Category: Uncategorized

Retailers shoot themselves in the foot supporting AHDB meat campaign

8th Feb 24 by Liam Lysaght

By signing up to Let’s Eat Balanced, retailers are flouting their own climate commitments and promises to their customers

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Blue Empire – How your supermarket salmon is impacting communities in West Africa

1st Feb 24 by Amelia Cookson

Our new report, Blue Empire, exposes how the expansion of Norway's salmon farming industry is harming communities in the Global South.

It’s been a big week for Feedback this week, with the launch of our Blue Empire report detailing the impact of Norway’s enormous salmon farming industry on communities in the Global South.

The report is the fruit of months of careful research and collaboration with our partners to gain insights into the Norwegian salmon farming industry’s global supply chain with a specific focus on its feed sourcing in West Africa.

Our findings have literally made font-page news, having been picked up both in a major investigation by the Financial Times: The hidden cost of your supermarket salmon and by Norwegian Business daily Dagens Næringsliv (DN): Europeisk miljøorganisasjon slakter norsk oppdrett: – Matkolonialisme.

So, what did we find out about this massive industry, second only in value terms to Norway’s oil and gas sector?

Norway’s Salmon Farming Industry

Norway is the world’s biggest salmon farming country, supplying more than half of global production. Norwegian companies occupy eleven out of the top 20 slots in the list of global producers of farmed salmon. Norway is also home to the world’s largest salmon farmer, MOWI, which had a turnover of nearly €5 billion in 2022, and supplies supermarkets across Europe.

Why is this an issue?

Salmon farming is often plugged as the ‘sustainable solution’ to relieving the burden on ocean life. However, this could not be further from the truth.

In fact, Norway’s ‘blue empire’ has created a new type of food colonialism which fuels hunger and unemployment in regions such as West Africa and entrenches the existing power imbalance between rich and poor countries.

Farmed fish, such as salmon, consume millions of tonnes of wild-caught fish in their feed, in the form of fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO). In 2020, nearly 2 million tonnes of wild fish were required to produce the fish oil supplied to the Norwegian farmed salmon industry. This is equivalent to a staggering 2.5% of global marine fisheries catch. Just to supply fish oil to the Norwegian salmon farming industry!

On top of this, this system is inefficient. Norway’s annual output of farmed salmon is one quarter (27%) lower than the volume of wild fish required to produce the fish oil used in Norwegian farmed salmon feed.

But where does this wild fish come from?

Much of this wild fish is sourced from Northwest Africa, threatening the livelihoods, health, food security and nutrition of coastal and inland communities, in direct contradiction with the Norwegian government’s stated development goals, the overall objective of which is to “fight hunger and increase global food security” according to Anne Beathe Kristiansen Tvinnereim, Norway’s Minister of International Development.

But our findings show that beneath shiny promises of a ‘blue revolution’ lies a ‘blue empire’. The industrial scale of FMFO production in West Africa is driving up the price of fish and depleting marine resources in traditional fishing areas. This is reducing the availability of fish for human consumption – in Senegal alone, fish consumption declined by 50% in the 10 years between 2009-2018 – and resulting in the migration of fishers between West African coastal states.

“This is big business stripping life from our oceans, and depriving our fishing communities of their livelihoods. The science is clear, it will soon be too late. They must stop now. These industries established in West Africa use fish to produce fish meal and fish oil to feed animals in Europe and Asia while the African population needs this fish to feed themselves.”, Dr Aliou Ba, Senior Oceans Campaign Manager for Greenpeace Africa

How does Norwegian salmon link to the UK?

Norwegian salmon is now available in most European markets and is sold as a premium product all around the world, including the UK where it can be found in Sainsburys, Tesco, Costco, Aldi and Lidl. Even restaurants in the UK, such as Wagamama, which sees itself as “support[ing] the planet, whilst spreading positivity… from bowl to soul”, source Norwegian farmed salmon.

This is a global issue which is being driven by companies seeking to create demand in high-income markets for farmed seafood such as salmon, seabass and prawns. Each year, around one-fifth of the world’s annual marine catch (over 16 million tonnes in 2020) is used to produce FMFO, the bulk of which goes to producing feed for the aquaculture industry. Astonishingly, while salmonid production only accounts for 3.9% of farmed fish produced globally, it uses up 58% of fish oil and 14% of fish meal destined for aquaculture.

Is there a solution?

Luckily, the solutions are already on the table. Our modelling shows that an alternative aquaculture-fisheries model combining the direct consumption of wild-caught fish alongside salmon fed on fish oil and fishmeal exclusively made from trimmings (waste from processing), rather than whole fish, can deliver the same amounts of key micronutrients for the same number of people, whilst freeing up nearly 1 million tonnes of wild fish to feed people, or to continue playing their critical role in the marine ecosystem.

When it comes to Norway’s salmon farming industry, our report points to a clear disconnect between the Norwegian government’s industrial strategy – under which salmon farming is set to expand massively by 2050 – and its development goals. In light of our findings, we’re calling on Norwegian decision-makers to stop further growth in salmon farming, mandate genuine transparency throughout the supply chain, and ensure that Norwegian companies’ activities and feed sourcing practices do not run counter to its own development policy.

What can I do?

Sign our petition, in partnership with Eko and Wild Fish, calling for Wagamama to drop farmed salmon from its menu!

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

The hidden cost of your supermarket salmon

31st Jan 24 by Christina O'Sullivan

Fish sold by major retailers in Europe is harming food security in west Africa.

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Pro-Meat Ads In UK Supermarkets Prompt ASA Complaints

26th Jan 24 by Christina O'Sullivan

“Undermining people’s attempts at ethical eating to profiteer from food that actively harms them is as callous as it is dangerous.”

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Government grants British Sugar license to pollute

24th Jan 24 by Jessica Sinclair Taylor

The government has decided once again to prioritise British Sugar’s returns over nature.

We are seeing a failure of government on sugar pollution. Last week the government announced that it would – for the fourth year in a row – allow British Sugar to ask sugar beet growers to use a highly damaging pesticide on this year’s sugar beet crop. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been previously banned because of their highly damaging impact on bees and other pollinators. Yet this year, the government decided once again to prioritise British Sugar’s returns over nature. This is despite British Sugar repeatedly promising that they were seeking ‘emergency use only’ and promising to develop alternative pest-reduction strategies to avoid needing to use these pesticides.

