40th Annual Campden Lecture
at Campden BRI Day 2018
Ian Wright, Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation, and recently named the most influential operator in food and drink public affairs by the Grocer magazine, addressed the theme ‘A whole new world: food and drink after Brexit’, describing some of the forthcoming challenges and highlighting why providing the nation with food must be a national priority.
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It really is a considerable honour to deliver this 40th annual lecture.
I have been in and around public life for the last 37 years and in that time I have addressed many audiences, but I am sure that the collective IQ here today surpasses them all. It is a concerning prospect for a comprehensive school boy from Maidenhead who gave up science in 1974 and who once scored 8% in a physics exam.
Campden BRI began operations in 1919, just six years after the Food Manufacturers Federation – now FDF – opened its doors. To me that is not just a fascinating co-incidence, but a signal that it was in the first part of the last century that this country firmly established its pre-eminent position in food and drink manufacturing – a position that stays with us today.
Those days also saw the beginning of food and drink regulation, with legislation such as the Milk and Dairies Act 1914. It covered the production and sale of clean and safe milk for human consumption. Then there was the Food and Drugs (Adulterations) Act 1928, which ensured that food was ‘what it said on the tin’.
Since that time, food and drink has emerged as our largest manufacturing sector. Surely a great part of that success is due to the vital work on food safety and science that organisations like Campden BRI provide – and the direct benefit to consumers of world-leading standards of safety and hygiene.
I hope it’s also due in some part to the work of many FDF leaders on whose shoulders I stand.
Today I want to reflect on where our industry finds itself, and to look forward too.
I have drawn my inspiration from popular music.
As I look at our current position, I think of Joni Mitchell:
Though for this running metaphor to work, I have to promise not to sing!
“Don't it always seem to go; that you don't know what you've got til its gone.”
I arrived at FDF just over three years ago, after fourteen very happy years at Diageo. I knew a fair bit about beverage alcohol, but I was a newcomer to this particular part of the food and drink forest.
I quickly learned my first soundbite, to be deployed at every opportunity:
“Britons today have access to a wider range of safe, nutritious, high-quality food and drink, at all price points, than at any time in their history.”
As soundbites go, it’s an absolute corker.
In fact, given that it is in no sense hyperbolic, it was easy to overlook just what an extraordinary statement of fact that is.
Every part of that sentence is true: Access. Safe. High quality. Nutritious. At every price point. Than ever before.
And therein lies the problem. The typical reaction to that soundbite, when deployed, is not, “Wow – amazing!”, it is, “Yeah – so what?”
Too many of us have over recent years come to take for granted the amazing success story that UK food and drink represents:
Food prices falling year on year? Yes, of course. Though not for much longer.
Constant innovation and new product development? Absolutely.
The UK as the location of choice for food science and research? Taken as red.
Constant reformulation to remove salt, sugar and fat? Naturally.
Exports growth every year? Yes of course.
World-leading low levels of bacterial contamination? Yes of course.
Just-in-time, state-of-the-art food distribution networks? Naturally.
Longer shelf lives? Yes of course.
Complex, seamless, integrated supply chains for ingredients, raw materials, part-finished and finished goods? Yes, of course.
All of this. ALL OF IT. Taken for granted.
By Government. By regulators. By investors. By our critics and detractors. And, probably most worryingly, by us, by ourselves.
Occasionally, horse meat or fipronil or Russell Hume come along and provide a wake-up call.
When the fuel drivers went on strike in 2000 it became starkly clear that without regular deliveries supermarket shelves were depleted in two days and empty in five.
But we wake up only briefly.
We have come to believe that the UK’s extraordinary food and drink success story is just the natural order of things.
But it aint.
At FDF’s offices our meeting rooms are named after past FDF presidents. One room commemorates Sir John Bodinnar.
Bodinnar was a Wiltshire sausage-maker. During World War Two the Minister of Food – Lord Woolton – had the radical idea of replacing civil servants with businessmen and Bodinnar was made Head of the Supply Department at the Ministry. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, Britain did not starve.
But it was hard. Wartime rationing was strict. And once hostilities ended it got stricter still.
The cold winter of 1946/7 saw potato rationing introduced for the first time. Bread did not come off rationing until 1948 – seventy years ago.
