and to promote practical change in order to take good care of God's creation. In responding to this consultation our primary concern is with ethical aspects of farming and food and, in particular, the implications for sustainability.

Since our formation in 1981 CEL has held several conferences on food, including Food, Farming and Health (1987), Lifestyle, Food and Ethics (1997) and Christianity, Food and Land Use (2001). Expert speakers have informed our opinion; at the most recent of these events the keynote speaker was the Church of England's spokesman on the environment, Rt Rev John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford.

CEL believes that a new relationship is required not only between farming and society but more generally between people and their surroundings, which is the basis of 'ecology'. We are concerned at the growing estrangement between people and the rest of creation, especially in the last 50 years. One explanation might be that fewer people than in the past grow their own food and are thereby familiar with the cycles of nature. The consequences are increasingly apparent, not only in our own countryside but in the environmental degradation and injustices visited on communities and ecosystems in distant countries. Prevailing attitudes to food and farming are sometimes symptomatic of this estrangement. For example, the slaughter of farm animals in response to foot and mouth disease was not always humane or necessary and yet was tolerated with little apparent concern.

The Commission should therefore make one of its primary objectives re-engaging consumers and farmers with the long-term needs of humankind and a thriving natural environment, recognising a degree of human accountability for the created order.

The four questions are now addressed in turn:

1: As citizens, consumers and taxpayers, what should we expect of the countryside, farming and the food sector?

Policies relating to the countryside, farming and the food sector should seek to promote sustainability and safety in the food system. CEL has developed the LOAF principles to describe an approach to food that we believe is necessary in keeping with our stewardship responsibilities. The acronym LOAF stands for: Locally produced, Organically grown, Animal friendly, Fairly traded:

Locally produced food means shorter journeys for farm animals to markets and abattoirs, less climate-damaging 'food miles', less lorry traffic, less demand for new roads, support for the local economy and local farmers, and regional variety. Organically grown food avoids the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides. Organic cultivation leads to a healthier soil with more organic material, micro-organisms and other wildlife, and no genetically engineered organisms released into the countryside.

Animal friendly means that our fellow creatures, under God, are treated humanely. Organically reared animals are subject to strict welfare regulations. Free range eggs and meat are now readily available. Even confined pigs in the UK are kept in better conditions than many other countries.

Fairly traded coffee, tea and other foods that have to be imported ensure that workers who produce the food get a fair wage. Farmers in the UK also need a fair price for their produce.

The Bishop of Hereford endorsed the use of these principles earlier this month at the CEL conference on food and land use. CEL is urging churches to adopt the principles. We believe that as consumers and taxpayers we must pay our fair share of what is needed to implement these policies. It is likely that food prices will rise as a consequence and poorer consumers will need to be protected by progressive fiscal measures. The ultimate aim should be that an affordable and healthy diet is accessible to everyone, whether rich or poor.

2: Against that background, what is good about farming (as land manager and as food producer) and the food sector at present that we should try to preserve, and what are the problems?

Existing farming practices are often described as efficient and certainly there are many committed farmers and farm workers who work hard and endeavour to take good care of their land. A small number of farmers have, against the mainstream, farmed organically over many years. They have been an inspiring example. In recent years a growing number of other farmers have moved in this direction.

Many problems have arisen as a consequence of the industrialisation of farming that has taken place since the middle of the 20th century, however, and these are now deeply rooted. They have arisen out of a lack of commitment to good stewardship and a desire for ever-cheaper food.

CEL is particularly concerned at the trend towards ever-larger farms, the excessive use of agro-chemicals, and intensive livestock systems. The loss of small and medium sized farms is detrimental for the land, which long established family farmers know intimately, and for the wider rural community. The fact that Britain is having to import around 70% of its organic food has been widely criticised, particularly as consumers who want organic food may also wish to reduce food miles. Fear of a deterioration in soil quality and the loss of biodiversity have also raised concern and animal welfare, though better than in some other EU countries, remains far from satisfactory. We are disturbed by the loneliness and isolation experienced on many farms resulting from the long-term reduction in the use of farm labour. All of these concerns have been voiced over several decades. Corrective action is long overdue.