This is an active government decision to support UK sugar supply, a decision that is particularly irresponsible in the context of a sugar pollution emergency: the UK has nearly three times as much sugar supply as is needed to meet the safe threshold for the entire population, and excessive sales of sugary foods are driving ill health and increased pressure on the NHS.

Government policy on sugar is increasingly incoherent. Despite public health policies aimed at helping people eat less sugar – such as by promoting reformulation of sugary foods to make them healthier – it has yet to address the way that public policy actively supports an over-supply of sugar in the UK. Unsurprisingly oversupply leads to overconsumption.

Around half the UK sugar supply comes from sugar processed from sugar beet by British Sugar, and the country uses roughly the same area of land to grow sugar beet as all vegetable and salad crops combined.

A recent report by Feedback and Action on Sugar argued for a suite of policy measures aimed at reducing sugar supply, both from beet and from imports of cane sugar. Our current failure to address the damaging effects of Britain’s tidal wave of sugar is perhaps no surprise given our current Health Secretary’s decision to ‘recuse’ herself from decisions related to sugar, as she’s married to the boss of British Sugar.

Time will tell whether the industry uses these pesticides as they did last year – government has granted permission but pests levels need to reach a certain point before the pesticides can be used. As the industry breaths a sigh of relief and the status quo of sky high sugar supplies is maintained for another year, now is the time for all parties to get serious about how they plan to protect both people and nature from sugar pollution.

Read the full report here. 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Government-Backed Meat Ad Campaign Targets Gen Z in Veganuary

19th Jan 24 by Christina O'Sullivan

“Supermarkets’ involvement in the campaign shows they aren’t serious about net zero.”

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Urgent Call to Address the Crisis in West Africa

19th Jan 24 by Liam Lysaght

We’ve launched a petition, in partnership with Eko and Wild Fish, calling for Wagamama to drop farmed salmon from its menu.

A food crisis is deepening in West Africa, fuelled by demand from international companies for wild fish to feed farmed salmon in Europe. Just as climate change makes life increasingly challenging for fisherfolk in Senegal, Mauritania and other West African countries, trawlers continue to seize millions of fish a year to make fish oil and fishmeal, core ingredients in the diets of salmon farmed in places like Scotland and Norway. That salmon ends up on restaurant plates and supermarket shelves all over the UK and EU. While many big food companies and restaurants make a song and dance about the sustainability of the wild fish they sell, few have reckoned with the enormous impacts of salmon farming. Among these companies is Wagamama, a restaurant chain that has built a reputation on its self-purported environmental credentials – but its sourcing policies on salmon just don’t match up. 

Salmon, once considered a rare luxury, has become a ubiquitous presence on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus. However, the rapid expansion of the industry has come with toxic consequences. In addition to the hazardous pesticides, shocking welfare standards, and hideous waste, the farmed salmon industry relies on plundered fish from oceans half a world away – increasingly impacting Mauritania, the Gambia, and Senegal. It’s a vicious cycle of overfishing, robbing local communities, and jeopardising the well-being of millions.

The demand for wild-caught fish from these waters has led to overfishing, the depletion of local livelihoods, and many facing the threat of malnutrition. 90% of the fish manufactured into fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) in West Africa is edible. It forms an integral part of traditional meals and shared culture. For children, it holds nutrients essential to their development. For artisanal processors, most of them African women, the fish once represented a living and a way of life; in competition with the international market, it is now a commodity they cannot afford.

Wagamama sees itself as “support[ing] the planet, whilst spreading positivity… from bowl to soul”. Living up to this reputation, and to their commitment to “small choices for big change,” means taking immediate action to remove farmed salmon from its menu.

We have reached out several times to Wagamama. We’ve sent them emails and letters. We’ve even hand-delivered an analysis of their sourcing standards to their own front door. Unfortunately they have elected to ignore us – but this problem isn’t going away.

If we want to get their attention, we have to make a bit more noise.

So, we’ve launched a petition, in partnership with Eko and Wild Fish, calling for Wagamama to drop farmed salmon from its menu, and thousands of their own customers have already signed it. Wagamama could sever ties with the salmon farming industry tomorrow, but they’ve shown they’re unwilling to do it without a push. Could you sign our petition, and help take a step towards protecting people’s livelihoods and nutrition in West Africa by getting farmed salmon off our plates?

Sign the petition

 

 

 

Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Nothing balanced about ADHB’s latest campaign

17th Jan 24 by Liam Lysaght

This latest PR push by a self-interested industry flies in the face of the scientific evidence, furthering the case for stronger regulation.

The AHDB’s new “Let’s Eat Balanced” advertising campaign is an insidious and irresponsible attempt to prop up a highly-polluting industry. The Climate Change Committee, the government’s advisors, have already clearly stated that meat and dairy consumption should be reduced to achieve national net zero targets, recommending an 50% reduction in all meat and dairy by 2050 for maximum impact. This latest PR push by a self-interested industry flies in the face of the scientific evidence, furthering the case for stronger regulation and sorely-needed government leadership.

We are disappointed, but not surprised, to see that the UK’s supermarkets have leant their name and advertising space to this ludicrous anachronism of a PR campaign. Once again, retailers representing over 90% of the market are exploiting their monopoly on people’s food purchases to push them towards the most harmful products. As we found in our 2023 Greenwash Grocers report, supply chain emissions (Scope 3) make up 95-99% of supermarket’s greenhouse gas emissions – about half of which comes directly from meat and dairy.

The willingness of food giants like Tesco and Sainsbury’s to engage in the AHDB’s new campaign only reinforces what we already knew – that supermarkets aren’t serious about net zero. These adverts are constructed to exploit the holes in the ASA’s growing regulation of environmental claims, by packaging advertisements for meat and dairy in general guidance for healthier diets. As an industrialised country, the UK consumes more than our fair share of global meat and dairy, so the AHDB’s new trojan horse advertising campaign hijacking the language of dietary guidelines to fix a non-existent problem. It will only push the public even further from balanced and sustainable diets.