In May 1950 rationing ended for canned and dried fruit, chocolate biscuits and treacle. In June 1953, everyone was allowed an extra pound of sugar and four ounces of margarine for the Queen’s coronation.
In September 1953 sugar rationing ceased, butter came off ration early in 1954 and finally, in May 1954, restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat ended, just a year before Bodinnar died.
These restrictions left a lasting legacy on that generation’s buying and consumption habits. To her dying day my mother, a woman who never took sugar in her tea, kept dozens of bags of sugar in a cupboard, ‘just in case’.
Even when rationing ended, the food landscape was very different.
The government’s virtual monopoly on milk had virtually wiped out indigenous British cheese varieties – it was ‘government cheddar’ or nothing.
Refrigerators were uncommon, domestic freezers and microwaves unknown. 1950’s US sitcoms like ‘I Love Lucy’ were watched in wonder – not for the comedy but for the beauty of their domestic appliances.
Fresh fruit and vegetables were only available when they were in season, and no one knew what a polytunnel was.
It was an era before celebrity chefs and even before Fanny Craddock, for whom Johnny didn’t arrive with the dishes until 1953. See you can tell the age of your audience by its understanding of that joke!
To these people, John Bodinnar, Lord Woolton, Fanny Cradock – even my mother – the twenty-first century world of food and drink would be a thing of wonder.
But to us, it’s become simply ‘the astonishing level of our everyday expectation’.
All these hard-won triumphs –sixty years of extraordinary progress – have become all but invisible.
How do I know?
Well, if food and drink manufacturing is our largest manufacturing sector, larger than aerospace and automotive combined, then why would government ministers always prefer to be associated with the automotive, construction or life sciences sectors?
Why do we continually struggle to find the engineers we need to run our increasingly high-tech manufacturing facilities and the scientists required to underpin great safety, innovation and nutrition?
Why did it take us 105 years to get a Food and Drink Sector Council, giving us a seat within government alongside both Defra and the business and industry department?
Why, on the BBC News website is agriculture listed as a sub-topic of ‘environment’ and is food listed as a sub-topic of ‘health’? Neither is listed under ‘business’.
The simple fact is that for too long now, our industry has been a hidden gem.
Sometimes that’s rather a nice thing. It speaks of being understated, not show-offy. Quietly proud. Getting on without making a fuss. All of these wonderfully English sentiments.
And of course, that’s all fine when times are good.
But today UK food and drink faces greater challenges than at any time since the second world war.
First, we are about change, fundamentally, the relationship between the UK and its largest trading partner for food and drink, the EU. Or, at least we are supposed to do so.
We are also about to change, fundamentally, the system by which primary producers – farmers and growers – are supported to deliver food and drink.
Together both will have implications for how and where we source our talented people, for how we export and import and how, by whom and to what standard our food safety and science regulation is carried out.
So, both our domestic supply of food and drink and our international trade in food and drink face enormous change.
Second, we are also facing unprecedented pressure around the impact of the nation’s diet.
Obesity rates are too high. More concerning still, the differential burden of obesity on the least-well-off in society is significantly higher than that on the better-off – and the gap is growing.
Obesity is complex, but the response of politicians’ and the media is often far too simplistic: force change in our food and drink, reduce consumer choice, increase price.
Third, we have seen, in just a few months, an extraordinary change in public attitudes to plastics and therefore to plastic packaging. Since food and drink accounts for a large majority of all the plastics used in packaging, that in turn presents a massive challenge too. Plastic is an extraordinarily versatile material and its use has contributed to better food safety as well as reducing food waste and extending shelf life. Finding the right balance on plastics will be difficult.
[Ask me about the half cucumber]
The truth is that we face, in the immortal worlds of Tim Rice’s Aladdin; “A whole new world; a new fantastic point of view.”
Of course, whether you see ‘fantastic’ as a synonym for ‘brilliant’, or simply as a description of fantasy, rather depends on your point of view.
How should we respond?
The easy, but in no way simple, answer is: “together”.
One thing struck me about our sector when I joined FDF; we are absurdly fragmented.
We love to segment and compartmentalise ourselves. We love a good ‘niche’ in food and drink.
