Money drives our food system, from early investments in crops and harvests to the ring of the supermarket till. Currently, the balance of power resides with big businesses that capture the lion’s share of profits. This leaves less for the farmers and the workers who grow, process, pack, deliver and serve our food.
It is possible to make money work better for the food system in a way that supports environmentally sustainable farming practices, provides a decent living for food and agriculture workers and is healthy and nutritious. It can be done by harnessing four key financial engines of change.
The first is using public money for public goods such as wildlife and biodiversity, healthy soils and carbon storage. Future subsidies for farmers could reflect their commitment to protecting these public goods, through practices such as agroforestry.
Public sector procurement is the second engine. The public sector buys a huge amount of food for hospitals and prisons, the armed forces, schools and care homes. Buying food for these settings that’s fair for producers and workers, has high animal welfare standards and supports the environment would signal the values and priorities of the government. It would create behaviour change by sending a strong cultural message, and encourage more UK food producers to embrace sustainable farming practices.
Thirdly, we must all pay the true cost of food at the checkout. This means identifying and incorporating the real costs associated with intensive farming for health, the environment or society.
Lastly, we can leverage the power of the money in our individual pockets. We can buy higher welfare and sustainably produced food. We can go further still, by making informed choices about where we bank, and ensuring our investments – including our pensions – don’t support unsustainable food and farming practices.
The usual model for food businesses is about driving down costs to drive up profits. It’s no coincidence that our food system is periodically hit by scandals like horse meat in burgers and systemic welfare abuses at abattoirs. However, new and better business models are emerging.
One such is Farmdrop, a ‘disruptor’ business that challenges the embedded financial power structures in the food system. Farmdrop’s ethos is that money can – and should – be a force for good, and its model is predicated on returning 75% of its profits back to producers. Technology, vision and customer appeal have all helped Farmdrop attract over £12 million in investment – all of which goes towards improving the food chain.
This summary draws heavily on a blog by Rebecca Pritchard of Triodos Bank and one of the speakers at this Food Talks. The full blog is available here.
Note: key questions to ask and/ or top tips
Our money isn’t just powerful at the supermarket till. Many of us have investments or pensions, and we can lobby our pension providers to disinvest from industrial agriculture and other carbon intensive industries.
Triodos Bank, 2017, The Colour of Money