We urgently need government leadership to ensure our food system is transformed for better public health, and arms-length bodies such as the ASA and CMA are granted guidance and authority to clamp down on this obvious greenwashing.

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

The Worst Meat and Dairy Greenwashing by UK Supermarkets in 2023

3rd Jan 24 by Liam Lysaght

Retailers have repeatedly promised climate action, yet year on year their words speak far louder than their results.

For the UK supermarkets, the holiday season is in full swing, nowhere more evident than in the sector’s annual festive advert charm offensive – no surprise, in a year when customer trust has hit its lowest level since the horsemeat scandal in February 2013.

People are right to be sceptical of an industry that has recorded massive profits in 2023, even amid the Cost of Living Crisis. In March 2023, the ONS reported that UK food inflation had increased to 19.1%, its highest levels in 40 years; just 7 months later, Tesco raised its annual profit forecast to £2.7bn. These figures are a crucial reminder that supermarkets do not have the public’s best interests at heart.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in their climate plans, or lack thereof. Our 2023 report ‘Greenwash Grocers drew attention to the greenwash gimmicks, dodgy data reporting, and climate crisis profiteering taking place in UK supermarkets every day. Across the board, we found that retailers were failing to detail how they would meet their Net Zero targets – if they even had them. Most refused to name the link between the climate crisis and their own sales of meat and dairy; none had a target for reducing these sales.

As 2023 draws to a close, we’re revisiting the retail sector’s greenwash greatest hits, by comparing what they say against the Competition and Market Authorities ‘Green Claims Code’ [1] which sets out rules for how companies make environmental claims. Here are a few of the year’s worst greenwash gimmicks for retailers’ meat and dairy emissions.

Waitrose’s Leckford Estate

The Claim

Waitrose claims to be “the only supermarket to own [their] own farm”, Leckford Estate, which they market to demonstrate their green credentials. Waitrose claim Leckford is “driving change through our farming techniques, responsible sourcing of products, wasting less and our target of becoming carbon net zero.” Most recently, they promoted that Leckford’s tractors are powered by methane produced by cow manure from the estate.

The Problem

Leckford Estate serves as a distraction from the realities of Waitrose’s supply chains, and its claims simply aren’t meaningful in the scale of the business, as required by the Green Claims Code. Every year, Leckford is set to produce a mere “150 beef cattle”, which hardly enters into the 5% of the country’s groceries that pass through Waitrose supermarkets. The overwhelming majority of Waitrose’s beef, let alone its other meat products, are effectively greenwashed by the loud celebration of minor initiatives at Leckford. By recalling the “romanticised vision of the farm”, Leckford leans on the power of nostalgia to hoodwink Waitrose customers into a false sense of security that their products are part of the climate solution – that the qualities of Leckford beef apply to the whole supply chain, which they don’t. The Times described it as a “communist show village” of “comfortable middle classness”.

Whilst Waitrose champions the idea that Leckford ‘leads by example’, the potential of scaling up these initiatives is equally dangerous. Firstly, without a target to reduce its overall sales of meat and dairy as recommended by the Climate Change Committee, Waitrose risks misleading the public that its methods could sustainably meet current demand. If Leckford scaled up its current 2,800 acre estate to cover every single acre of available pasture land in the UK, it would still only be able to produce a quarter of the 2,800,000 cattle currently slaughtered in the UK each year. [2] In other words, it would need to cover almost the entire land area (88.1%) of the UK to meet our current beef consumption, bulldozing everything into beef pastures and Leckford visitor centres on the way.

Waitrose’s suggested ‘lead by example’ initiatives are not fair and meaningful in comparison to its genuine day-to-day operations, as required by the Green Claims Code. In advertising, claims relating to one part of a product or service shouldn’t mislead people about the overall impact of the product or business. This is exactly what Waitrose’s promotion of Leckford Estate does, and without an overall meat and dairy reduction target to accompany, the overall claim of Leckford to be “driving change” for the John Lewis Partnership’s 2050 Net Zero target remains unsubstantiated at best.

Sainsbury’s Reduced Carbon Beef

The Claim

Sainsbury’s is next on our (hit) list, with its October launch of ‘Reduced Carbon Beef’.

The retailer claims that its new Taste the Difference Aberdeen Angus range offers 25% lower CO2 equivalent emissions than the ‘industry standard’ for beef. After some pressure, Sainsbury’s published the ‘industry standard’ marker at 32.14kg Co2e per kg of beef on the shelf, which would out their new product at 24.105kg of CO2e per kg of beef. 

The Problem

Sainsbury’s has not made their methodology available for public scrutiny. This  claim appears to rest on earlier slaughter for the animals (not mentioned on the packaging) with few further details provided. According to the CMA, green claims must be clear, unambiguous, and substantiated, which this is not.

This claim also omits more important information: a fair and meaningful comparison to plant-based alternatives. 25.105kg of CO2e might get you 1kg of Sainsbury’s Lower Carbon Beef, but for the same carbon budget, you could produce over 7.6kg of tofu (a complete protein), 24.5kg of peas, or a whopping 56kg of nuts. Even ‘Lower Carbon Beef’ is incredibly carbon intensive against the alternatives, which Sainsbury’s choose not to point out to their customers. As we pointed out in our Greenwash Grocers report, Sainsbury’s has no target for reducing its overall sales of meat and dairy, without which it cannot hope to meet its net zero target for all its emissions.

Aldi’s Carbon Neutral Claim

The Claim

In July, we caught Aldi UK out for making the outrageous claim of being ‘Carbon Neutral since January 2019’ on their website. What they didn’t mention was that this ‘Carbon Neutral’ claim excludes over 99% of their emissions.

The Problem

Carbon Neutral is commonly used to refer to Scopes 1 and 2 emissions, essentially the climate cost of businesses keeping the shops open and the lights on. What Aldi didn’t say on their website is that less than 1% of their emissions are in Scopes 1 and 2. Over 99% are Scope 3 emissions, which we can think of as the climate cost of everything on the shelves that the business sells to make money. By using corporate jargon, Aldi UK attempted to hide from their responsibilities for meaningful climate action, and contravene the Green Claims Code requirement that claims are clearly set out and can be understood by all.