Primary producers, manufacturers, retailers, food service and catering, out of home.
Meat, dairy, poultry.
Food- or drink. Soft drinks or alcoholic drinks. Beer, wine, spirits, cider.
Adult food, children’s food.
Food containing this ingredient, food not containing that ingredient. Food made in this way or not made in that way. Vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian.
The beat goes on.
When FDF convenes, on behalf of Defra, a monthly meeting of food and drink trade associations for an update on Brexit, we often have forty organisations around the table and we could have seventy. Some sub-sectors of the industry have several trade associations.
None of this is intrinsically bad. I’m not criticising it. One can see why it has happened.
But it is terribly reminiscent of the moment in Life of Brian when we encounter the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front. It is a model deeply unsuited to the challenges we are now facing.
It makes it hard for food and drink to speak clearly and consistently, and to signal the scale of the industry we represent.
We can celebrate our diversity, but we cannot allow it to undermine our influence.
If we allow ourselves to be divided we give permission for the industry to be.
So FDF has been working hard not only to represent the views of our own members, but just as importantly to act as a convenor for the wider industry.
Because FDF is one of the larger, better-resourced organisations we have the ability – and I believe the obligation – to be a catalyst for co-operation and progress.
I’m pleased to say that many others are on board with this approach. A new era of co-operation across food and drink is truly one of the silver linings in an otherwise cloud-filled sky.
As long as I lead FDF, we will work to bring the industry closer together. We will make the strongest possible case to government. A £112bn sector employing four million people must not be ignored.
Later on, I shall say more about the ‘Whole New World’ of my title.
But first, if that new world is to be one in which food and drink prospers, we need to get our response to current challenges right.
So, what should be our manifesto?
Let me now set out our thinking on the critical issues we face: trade; innovation; skills; food regulation and safety; obesity and health and plastics and packaging.
Though Foreign trade is a lifeblood of the extraordinarily vibrant market in UK food and drink, only one in five UK food and drink businesses export – a massive opportunity – most of them will import ingredients, or packaging materials.
Consequently, the interests of the food and drink sector cannot be left to the eleventh hour as is typically the case in the EU’s trade negotiations.
Food is a matter of national security.
Our industry and the nation’s food security must not be used as a bargaining chip to secure EU market access for the service sector or for manufactured goods.
The only acceptable outcome is one that delivers:
- continued tariff-free UK-EU trade in all agrifood and drink products;
- continued access to EU FTAs during and beyond the transition period;
- as frictionless as possible trade that avoids delays and added costs;
- no physical border in Ireland where the majority of goods traded are food and drink.
Neither of the two future customs models proposed by the Government satisfies all of these criteria.
There is clearly much work to be done to find a model that delivers for industry and time has almost run out.
Tariffs aside, it is clear the Government must avoid the EU’s standard checks on imported food and drink from third countries.
This includes checks of documents, ID and physical inspections that would add substantial delays to deliveries.
At the Port of Dover, an average delay of two minutes would result in a 17-mile queue reaching Ashford. A four-minute delay extends that queue to Maidstone, six minutes takes it to the M25 and anything more than eight minutes would see traffic reaching beyond the Dartford crossing into Essex.
Make no mistake, delays would be disastrous for just-in-time supply chains, for movements of limited shelf life products and ultimately for consumers. And imagine the collective ire of all those drivers.
Industry must work together to secure a favourable outcome before the transition ends on 31 December 2020.
If not, these talks will be guided by the EU’s standard off the shelf trade terms that are not designed for trade between near markets with such closely integrated supply chains and such value at stake.
The Government needs our help. A successful outcome can only be achieved if as an industry we present practical, workable solutions for them to table in negotiations.
FDF is working hard to do this in the case of Rules of Origin – the small print in trade deals that help to determine if a product can benefit from a preferential tariff.
We have spent a lot of time explaining to policymakers about the high level of integration between the food and drink industry in the UK and EU.
Even relatively simple products contain a myriad of ingredients and packaging that are sourced both domestically and internationally, crossing borders multiple times before we arrive at a finished consumer product that may then be exported.
The EU’s current standard Rules of Origin do not reflect the reality of modern manufacturing.
