Food (Wales) Bill on the menu

This Private Member's Bill is about to be published. If it becomes law, the Welsh Government must manage a formal food strategy under the watchful eye of a Food Commissioner. It's author, Peter Fox MS is joining us at our political breakfast at the Royal Welsh Show on Tuesday 19th July.
Peter Fox MS
Author of the Bill, Peter Fox reveals the recipe’s ingredients.

The draft of Peter Fox MS’ Private Member’s Bill is expected before the Royal Welsh Show, when this Senedd Member will take part in CLA Cymru’s political breakfast on Tuesday 19 July. Chaired by Patrick Holden from the Sustainable Food Trust, this key CLA event will place farming and food resilience in Wales under the spotlight. Tesco’s Sustainable Agriculture Manager, former CLA policy adviser Alice Ritchie will take part as well as Mark McKenna MBE, NRW Board Member. CLA members and guests are urged to mark-up their diaries, register places in what should be a packed event in which questions and opinion will be welcome from the floor.

Last November Peter Fox, beef farmer from Monmouthshire, told CLA Cymru, “I want to do more for food: both for food security and to get more and better local food on our plates.” (Read our report here). Talking to us this week, Peter explains that the international economic impact of the Ukraine crisis, inflation and a cost-of-living crisis at home have made the need for a more focused and formal food strategy from the top. We can add to this the ongoing uncertainty about how the UK trade deals will affect markets for UK food products and affordable availability of imported staples on our supermarket shelves. Thirdly, our commitment to meet net zero means local, sustainable produce. In the same conversation, we started to talk about the impact of farming being involved in the UK Emissions Trading Scheme (UK ETS). Agriculture will need to reach its own sectoral net zero – and what land managers do to remove greenhouse gases must be harnessed and their work here rewarded.

Peter has added another reason why we need this legislation. He’s concerned about health: diet, obesity, diabetes and the ever-widening range of food-related physical and mental health conditions. “We have huge divisions in our society - differing socio-economic communities living cheek-by-jowl with each other with a difference of up to five years life expectation.”

“I liked much of what I read in the Dimbleby Report and England’s Food Strategy. I want to make synergies with it, notably in increasing consumption of local, fresh, better quality vegetables and soft fruit. What meat we do eat should bear all these qualities – it’s the poor quality processed products that we need to set aside.” Peter adds, “I’m most concerned that here in Wales the majority of procurement is driven 70 per cent on price but only 30 per cent on quality.”

There are other themes Peter Fox would like his Bill to address. Structural “silotisation” became a problem owing to both how government departments and their remit are defined, and moreover owing to the “farm gate” separation of farming from food production – an unfortunate consequence of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The Bill will ensure a greater integrity of the food and drink supply chain – and to the food chain, Peter would add game: owing to its’ sustainable, natural and high quality properties.

“There’re some issues we can’t address,” Peter concedes. “I’d like to tackle some aspects of food labelling, but it’s important not to conflict with the content of the UK Internal Markets Bill. “Even so, there may be work we can do in labelling to support the hospitality sector: making it easier for customers eating-out to know what they’re eating: provenance and quality.”

The Welsh Government is committed to update its’ Food and Drink Strategy and infers that many of the themes Peter’s Bill looks to tackle can be delivered within existing legislation. Any loose ends might be tied-up in the Agriculture (Wales) Bill later this summer, and other legislation.

The Bill elevates the presence of a food strategy from a chapter in the economic development remit to a legal requirement that can be probed, tested and measured.

Peter Fox MS.

“The purpose of a piece of legislation focused on this is that the Government will be required to act, and it will provide a structure for that action.” Peter explains. It elevates the presence of a food strategy from a chapter in the economic development remit to a legal requirement that can be probed, tested and measured. To do this job a Food Commission will monitor strategy and performance, work in procurement with health-boards and local authorities, scrutinise food plans, collect data and report. “It will be a critical friend to government,” Peter says. “It’s not realistic to build in a mechanism to hold a democratically-elected government to account, but what it can do is censure not only the Welsh Government, but other authorities as well.”

A feature of the Food (Wales) Bill is that it builds on and links with the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, 2015. A constitutional cornerstone of government in Wales, this defines bare essentials and all future Welsh legislation should fulfil. It’s also a logical act: ‘Future Generations has “A Healthier Wales” among its seven key components, but it does not dive into the Food Bill’s proposals. These will include four “Food Goals” on the themes of economic well-being, health and social care, education and the environment. There’s no coincidence that the Future Generations principles are championed by a Commission, which similarly has powers to report, nudge, coordinate, celebrate success, or identify lapses and failures. The Future Generations Commissioner role isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but the role is established and people take-note when she speaks out.

The Food (Wales) Bill is in the closing drafting stages. Peter Fox concludes, “There’s some work to be done in answering questions from the drafting team. We will produce an explanatory memorandum and there’s a cost-benefit analysis to be undertaken. Then I would like to launch the Bill in the Senedd – and this will kick off a consultation period. There’s a great deal in the proposals that can appeal to Welsh Labour Members, Plaid’ and our one Welsh Liberal Democrat member.” From the perspective of many CLA members in Wales, the Wales (Food) Bill places food on the legislative table as the Agriculture (Wales) Bill is also on the menu. Farming and food take centre stage in the Senedd.