After we called this out by reporting Aldi to the Advertising Standards Authority, Aldi tweaked the claim on their website to specify that it only applies to ‘Scope 1 & 2’, but have left the claim up. Even with the clarification, leaning on this problematic jargon leaves the claim unclear and ambiguous, leaving customers to think that Aldi’s climate leadership is stronger than the reality. Even if a visitor to the website is familiar with the meaning of different ‘Scopes’, they may not know Aldi’s specific emissions breakdown, tucked away in company reports. The claim is meaningless when put fairly in context against their Scope 3 emissions, which dominate their business activities.

Supermarkets must step up to the plate

Meat and dairy reduction constitutes a fundamental element of reaching net zero – academic research showed in 2020 even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would drive the world beyond 1.5 degrees of warming. These are just three examples of the way supermarkets are systematically engaged in activities which ultimately fail the test of climate leadership – are they reducing their overall emissions, fast, on a clear and transparent pathway to net zero?

Retailers have repeatedly promised climate action, yet year on year their words speak far louder than their results. If businesses won’t clear up their act and get on with the meaningful job of facing up to the climate crisis, regulators will need to show them where the line is, and how far they’ve gone in crossing it.

[1] CMA Guidelines

  1. Claims must be truthful and accurate
  2. Claims must be clear and unambiguous
  3. Claims must not omit or hide important relevant information
  4. Comparisons must be fair and meaningful
  5. Claims must consider the full life cycle of the product
  6. Claims must be substantiated

[2] Leckford is a 2,800 acre estate slaughtering 150 cattle each year (Waitrose). The United Kingdom is 22% pasture land, representing 13,252,261.61 Acres (ONS). 13,252,261.61 divided by 2,800 is 4732.95 – the number of Leckford Estates that could fit into the UK’s pastureland. 4732.95 slaughtering 150 beef cows per year each would collectively slaughter 709,942.5 beef cows per year. In total, the UK currently slaughters 2,844,000 cattle per year (Agriculture in the UK, 2022). 2,844,000 divided by 709,942.5 is 4.006. 22 multiplied by 4.006 is 88.1%.

 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Dismay at decision from Court of Appeal

21st Dec 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

Court has ruled that the government was under no obligation to develop policies to reduce emissions in food and farming in the Food Strategy

“We are beyond dismayed that the Court of Appeal have dismissed our claim for judicial review. It seems counterintuitive to us that the Court has ruled that the government was under no obligation to develop policies to reduce emissions in food and farming in the Food Strategy, despite its earlier Net Zero Strategy announcing this precise intent. It further seems counterintuitive to us that the Court established that, while the Climate Change Committee has the power to advise the government on climate policies, the government is not obliged to take this advice into account- let alone act on it. In our view, this raises serious questions about the point and efficacy of the Committee, and deeply worrying wider questions about how the targets set out in the Climate Change Act can be operationalised across government departments, and ultimately met, if we are to avoid climate catastrophe. We are currently discussing our options with our lawyers, including considering an appeal, and will not be issuing any further statements until we have decided how to proceed.” Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback

You can view the full judgment here.

 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

HIGH EU BIOMETHANE TARGET DROPPED!

14th Dec 23 by Frank Mechielsen

Our collective push for change has succeeded: the proposed high EU biomethane target has been officially dropped.

In a final negotiation session on 8th December, Member States did not bow to pressure from the European Parliament and rejected the introduction of a binding high biomethane target by 2030 in the Gas and hydrogen markets Regulation.

Check out details in the Euractiv article
Read the full press release

Coalition’s Call for Action

This is a huge victory for the coalition of independent not-for-profit organisations who have been actively campaigning for the target to be dropped based on evidence of major environmental risks associated with the high biomethane target.

Among recent studies, Feedback EU’s latest research highlighted the risks of encouraging more livestock production and food-feed-fuel competition and concluded that at best the high EU biomethane target would be unachievable, at worst it will lock in dangerously unsustainable agricultural, land use and energy practices.

Joint Letter: Rejecting Industry-Backed Biomethane Goals

The call to reject the industry-backed introduction of  the high biomethane target was made in a joint letter to Member States by a mounting coalition of not-for-profits active in the fields of food security, sustainable land use, clean transportation and climate change mitigation. It is a big success and relief that the call has been heard.

Next Steps: Advocating for a Scientific Approach

The coalition now requests that the Commission heeds to its other demand echoed by participants of the recent Feedback webinar on biomethane requesting that a scientific target-setting process be conducted in conjunction with independent food system experts to set an EU biomethane target that is fit for food and the climate.

Navigating Further Challenges and Industry Pressures

While we celebrate this significant victory, we are aware of ongoing risks, in particular in relation to the inclusion in the Regulation of a 100% tariff discount for the injection of biomethane into networks which will create perverse incentives in favour of biomethane. In the face of intensive industry lobby, the campaigning effort to secure a biomethane target that allows it to play its important but niche role in a truly decarbonized future, within a sustainable, healthy and just food system will continue.

Learn more about biomethane from our webinar

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Tracing the Colonial Legacy of UK Sugar

1st Dec 23 by Jessica Sinclair Taylor & Krysia Woroniecka

The UK sugar industry has a long and ignoble history of state-supported exploitation, racism and colonialism.

Recently the government committed a small act of sanity by deciding not to go ahead with granting the UK’s only sugar cane importer, Tate & Lyle, an  extra tariff-free quota of sugar cane. Effectively, this would have given Tate & Lyle a tax break to increase the UK’s sugar supply even further. The UK already has far too much sugar on the market – more than 2.5 times the amount needed to give everyone their recommended allowance.

How the government props up Big Sugar

A very brief history of sugar production reveals that sugar production has long been entwined with state support, with enormous impacts on the lives of people across the globe. Described as ‘White Gold’, sugar acted as the economic vehicle of hundreds of years of oppression and murder of enslaved Africans and Afro-Caribbeans.