They would shut out producers, both those in the UK and in the EU from preferential trade in the case of a Free Trade Agreement and would mean a hidden hard Brexit for our industry.
Exports are vital for future growth and productivity in the UK food and drink industry.
Our total sales overseas are worth more than £22bn each year and we saw a huge increase in 2017 of 10% with rapidly growing demand for our products.
Every quarter, FDF publishes the latest industry export figures and over recent years they have continued to show strong growth levels.
However, this masks the fact that we are significantly underachieving and lagging behind global competitors.
As I said, fewer than one in five manufacturers currently exports. Regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the EU, we know this must change.
The proximity of the EU means it will remain our most important trade partner. In fact, our latest exports release shows that exports to the EU continue to grow significantly faster than to the rest of the world.
There is clearly more that we can do to target growth opportunities further afield.
FDF is working with Government, supported by a broad coalition of industry bodies to secure an ambitious sector deal as part of Government’s Industrial Strategy.
We want to build on the successful models of Scotland Food & Drink and of Bord Bia in Ireland for the whole of the UK and address specific gaps in support faced by businesses in England.
We have set out plans to boost specialist export support, including access to market research, in-market experts and to introduce an online export portal as a focal point for exports.
We want to target high value growth opportunities in India, China, Japan, the USA and the Gulf by introducing dedicated in-market support to address barriers to trade and build relationships with retailers.
We know through industry action supported by UK Government we can start to deliver on the industry’s huge export potential.
Alongside exports, investment into innovation and digitalisation will be pivotal to delivering the sector’s ambition on productivity growth, allowing us to become the most sustainable food and drink sector in the world.
We are at the forefront of addressing the health and wellbeing needs of an ageing society, with a proven track record of using innovation to support positive change regarding the impact of diet on health.
There are excellent examples of world class research creating a spring board for solutions which are game changing in terms of sensing, modelling, simulation and clean room processing for longer shelf life.
Moreover, these solutions have led to the use of automation in leading businesses in our sector.
There is a huge appetite from businesses of all sizes to move this agenda forward, however there are a number of systemic barriers. And this is where we need Government support.
Investment in innovation by manufacturers will benefit the entire food chain, providing a crucial digital link for engagement with retailers in the drive for block chain and related technological advances.
Advanced manufacturing capabilities will enable the delivery of both social and the environmental benefits enabling a vital contribution to the UK economy and export growth.
The Siemens ‘Made Smarter’ report outlined a potential £55.8bn value to our industry through the adoption of known digital technology over the next decade.
But many companies will need support if they are to fully exploit these growth opportunities.
In this arena too, we have set out plans to deliver a step change in engineering innovation through adoption of close in, proven technology in the automation and digitalisation arena.
We will establish a network of demonstrator sites, enabling stronger collaboration based on existing Centres of Excellence for Food and Drink Manufacturing.
The demonstrator model will support the development of system integration companies with specialist personnel to work on common challenges and connect industry to cross-disciplinary expertise.
We are looking for active support to promote the use of R&D tax credits to increase claims for the food and drink sector.
But, to achieve all of this we need to invest in our people.
We have long known that one of our sector’s key strengths is the 400,000 people we employ, across the UK and at all skills levels. These people are key to the future productivity growth of the industry.
Currently, we struggle to recruit the engineering and technical experts able to support innovation and secure inward investment due to a national shortage of STEM skills, the misperception of the sector as lower skilled and competition from other manufacturing sectors.
With 140,000 new recruits needed by our industry by 2024, this challenge will only be magnified by changes to access to foreign labour post Brexit.
To address these issues, we will provide leadership and commitment to a new higher-level skills ambition for apprentices, including upskilling for existing employees.
We will commit to invest in and fully utilise the newly developed food engineering apprenticeship provision including the degree apprenticeships.
These proposals are key stepping stones for both medium and small companies to be able to make key automation investments and gain access to expert knowledge able to support their bespoke requirements.
The Industrial Strategy Sector Deal shows the potential for collaboration with government at its best. Not ‘picking winners’ but instead taking a hard-nosed approach to investing behind a robust business case to increase productivity. I hope that soon we can conclude such a deal with government and move forward.
But government is not always at its best. In fact, around the issues of diet, health and obesity we have sometimes seen it as its worst.
