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A People's Food Policy

Apr 27

Written by:
27/04/2017 11:16  RssIcon

Developing a fair food system for all people


Dee Butterly, member of the co-ordinating group of A People’s Food Policy, explains how a counter-narrative to a business-focussed food system is being built from the bottom up in the UK.

Why A People’s Food Policy?

We currently don’t have a comprehensive and integrated national food and farming plan in the UK.

This absence is both a result of, and has further increased siloed government departmental approaches to food policy. It is also having long-term, and increasingly irreversible, negative impacts on our food and farming system, people’s livelihoods, the fabric and cohesion of both rural and urban communities, and our environment. 

Image: Soil Association

Photo credit: Soil Association


The main vision of A People’s Food Policy is that we need a food system where everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough good food at all times, without compromising the health of the environment and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves. 

In this vision, it is people, civil society and workers in the food system that have the power to shape the decisions that affect our lives, shape the way our food system functions, and put in place the policies and practices we need to build a fair food system for all. 

We are creating A People’s Food Policy because the current reality does not reflect our vision. 

The UK Food Sovereignty Movement and 2015 national gathering

In October 2015, over 200 farmers, growers, food workers, community organisers, NGOs, researchers, campaigners and activists came together in Hebden Bridge near Manchester for the second UK Food Sovereignty Gathering. It was a brilliant, action-packed few days. 

A main focus of the gathering was what needs to be done to advance the Food Sovereignty movement in the UK. As part of this, The Land Workers Alliance led a two-day workshop exploring what a Food Policy based on the principles of Food Sovereignty might look like.


Small Farms Better Foods

Photo credit: Land Workers Alliance


The main outcome of this workshop was an agreement to develop a set of clearly articulated positions mapping out how policies based on a Food Sovereignty framework might look. This would allow us to develop strategic campaigns and actions in the coming years to help build the movement and develop a more democratic food system.

A small group of members from the Land Workers Alliance, The Ecological Land Co-op, The Permaculture Association, The Centre for Agroecology, and Global Justice Now decided to form a steering group to take this process forward, and develop A People’s Food Policy. 

So, what is Food Sovereignty?

Food Sovereignty places producers, distributors, food workers, and consumers at the heart of food systems and policies, and advocates for a rights-based approach to food policy making.

Food Sovereignty is defined by La Via Campesina, the largest international union representing millions of farmers around the world, as: 

“The right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sounds and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, process and consume healthy and local food at the heart of our agriculture and food systems, instead of the demands of markets and transnational companies’. 


Image: Kindling Trust

Photo credit: Kindling Trust


Food Sovereignty is a framework developed and supported by some of biggest farming and food workers’ unions around the world. Developed from the grassroots, there is no other food and farming governance framework which provides such a powerful alternative to the current food system.

It has taken over twenty years of work, advocacy and campaigning for this framework and its foundations to have the momentum and recognition it now has at national and international levels.

The Food Sovereignty framework comprises of six key principles that can be adapted and developed to suit national and local food and farming policy contexts. The six main principles offer a map for what a truly democratic food system looks like. The Six Principles of Food Sovereignty are:

  • 1. Food is for people
  • 2. Food providers are valued
  • 3. Our food systems are localised
  • 4. There is democratic control over resources and decisions
  • 5. Builds knowledge and skills
  • 6. Works with nature.


Developing food policies using these Food Sovereignty principles offers critical reference points to move away from the dominant market-driven approach to decision making.

It facilitates a transition to a just and sustainable food system, based on the right to food, and placing democratic reform, health, ecological regeneration and social justice as the primary aims of policy. 


The international movement 

Developing food policies based on the principles of Food Sovereignty is a process that is gaining traction across Europe and globally. In Europe, we have Nyeleni Europe, a thriving network of unions across the continent, building the Food Sovereignty movement and developing campaigns to reorientate national and Europe-wide public policies governing our food and agricultural systems towards a Food Sovereignty model.

Food Sovereignty has been referenced in national legislation in countries around the world including Ecuador, Bolivia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uruguay, Venezuela and Mali. Canada and Australia have already completed their own People’s Food Policy processes.

IPES-Food is in the process of developing a Common Food Plan for Europe, and Food Sovereignty is increasingly part of an important discourse in debates in international institutions such as the United Nations World Committee for Food Security Civil Society Mechanism.


The UK initiative

Over the past year, the steering group of A People’s Food Policy has been running consultations, workshops and a survey, and has received testimonies, proposals and strategies from over 150 grassroots organisations, unions, workers across the food system, civil society, community organisers, campaign groups, NGOs and researchers.

We asked people what their experience of the food system was, what their vision of a fair and just food system is, and how can we use the principles of Food Sovereignty to develop better food policies.


Image: Farmstart

Photo credit: Farmstart


Based on the ideas and experiences that emerged from this process, and in collaboration with those who have contributed, we are putting together a publication that lays out a vision for a better food system based on the principles of Food Sovereignty and offers policy proposals and recommendations for how to achieve the vision.

The intention of A People’s Food Policy is to show what is possible if food policy making is done through a participatory process that reflects and includes the most pressing issues and lived experiences of people.

A growing group of people from different civil society organisations, unions and community groups from across the food system have been working on developing the backbone of A People’s Food Policy. and we are developing the policy proposals and recommendations are based on the following:


  • 1. GOVERNANCE – Democratising decision making in food governance.
  • 2. FOOD PRODUCTION – Changing how food is produced.
  • 3. LAND – Access to Land.
  • 4. HEALTH – Making good food accessible to all.
  • 5. LABOUR – Valuing work and improving social conditions.
  • 6. ENVIRONMENT – A food systems that work with nature.
  • 7. KNOWLEDGE – Building knowledge and skills.
  • 8. MARKETS – Reorganising food trade and localising markets.
  • 9. FINANCE – Funding a better food system.


The EU Referendum

Midway through our consultation process last year the European Union (EU) Referendum took place. 

All our economic and agricultural policies that were previously affected by EU law will need to be revisited and rewritten. As the UK negotiates the terms of its departure, in what is being called the Great Repeal Bill, we have a huge opportunity to shape future legislation.

This is an enormous task and it is imperative we seize this moment in the coming years to guarantee the development of public policies and governance structures that protect our food system and food cultures, and ensure that everyone in this country is able to realise, without restriction, everybody’s right to food. 


People-led policy making

To see real and significant shifts take place in food policy making and the way our food system is governed, we need to drastically change the way food governance happens in this country so that the people most affected and most marginalised by the current food system are at the heart of shaping and changing it. 

To put in place the policies we need to create a just food system, we need to come together to support clearly articulated common positions that we can collectively organise and campaign around. This process must be intergenerational and intersectional from the very start.


Image: Farming


This kind of collective organising and social movement building has the potential to be very powerful. If we really collaborate to develop the ideas and policy proposals in A People’s Food Policy, we believe it could be used as part of developing a Food and Farming Act.

This work will be challenging and uncomfortable, but we have no other choice. We need to strategise and take strong action together so that we have the power to collectively build a just and fair food system for all: a food system which is the beating heart of our cultures, our histories, our earth, our communities and our future generations. 

A People’s Food Policy will be published by June 2017.

Dee Butterly is a co-founder and co-director and grower at Southern Roots Organics Community Supported Agriculture Scheme, and a member of the Land Workers Alliance.



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