The UK sugar industry has a long and ignoble history of state-supported exploitation, racism and colonialism, which continues to this day. Back in the 17th century, the British Crown applied protectionist taxation policies to support imports of semi-processed sugar grown by enslaved Africans in plantations in the Caribbean. Slavery – the backbone of the early sugar industry – was underwritten by state support from the very beginning. This stretches to the present day – it was only in 2015 that British taxpayers finished ‘paying off’ a massive debt incurred by the government to compensate slave owners when slavery was abolished in 1835. Meanwhile, reparations and compensation to those who were enslaved remain firmly off the state’s agenda.

Plantation sugar was historically refined by many small refineries around the UK. Today the UK has only two sugar producers: Tate & Lyle Sugars (owned by American company ASR), which refines imported sugar cane; and British Sugar, which refines domestically grown sugar beet. This extraordinary duopoly has, and continues to, enjoy special treatment from the state – Tate & Lyle has access to tariff-free imports of sugar cane, and British Sugar, which received 11 years of subsidy in the 1930s and 1940s before eventually being nationalised, continues as a private corporation to benefit from agricultural subsidy of the production of beet.

One reason often given for ongoing subsidy of sugar imports in particular is that the UK has a historic responsibility to Caribbean sugar-producing nations to support this industry – an implicit and perhaps unconscious acknowledgement of the deep and abiding harm to not only the people brought to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations, but also the land and economies of sugar-producing former colonies. Sugar plantations displaced Indigenous people, and destroyed the ecosystems upon which they depended. Today, this guilt-laced and ineffective logic no longer stands up – since Brexit liberalised our trade regime, the majority of UK sugar cane imports now come from Brazil, which is seen by ASR as offering ‘higher environmental and ethical standards’.

The reality is that sugar has always been monopolised to produce profits for the few and harms for the many. These harms disproportionately affect people of colour.

Sugar continues to damage black bodies today. Black people and people of colour are more likely to suffer from diet-related health impacts linked to overconsumption of highly sweetened foods, including Type 2 Diabetes. Childhood tooth decay, one of the biggest health impacts of overconsumption of sugar, is highest in Asian, Black and Mixed race children.

Colonialism and corporate greed – a recipe for our sugar addiction

In 1999, Harvard historian Walter Johnson wrote: “Much of the Atlantic trade was triangular: enslaved people from Africa; sugar from the West Indies and Brazil; money and manufactures from Europe… People were traded along the bottom of the triangle; profits would stick at the top.”

The same holds true today. As climate change drives fluctuations in sugar production and prices rise, neither farmers growing sugar beet in the UK, nor Black communities, benefit from the vast proceeds of this so-called ‘White Gold’. Associated British Foods, the holding company for British Sugar, brought in £162 million in profits in 2021/2022 from its worldwide sugar business. Meanwhile, Tate & Lyle’s UK sugar operations are now owned by American Sugar Refining Group, whose profits in Europe 2022 were EUR29.8 million. The sums are vast, and they continue to be made on the back of exploitation, whilst inaccurate narratives around guilt prevent us from pursuing justice: Money flows up the corporate pile, and the damage is left on the millions of bodies affected by this dangerous industry.

The history of ‘White Gold’ is a reminder that even the mundane things in our kitchen cupboards, snuck into our food, and passing through the tedious stages of government quota consultations, are deeply tied up in the threads of exploitation that run throughout our food system – those of the past and the ones we’re still untangling today.

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Food waste victory as government u-turns on mandatory reporting again

23rd Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

New environment secretary Steve Barclay announced the decision days after taking over from Thérèse Coffey in last week’s cabinet reshuffle

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Government to u-turn on disastrous food waste decision following legal challenge

22nd Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

We’re delighted the new Secretary of State has u-turned on the reckless decision to scrap plans for mandatory food waste measurement

Last month, we filed for a judicial review of the UK government’s decision to scrap its proposed plans to introduce reporting requirements for businesses to tackle food waste. The decision was taken by the previous Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Thérèse Coffey. Following the government reshuffle, the new Environment Secretary, Steve Barclay, has now agreed to review that decision, stating that a new decision will be made in the first half of 2024.

The initial decision was taken despite responses to the government’s consultation showing that the majority of businesses in scope were in favour of mandatory reporting, and 99% of respondents overall. We welcome the government reversing the decision but implore them to take quick meaningful action and make food waste reporting mandatory.

“We’re delighted the new Secretary of State has u-turned on his predecessor’s reckless decision to scrap plans to introduce mandatory food waste reporting for big businesses. However, we cannot allow DEFRA to kick action on food waste into the long grass, yet again. All the evidence supports the case for mandatory food waste reporting. The government’s climate and waste experts recommend it, the impact assessment shows it will result in cost savings, and the vast majority of consultation respondents, including the majority of businesses, are in favour. The time for delay is over – the government must introduce this popular, effective and no-brainer measure to reduce emissions and tackle the scourge of food waste during the cost of living crisis now.” Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback

An estimated 10.4 to 13 million tonnes of food are wasted in the UK annually, equivalent to approximately 26-33% of the UK’s 40 million tonnes of food imports per year. A study from the University of Bangor and Feedback found that halving UK food waste would save approximately 0.8 million hectares of cropland domestically and overseas[iii], which Feedback estimated could produce enough potatoes and peas to feed 28% of the UK population their yearly calories.

Food waste is a key climate change issue, generating about 10% of global emissions. The government’s own climate change experts, the Climate Change Committee, advised that mandatory reporting should be introduced by 2022.

“Our clients are delighted that the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs decided to review his predecessor’s decision not to introduce mandatory food waste reporting. His decision must make sense given that all the evidence shows that the costs to the shopper of introducing a mandatory requirement will be massively outweighed by savings which would be achieved by reductions in food waste.” Leigh Day solicitor Ricardo Gama 

 

 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Government in court over failure to curb meat and dairy consumption

7th Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

Environmental campaign group Feedback says failure to act on Net Zero promise is unlawful

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Court action over ministers’ failure to cut meat and dairy consumption

7th Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

Feedback claims the government had a duty to adopt measures to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in its Food Strategy

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

We’re taking the government to court!

3rd Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

We believe the Government had a duty to adopt measures to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in its Food Strategy

On 6 and 7 November we will be in the Court of Appeal for a judicial review hearing of the Government’s failure to ensure its Food Strategy contributed to meeting its carbon budgets.