Obesity is a scourge. The prevalence of obesity, particularly in children, is far too high. More worryingly still, the burden of obesity falls almost twice as heavily on lower-income groups than on the more affluent.
To me that terrifying truth speaks to the fact that tackling obesity can never just be about the food and drink on sale. Taking measures to change or restrict the supply of food and drink, without addressing the complex factors that influence the demand for food and drink, is a recipe for failure.
Of course, obesity at its most basic is about excess net energy consumption. It is beyond question that any solution to obesity must therefore command the enthusiastic participation of not only food and drink manufacturers, but of primary producers, the out-of-home and food service sectors also.
At Diageo, I am proud of the work we did to respond to alcohol misuse, to promote responsible drinking and also to try to lead the thinking of the wider industry towards new, creative responses. I think the Portman Group and the Drinkaware Trust, both of which were substantially created by Diageo, are shining examples of effective regulation and consumer information.
FDF’s role therefore must not only be to resist poorly thought-out or ineffective regulation – though we will continue to do that – but to help our members understand the climate of public sentiment and to ensure that our behaviours are in step with it.
We are committed to working in partnership with government to tackle obesity. Long-standing voluntary work on reformulation around salt has more recently been augmented with a focus on sugar and will soon be broadened into a calories/energy programme.
While some saw the recent report on the first year of the sugars reformulation programme as disappointing, I beg to differ. We have successfully removed nearly 12% of salt from the nation’s diet while taking consumers with us, but it has taken fifteen years. To remove 2% of sugar in a single year is a significant achievement and we know there is more to come.
So far, the shopper has been largely overlooked by government in this debate over reformulation. I was rather shocked when one minister I met recently said that if people didn’t like the taste of reformulated products that was just, “first world problems and they need to get over it.” Actually, it is something else entirely – middle class people telling working class people what to do.
Consumers want more to be done to tackle obesity. However, I think we should not assume that consumer consent is infinite, as more and more of their favourite products change taste or get smaller. We must take them with us.
Their willingness to allow their choice of food and drink to be edited, without them having a say, will be particularly tested if, despite increasing government pressure on food and drink manufacturers, obesity prevalence does not fall.
When we call, as we consistently do, for an ‘holistic’ approach to obesity our critics often characterise this as a diversion. But it’s in no-one’s interests that the public should become disengaged from this important fight, if they believe the price they’re being asked to pay – in some cases literally – is too high for the results they’re seeing.
Today we await a further iteration of the government’s Childhood Obesity Plan. It is rumoured to contain restrictions on advertising and promotions of HFSS foods.
I will say only this. We are working with government to help change the food and drink environment, and reformulation is at the core of that. Advertising and promotion are not only critical underpinnings of a healthy, competitive market. They also allow us to signal new, healthier variants of food to consumers. To take away that mechanism would, in my view, be perverse.
Finally, let me address the subject which may be closest to your hearts: food regulation and safety.
As I said earlier, today the UK enjoys a world class reputation for food safety and standards, and for protecting public health. Like many of the unsung successes that I have been reflecting upon, that position has been hard fought and continues to be front and centre for many in our sector, whether they be in businesses, Government or non-Governmental organisations.
That reputation, in turn, helps to sustain public trust.
A trust that food is safe, and that food is what it says it is.
That reputation, in turn, drives business confidence and the confidence to invest in UK plc Businesses innovate in products and production methods, with many of our member companies having their global R&D centres in the UK, and pioneering new products for world-wide roll out, here on our shores.
That reputation enables international trade, whether within the EU or beyond. Other countries trust our regulatory regime, to keep their consumers safe as well. And that reputation gives us influence and leadership at the global level, something that we will need, more than ever, when we are outside the EU.
Food regulation is a force for good. While probably true that the current regime may not be perfect, it has many positives, not least of which is the provision of a level playing field across the EU, protecting consumers and businesses alike.
And of course, over the 45 years of EU membership the UK has been contributing to that evidence-based regulatory framework, inputting our expertise and pragmatism that many agree has produced a regulatory environment that is without doubt, fit for purpose.
You won’t find a regulation on wonky veggies (much to the chagrin of the Daily Mail) but you will find a lot of important stuff that will need to be ‘lifted and shifted’ into UK provision at the point of exit from the EU.