We do not believe that the commercial development of genetically modified food in Britain is necessary or desirable at the present time. CEL produced a submission to the Church Commissioners when trials of GM crops on church-owned land were being contemplated. This submission is available on our web-site:

Beyond the farm, distribution arrangements that have evolved within the current food system have resulted in much more extensive use of transport, both by industry and customers. This depletes finite oil reserves, causes road congestion and is a major source of pollution, including greenhouse gases. A further consequence of the infrastructure is that modern food retailing depends on excessive packaging, which accounts for roughly a third of all household waste.

3: What factors are driving these good and bad aspects and how?

Public policy exerts an important influence upon the nature of farming and the food system and has a vital role in determining the extent of influence in Britain of globalisation and technological developments such as genetically modified food.

CEL wishes to emphasise the need to address the source of many of the problems that have arisen, which is a lack of ecological awareness reflected in an estrangement between people and the rest of creation. This demands action across government departments, including that responsible for education.

More specifically, we believe that there is a need to review critically the contemporary ideologies that underlie the conventional wisdom that 'big is beautiful', tolerate the widespread use of agro-chemicals, and allow livestock systems that fail to protect animals from harm.

4: What can be done to make things better?

CEL recognises that Christians will differ in the precise application of principles upon which we are united in agreement, such as good stewardship (which demands sustainability). The following proposals summarise our view of how sustainability, understood in the context of three domains (environmental, social and economic), is most likely to be achieved.

1. Farming
Full attention should be given to the environmental aspects of changes that have occurred or are contemplated. Restrictions that are necessary to preserve the environment may impose extra costs and these may need to be met out of public resources. We support the target of 30% of UK farmland to be organic by 2010 and oppose the commercial development of GM crops, at least until it is demonstrated that no long term adverse environmental impacts can result and that dependency on agro-chemicals is not increased.

In general, policy should discourage
- intensive and industrialised agriculture
- the excessive use of antibiotics
- transporting animals over long distances
- farm scale trials of GM crops.

It should encourage
- organic and more sustainable farming, including the practice of integrated farm management as promoted by LEAF
- initiatives that safeguard and enhance soil quality and promote biodiversity
- alternatives to intensive livestock management
- use of local abattoirs
- healthy diets.

2. The rural economy
A trend towards organic farming is likely to result in more land being used for agriculture. The use of any remaining surplus land should be decided by environmental criteria as well as economic or commercial potential (possibilities include forestry and biomass fuels). In order to promote economic and social wellbeing in rural areas, there needs to be far greater political commitment to:
- reliable and affordable public transport
- economic decentralisation that increases the
availability of goods and services supplied from regional or local sources.

3. Food marketing and distribution
Public policy should aim to reduce distances over which food is transported in order to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Examples of policy measures include
- increased taxation of fuel (including aviation fuel)
- restricting large distribution vehicles to motorways in order to make national distribution networks less attractive to supermarket chains and reduce the impact of lorries in residential and shopping areas
- strengthening planning rules to deter the development of 'edge of town' supermarkets and to encourage the supply of food from local and regional farms through farmers' markets
- stricter measures to reduce over-packaging.

4. Food product information
Consumers still need to be better informed about food following the recent Government review of food labelling. For example:
- labels on all food (including cooking oil) and animal feed should state whether traces of GMOs may exist
- stricter rules regarding the place of origin are necessary in order to overcome the current confusion and enable consumers to prioritise food that has been produced closest to home.

5. International aspects
Farming and the food industry are affected to a large extent by international trade. We do not believe that free trade should be regarded uncritically and that trade liberalisation is invariably positive. The impact of EU policies and the influence of international bodies such as the WTO thus need to be critically reviewed. More specifically, we propose the following:
- agricultural subsidies should support farm incomes (rather than products), encourage farm diversification and discourage production for export
- cross border trade in identical or similar products is unnecessary and should be minimised through fiscal and educational means
- food produced in accordance with the principles of 'fair trade' should be promoted
- imports into the UK of food or livestock produced by methods that are illegal in this country should be prohibited.

6. Healthy and affordable food
A broad approach is needed in public policy in order to ensure that all sectors of the population are able to benefit from a healthy diet. This will require
- practical support to enable small local food shops that sell fresh local produce to remain competitive
- grass roots initiatives such as food co-operatives, allotments and community orchards
- enhancing food skills in schools and through community-run cookery and nutrition classes.

Christian Ecology Link October 2001

See also the press release about CEL's LOAF Campaign.. L - Locally produced; O - Organically grown; A - Animal friendly; F - Fairly traded

Download CEL's LOAF Poster

Copyright © 2001-2008 Christian Ecology Link     email: CEL
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