The claim is being heard after we successfully appealed that the Government’s failure to budget its food strategy towards Net Zero was arguably unlawful under the Climate Change Act 2008 which says the Government must put in place policies to meet carbon budgets. We contend that section 13 of the Act amounts to a continuing duty to prepare policies and proposals that will enable the carbon budgets to be met, as was established by the High Court judgment’s last year into the Net Zero Strategy.

We believe the Government had a duty to adopt measures to reduce meat and dairy production and consumption in its Food Strategy published in June 2022. Advice from the independent body, the Climate Change Committee, states that reductions in meat and dairy consumption are essential to meeting the Net Zero Target. This should have been taken into account, or at the very least reasons for rejecting that advice (as the Government did) ought to have been given.

Tackling emissions from the food and farming sector is key for the government to meet climate targets, because the livestock industry is responsible for about 14.5% of global emissions and, if current trends continue, the global livestock industry will be using up almost half the world’s 1.5°C emissions budget by 2030.

The Net Zero Strategy published in 2021 stated that the Food Strategy would support the delivery of the Net Zero target, but the detail on how carbon budgets would be met in the food system was left to the Food Strategy. It is argued that, in finally developing the Food Strategy, the Government was required to complete that exercise under section 13, an exercise that last year’s Net Zero Strategy judgment found ought to include an assessment of the level of contribution the Food Strategy would make to meeting the carbon budgets and what risks there were to achieving that.

However, the Food Strategy neither addressed the emissions impact of meat and dairy, nor put in place policies for their mitigation.

‘We are confident our judicial review will establish that the government has a legal responsibility to put in place policies to reduce emissions in the food and farming sector. We trust it will compel the government to act on the advice of its own climate experts, who have said time and time again that meat and dairy reductions are required if we are to meet our legally enshrined climate targets. We hope that our case will be the high-water mark for the government’s disregard and denial of the measures it must urgently adopt and implement to avoid climate and environmental breakdown.’ Carina Millstone, Executive Director of Feedback 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Crowdfunding appeal launched to fund legal challenge on mandatory food waste reporting backtrack

2nd Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

The move by the campaign group Feedback comes after its lawyers Leigh Day filed an application for the review on Friday

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Cap UK’s sugar supply to fight obesity, say campaigners

2nd Nov 23 by Christina O'Sullivan

Environmental and health experts say UK grows or imports two and a half times the population’s recommended intake

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

What Britain’s Community Food Sector Can Learn From The Black Panther Party’s Community Meals

31st Oct 23 by Phil Holtam

The Black Panther Party made food central to their political action because food, and hunger, have always been political issues.

A tumultuous moment for America from which sprung a community food initiative worth revisiting during Black History Month.  

1968, in the United States of America, was turbulent. The year’s unrest included the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy, violence at the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago, the iconic black power salutes at the Mexico Olympics, and on-going protests over the Vietnam war. From this chaotic context emerged a grassroots initiative in Oakland, California, with a simple yet somehow groundbreaking offer – free breakfasts for children.  

These meals were launched in January 1969 by Rev. Earl Neil, a key player in organising the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and held at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland where he served as pastor. He ran the breakfasts under the banner of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP), a radical black power political organisation infused with communist ideology, recently founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The BPP’s reputation centres on their militia style confrontation the police and armed patrols of Black neighbourhood, however their social mission to support the Black community is less well known about. 

The Community Survival programmes that the BPP ran were geared around empowerment for African Americans and reclaiming power at the social and economic level. As well as food these initiatives included providing transportation, education and healthcare services, alongside connecting people around cultural and sporting activities. “The food component of the BPP was a big part of our organizing.” Melvin Dickson, an organiser for the Oakland breakfast program said, “this included our free breakfast program. Because one thing you can guarantee in an oppressed community is that you’re going to find hunger.” Within a few months of the launch in Oakland, the Breakfast for Children Programme (BCP) was rolled out across the country by the BPP, feeding over 20,000 children in 19 cities by the end of 1969. 

On a basic level the meals addressed the self-evident truth that “children can’t learn on an empty stomach,” but going deeper, it’s clear the breakfast clubs successfully embodied an ethic of grassroots organising and anti-oppressive practice. Cooking and eating were entry points for discussions about racism, capitalism, and the possibility of revolutionary change. Corporate power was challenged too – after organisers unsuccessfully attempted to get the support of businesses to donate food, the Black community in Oakland boycotted dairy products at Safeway and forced the supermarket to get behind the effort to feed kids.   

Perhaps the clearest indicator that the meals made waves is seen from the way in which the authorities identified them as a threat. In an internal FBI memo, Hoover wrote: “[BCP] represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for”. In 1975, in a move widely considered to be influenced by the BPP, the US government started offering free breakfast in public schools. 

Image Credit: It’s About Time / BPP

So what lessons can Britain learn today from the BPP’s free breakfast programme? 

The Black Panther Party made food central to their political action because food, and hunger, have always been political issues. All too often in modern Britain, food support for hard up members of society has failed to face up to home truths about entrenched structural inequality, and instead treats the provision of food to those in need as apolitical acts of charity. In 2012, then prime minister David Cameron spoke in Parliament of ‘welcoming-the-work’ of food banks at the same time as his government’s austerity project pulled away the rug of social support for those in poverty. Since then, there has been a 10-fold increase in the number of food parcels being provided by food banks, and yet ministers have praised the effort required to meet the need as ‘uplifting’. This chasm between the political conditions of food poverty and the feel-good food philanthropy carried out by the political elite was epitomised last Christmas, as Rishi Sunak was photographed serving hot food at a London shelter. In these instances and many other moments in modern Britain, philanthropic food provision risks becoming political cover for structural inequality which is remedied and repeated without addressing root causes.  

The Black Panther Party also shows us how food is a chance for us to come together. Community meals are by definition collective moments that provide the chance for relational power to build – contacts to be made, background stories of others to be better understood and shared visions for a better future to be discussed.  Any grassroots campaign is stronger by placing food at the centre – as much as anything it makes it easier for people to attend if they don’t need to squeeze in a meal before or afterwards. On top of nourishment a shared meal is a chance for a conversation and connection, a hook for forming better relationships in the public realm. 