As we know, regulation and safety are not top of mind for the general public; they just expect that standards will be maintained, and they expect us to keep the same level of standards and controls.
We know sometimes even our industry’s high standards fall short in their delivery, but we have repeatedly shown that we respond quickly to any shortcomings, learn fast and reinforce our processes and procedures.
So, there is no greater priority for our industry than the safety, quality and authenticity of UK food and drink.
However, nor can we afford to disrupt trade with our most important markets.
To maintain the significant levels of trade with the EU, regulatory equivalence on issues such as food safety and labelling are key.
We therefore need the minimum possible future divergence in those standards, until we are confident that Government and the EU27 have the right mechanisms to ensure regulatory equivalence without impacting on the seamless trade we enjoy today.
We cannot see goods held up at borders on either side because of paperwork issues or checks. The initial complete and robust, ‘lift and shift’ process is the most immediate prerogative.
Fundamentally, regulatory divergence – if it occurs – is likely to be a two-way process.
The UK may choose to diverge, but once we have left the Union, the EU may also diverge from us and the joint current trajectory, especially without the UK’s historically moderating influence over EU regulations.
The important thing is to recognise how and why this may occur and this will require a high level of consideration.
Maintaining access to expertise and advice from existing European bodies, notably the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) seems a ‘no brainer’.
The pooled expertise that EFSA provides is unparalleled and there is currently no agency in the UK that could take the responsibility on, if the UK were to diverge significantly from the EU.
While the UK agencies (of course, notably the FSA) are gearing up for the challenge, until an equivalent robust and independent UK scientific risk assessment body is fully functioning, we must maintain UK access to the risk assessment expertise of EFSA.
This will help ensure that future regulation continues to be based on sound science and evidence. I also believe there is a mutual benefit in ensuring the UK continues to have access to intelligence gathering tools including the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF), the European Food Fraud Network and EFSA’s Emerging Risks Exchange Network.
However, we know that FSA needs to plan for all eventualities, so we support it gearing up to take on the risk assessment role that EFSA currently plays, plus the risk management role that they know they will have to take on at any event.
I have no doubt that had I been giving this lecture this time last year, (which as an aside my friend and colleague, Heather Hancock of FSA, did a brilliant job in writing and delivering!), the content would have been considerably different.
Last year FDF agreed to focus on three priorities: Brexit, industrial strategy and diet and health.
Since January, we have had to add a fourth and since last month a fifth.
Such have been the changes in our industry over the last 12 months. And nowhere has that change been more apparent than in the world of sustainability, packaging and of course plastic.
Many people have conjured with the question – ‘how did plastic become the societal big issue that it has’, during this last year? Indeed, who would have thought that when Defra’s 25-year environment plan was launched back at the very start of the year, that launch would be done in the full glare of the press at the London Wetlands Centre by none other than the PM herself.
In what could be termed, the post Blue Planet 2 era, the environment has suddenly become centre stage, and plastic is at its very epi-centre.
For food and drink manufacturers this upturn in interest poses some interesting challenges and opportunities.
Back in 2005, the Westminster, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland governments, under the auspices of WRAP, launched The Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing waste within the UK grocery sector. WRAP works in partnership with leading retailers, brand owners, manufacturers and suppliers who sign up and support the delivery of the targets. FDF is a long-time supporter of the Courtauld Commitment, as are a number of our members.
And looking at our membership as a whole, we continue to show industry-leading dedication to sustainability. The Food and Drink Federation's Ambition 2025, launched in October 2016, carried forward the success of the earlier FDF Five-Fold Environmental Ambition. The adoption of Ambition 2025 by members expressed a strong desire to go even further and take strides towards shaping future value chains and increasing awareness of natural capital.
But it’s fair to say that the current environment (excuse the pun!) sees us looking at some of our current practices and ambitions for change, in a whole new light. Of course much progress has been made in the quality and safety of food through the use of highly functional plastic packaging. Indeed, at our recent Plastics event, Campden’s Food Packaging Specialist, Lynneric Potter, gave a very well received presentation on why packaging and plastic in particular is so important in product integrity and safety, and no one in the audience could disagree with her viewpoint!
