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Food, Farming and Individual Health

An issue of great importance to us at the farm is the relationship between food and individual health. Of particular interest is the discussion around wheat, bread and gluten. There is increasing evidence to suggest that the prevalence of gluten intolerance is actually more of a chemical intolerance issue. Herbicide is sprayed on wheat crops to reduce weed competition, pesticide is sprayed to reduce pests, then more herbicide is sprayed to make it easier to harvest. The residuals of these chemicals is showing up in the food we eat.

In our population which is increasingly overweight and undernourished, the focus of food production should move from quantity and low cost, to nutrition and flavour. It is estimated that for every £1 we spend on food, society has to spend another £1 on public and environmental health costs. This fundamentally breaks apart the argument that it makes economic sense for society to feed itself via a food industry that is chiefly concerned with driving down the cost of food, rather than driving up food production standards.

The Sustainable Food Trust has done great work on true cost accounting; looking at the externalised costs that are not included in the price or listed on food packaging. In the current system the true cost of food is extreme and unsustainable.

There are big improvements that can be made to the current farming system, but what are the drivers? Welsh Water is working with farmers in drinking water catchments to reduce the requirements and costs of treating drinking water. In reality, this largely entails helping farmers make decisions that help their profitability and sustainability without having to make a payment for them to change their practices. The best practices are the right farming decisions anyway.

On a larger scale, public procurement; food served in schools, hospitals and through government organisations, has the scope to be one of the most important moves to improve the farming system. We can look to Copenhagen to find an example of how successful this can be. 80% or the publicly procured food is organic and local. With organic and local food the secondary benefits are also felt, in terms of keeping money in the local economy rather than channelled into a big non-local businesses, and in the improvement of the local environment. As one of the biggest markets, public procurement has a massive budget to drive positive farming actions. In order for this to happen, there needs to be a degree of legislative change to allow smaller scale producers to take part. This will require political will!

The ISM (Individual, Social and Material) model is a way of considering how behaviours can be influenced and changed. There are multiple layers to consider why someone acts in the way they do. This ranges from their personal beliefs and values, to societal pressures, to the material system in which they are a part. We need to make changes at every level in order for people to actually make positive decisions. That the vegan movement has been so successful so far shows how ready and willing for change people are. It’s a case of harnessing that intention and putting the systems in place which allow them to act out even more positive purchasing behaviour. (More info visit -

Good, nutritionally dense food should not be an elitist thing. It’s your personal health, it’s the health of the environment and it’s the requirement of a sustainable future!

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