Image Credit: It’s About Time / BPP

Additional resources: 

BBC World Service History Hour (2021) Black History: The Black Panthers 

Huffington Post (2016) The Black Panther Party: A Food Justice Story 

The Guardian (2019) ‘One of the biggest, baddest things we did’: Black Panthers’ free breakfasts, 50 years on 

Vox (2016) The most radical thing the Black Panthers did was give kids free breakfast 

Wikipedia entry on Black Panther Breakfast for Children

[Feature Image Credit: William P. Streater, Granger/Rex/Shutterstock. Bill Whitfield of the Black Panther party serves breakfast To local children in Kansas City, April 1969]

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Whose lungs but ours? Breath and Life in Black History

26th Oct 23 by Teigist Taye

Even outside of smog city, and the riot gear, Black folk still find themselves battling for clean air.

The COVID-19 pandemic made us more aware of the air we share between us. A hushed conversation between lovers, and its sticky heat of promise; the sliver of cool wind that blows in through the cracks of a crowded tube during a muggy ride; and the frosting, oh, the frosting! slick with air-droplets and birthday wishes, smeared atop a birthday cake after the candles are all blown out. My air is never mine, but yours, and ours. And as we yelled hello and goodbye at each other from 6 feet apart, it bound us together, like marriage, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.

But when Black people started dying at a disproportionately high rate compared to our white counterparts, this pandemic reminded us that, despite possessing the same windpipe, and the same weary lung tissue, some air is ours alone to endure.  

To take a breath in London, as a Black resident, is to produce life from toxic air. A report commissioned by the city of London showed that Black people are living in areas with disproportionately worse air quality. Nine-year-old Ella Kissi-Debrah, a Black child with sparkling eyes from inner London, was the first person in the world to have air pollution listed as a cause of death.

The surfaces of our lungs have always been contested territory. Our babies’ first breaths are less likely to be heard by their mothers – black women in the UK are 4 times more likely to die in childbirth compared to white women. Throughout history, white supremacy erected oppressive structures across the world, from slavery and colonisation, to the imperial new world order, that suffocated us. Race scientists justified our asphyxiation: they ran biased tests on enslaved people to conclude that “the deficiency in the negro (lung)” was about “20 per cent” compared to that of a white person. Never mind that these test subjects likely spent months crammed into the hull of a slave ship, sucking on just centimetres of expired oxygen. The brand of a deficient lung still follows Black people around, from hospital to hospital, getting in the way of life saving diagnoses, treatment and disability benefits. It is through these systems and their justifications, that the levers of white supremacy enact Necropolitics– using political power to determine if we live or die, if we breathe or not. 

Each soul left gasping for air in a sinking dingy off the Mediterranean coast, is a political choice made by members of the European Union. Even as we bore witness to George Floyd’s murder, a live-streamed execution by suffocation, at the hands of American police, the Met Police still strangle our sons as a form of social control. When a Black woman in south London got into an argument with a non-black shop owner, he responded by throwing his hands around her neck. George Floyd’s last words to us were “I can’t breathe.” When Black people took to the streets in the US to protest police killings, they found their own throats closing up, as they choked on teargas sold to US riot police by UK manufacturers.  In this way, Black life becomes an appeal for air, if not for basic survival, then to simply have some space. Give me air! As in, let me be. Allow me pause. Let me think, and feel, and live, and love, and process; comfortably, without want; away from hardship, and violence, and scrutiny. 

Even outside of the smog city, and the riot gear, Black folk still find themselves battling for clean air. In hog country, eastern North Carolina, the pigs outnumber the mostly Black, Latine and Indigenous residents 35 to 1. Millions of pigs packed into factory farms mean billions of tonnes of pig-waste, which gets dumped, sprayed and crammed into the surrounding areas. What’s sprinkled into the air settles on people’s cars and clotheslines, into the backs of their throats, and into the swell of their lungs. In the shadow of the hog farms, breaths – and lives – become difficult to catch. The old men wheeze as they settle onto their rocking chairs. The young ones cough into the wind. 

The UK doesn’t have as many factory farms as the US, but meat producers are always angling for more. Our factory farms already emit tonnes of noxious fumes into the atmosphere. Continuing expansion becomes a question of how much more our government expects us to bear.  

But if the UK keeps building its factory farms, and rams the rooms with poultry, and swine, and  excess, what then must we think? What then of our Black Girls, and Black Boys, with their Black Lungs, and Black Fists, and Black Dreams? What then of the smog, the strangle, and the fumes that follow? What should we make of this all? What else will come after your factories if not clouds of toxic air like the ones we know from our cities? Whose lungs will they fill but ours?

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

A recipe for resistance at Granby 4 street market

18th Oct 23 by Lucy Antal

It is a fantastic example of community in action, taking matters into their own hands to rejuvenate and invigorate their environment.

During the last thirty years the proliferation of supermarkets across our every aspect of our lives has caused a seismic change in how we purchase everything from food, to clothes and more. At first an exciting time-saving proposition where food could be bought in one “big shop” rather than needing to visit lots of different, smaller shops, consumers embraced the convenience offered by these super spaces. It’s taken a few years for the damage done to sink in. High streets and local shopping spaces have been decimated, with greengrocers, bakers, and other food providers unable to compete with the one stop shop. This has been exacerbated by the expansion of the supermarkets into other territories beyond food. Clothes, household goods, bedding, plants, flowers and more. The smaller businesses can’t mirror the loss leader prices used by supermarkets because they don’t have the same economies of scale. Supermarkets are not rooted in communities, they move to wherever they can extract the most profit – they are not of the people so they can never truly be for the people.

There is a small glimmer of hope on the horizon, however. Communities are taking matters into their own hands and reinventing the high street with pop up markets that serve the local community in a way that supermarkets can’t. Indeed, these spaces are often notably where the supermarkets are not. Areas where the communities have been left behind with the boarded-up shops and need to travel to access the amenities they used to have within walking distance. A great example of this, which we are highlighting as part of Black History Month, is the Granby 4 Streets market.