Suffice to say that our discussions with members and stakeholders have never been so lively. Discussion on topics such as Deposit Return Schemes and the reform of producer responsibility schemes, have a new sense of urgency and belief that change for the greater good is possible.
Of course, as an industry we strongly support moves to reduce litter – including marine litter – and to increase recycling in the UK. Current evidence suggests that building on the success of kerbside recycling and improving capture rates for packaging consumed on-the-go is a very sustainable way to increase recycling and reduce littering.
With so many initiatives now in play, care needs to be taken to ensure that all schemes can work in synergy and that any new elements are easy to understand, operate and are cost effective. And critically we need to avoid the law of ‘unintended consequences’, I am sure you can think of some of those for yourselves. One thing we know for sure, is that we will all need to play our part and understanding how we harness the widespread awareness and goodwill into positive long-term change, will be key.
So, a whole new world of challenges – and of opportunities too.
If we can speak clearly and persuasively on all those big challenges, and secure the right outcome, then we will indeed be operating in a fantastic new world.
What will it look like?
Most importantly, we will never be taken for granted again. Food and drink – both manufacturing as a sub-sector and the whole wider food chain – will be fully appreciated for the economic, cultural and environmental contribution.
UK food safety and quality will be regarded as a precious, hard-won asset that deserves celebration, protection and investment.
We will cherish the science and engineering that underpins food and drink as much as other sectors, and the UK’s reputation as the best location for international food and drink research and product development will be absolute.
The industry will be at ease with a more flexible model of representation. We will have moved to structures that allow us to come together quickly and easily to speak with one voice where circumstances require it, without compromising the ability of our diversity to speak on its own behalf.
Consumers will continue to enjoy the benefits of choice, but over-eating and poor diets will become less prevalent. Most of us will need to change our lifestyles, a little, to eat fewer calories and be more active.
I hope industry, government and NGOs will work as partners to do their bit to nudge that change forward, while government consistently pulls other levers around education, planning and physical activity to support us.
What of the future of FDF?
I hope, before long, that FDF will be regarded as much as a ‘hub’ as an institution.
Yes, of course we will always exist to represent the needs of our members and to make the best possible case for food and drink manufacturing. But I want us to build a myriad of relationships, some formal some informal; some temporary and others longer-term, with other organisations across food and drink that allow us to concentrate policy or specialist expertise.
Collaboration needs to be the default model for our sector; separateness the exception.
I want the Sector Council to become a focus for food and drink’s critical role within government.
It must earn and retain the confidence of the industry and of politicians. It must demonstrate vigour as well as pragmatism.
It must lead the thinking and lead the pace around food and drink issues.
It is well known that Michael Gove and I have our differences on policy, but I have been clear that he commands my total respect as a clever, well-informed and most of all bold Minister who is determined to make Defra synonymous with action – not something that could be said of all, perhaps any, of his predecessors. I also like him and find him someone I can do business with. We should celebrate his tenure and make the most of it.
Mr Gove has spoken recently about “established trade associations who already have the connections and cash to rig the system in their interest.” I’m fairly confident that he wasn’t referring to FDF, but he is right at least in the sense that organisations like FDF must never think we know better than members.
To be clear sometimes our role is to speak for the members when to do so individually might carry risk, but sometimes our role is to get out of the way and provide opportunities for members to speak for themselves.
We will continue to build our relationships with people across food and drink. Many of those will be our friends, but I have always believed that it is important to engage with your critics, so we will speak – and listen – to them too. If you begin to believe you have a monopoly on wisdom then it’s only a matter of time before you start referring to yourself in the third person. That’s why FDF keeps me off Twitter!
We must also balance the interests of larger companies (who of course provide the majority of our revenue) and of the smaller ones who perhaps more accurately reflect the majority of food and drink manufacturers in this country.
These things are sometimes difficult. But that soundbite I spoke of when I began:
“Britons today have access to a wider range of safe, nutritious, high-quality food and drink, at all price points, than at any time in their history.”
is worth defending.
If we are still able to say that in three years’ time then we will be in a whole new world which, I remind you, is – according to Tim Rice:
A dazzling place I never knew. Unbelievable sights, indescribable feeling, Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling through an endless diamond sky
Sounds good to me.
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