Granby 4 Streets is in Liverpool. Toxteth to be exact. Most people have heard of Toxteth, but usually only in the context of the riots which took place in the early 1980s. There’s much more to it than that. Originally a deer hunting park for the Kings of England, Toxteth has a long history stretching back to the 12th Century. Today it is a hodgepodge of gracious but dilapidated Georgian and Victorian mansions and terraces, mixed with new build housing; with long tree filled avenues that lead to the city centre. Traditionally it has been a multicultural area, on the edge of Chinatown, housing the first mosque and Islamic centre in England, with Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Quaker and Protestant churches, synagogues, and chapels offering a range of spiritual succour to inhabitants. It’s always been an area settled by people whose heritage included sailors, enslaved Africans and their descendants, and migrants from the Commonwealth . In this space you will find the Merseyside Somali and Community Association, the Liverpool Arabic Centre, the Kuumba Imani Centre, the African Caribbean Centre, and the Islamic Cultural Centre at Al-Rahmi Mosque. It remains the most ethnically diverse area of Liverpool.

The Toxteth uprising took place in 1981, protesting the police enforcement of stop and search measures which unfairly targeted young black men. Buildings burnt, windows were smashed, people were detained. The aftermath saw the stigmatising of the whole area, leading to a severe decline with boarded up shops and houses left to rot. During the 1990s and early 2000s, attempts were made to cleanse the area by demolishing the old Victorian terraces and building new houses to entice a middle-class community into this space, so close to the city centre. The remaining residents of the Granby 4 Streets, which were at this time mostly “tinned up”, referring to the security metal sheets covering doors and windows on the abandoned properties on these roads, came together to form the Granby Residents Association, which later evolved into the Granby Community Land Trust.

They resisted attempts to demolish these streets through community actions – working with artists to paint murals on derelict houses, planting gardens in the abandoned streets and hosting summer markets.  Liverpool is a charter city, which means markets cannot be held without express permission from the council. True to the spirit of Granby, which has always been one of act first, ask for forgiveness afterwards, these “illegal” markets evolved further into the monthly Granby Street Market, held every 1st Saturday in the month.  Starting as a table sale, outside people’s homes on Cairns Street L8, the market now stretches the length of this road and has around 70 stalls, offering food, bric-a-brac, vintage clothes, and homemade crafts that reflect the diversity and creativity of the community it serves. It is now firmly established within the council’s calendar of markets, with brightly coloured gazebos, art, and music to accompany the browsing public. It is a fantastic example of community in action, taking matters into their own hands to rejuvenate and invigorate their environment. It is Black led, with people who of Black heritage proudly claiming this space as theirs.

What can we learn from this? It’s okay to take a risk, to take initiative and bring your community with you. You don’t always need permission, there is power in taking action. There are great examples of this across the world – look at the guerilla gardeners of Detroit, who faced with their city’s steady decline after the great automobile industries faltered, have reimagined their environment with urban farming, or agri-hoods, in derelict streets.

Closer to home we had Esiah Levy, a young man from Croydon who created SeedsShare in 2016. Esiah grew vegetables in his back garden, having learnt how from his Jamaican father. He saved the seeds and then swapped them all over the world with other gardeners for the cost of post and packing. Esiah passed away suddenly at only 32, but he left an amazing legacy of seed swapping and inspiration that led Edward Adonteng to write: “And for me, like a young black man, looking at someone I can look to and his dedication to his plants, based on what I’ve seen so far, is astronomical to me… Like, he’s my direct inspiration to horticulture. So, when you were talking about his legacy, to me it’s now my duty to spread his name, like the seeds, just spread it.” Esiah came to Liverpool in 2018, to visit The Grapes community garden in Toxteth and share his knowledge about how to seed save. That garden still exists. Food is still grown there; seeds are still swapped.

 

References

https://www.granby4streetsclt.co.uk

https://www.yesmagazine.org/social-justice/2019/11/05/food-community-detroit-garden-agriculture

https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/sowingroots/sowing-roots-esiah-levy/

 

 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

The Black Reality of Scottish Salmon “They want our fish, but they don’t seem to want us”

12th Oct 23 by Liam Lysaght

Resources flow from the poor world to the rich world at the ‘market price’, with little regard for the true cost.

Somewhere in the quiet comfort of the South East, a British family will sit down to eat dinner. Having taken in suggestions from food influencers, they’ll settle on a pan-fried salmon recipe and think little more about that choice. They won’t think that even in wealthy countries, like the one they live in, salmon has quickly gone from a luxury good to an ever-present dinner option, the chicken of the sea. Just over the garden fence, spotlights shine across the English Channel – looking for small boats to stop and turn back, no matter the desperation of the people on-board. Many have already capsized. This has also become ever-present, even normal. 

Around four thousand kilometres south, on the coast of The Gambia – where 99% of the population are African and 53% of them live in poverty – an equally normal family will not have dinner. Where they used to eat the fish caught by their neighbours, and where they might earn a living drying the rest of the catch at the market, now they only catch the stench of the new factory, heating and pressing those same fish into fish meal and fish oil for export. This Gambian family will think how quickly these small fish: bonga and sardinella, have gone from an ever-present dinner to something unobtainable. As their fish is shipped to Europe to make animal feed, thousands of desperate West African people will be forced to follow it across the sea. 

While the African people are turned away at the border, the African fish that was once their livelihood is ferried safely past them, processed, and used to feed the salmon that a British family will eat.  

This is about our fish… this is about African fish.” 

-Abdou Karim Sall, President of Plateforme des Acteurs de la Peche Artisanales du Sénégal (PAPAs) 

Global capitalism commodifies. Anything from food and shelter to the natural world and its living inhabitants, can find itself as a subject to market forces and economisation, a product to be bought and sold according to purchasing power, not need. This allows colonialism to continue as ‘neo-colonialism’, the very real way in which wealthy nations and businesses continue to exert power over, and extract wealth from, those already poorer than themselves. Resources flow from the poor world to the rich world at the ‘market price’, with little regard for the true cost. This is exemplified clearly in the supply chains of fish – or to put it more accurately, African fish. 

90% of the fish manufactured into fish meal and fish oil (FMFO) in West Africa is edible. It has been a staple part of the diet for many African people living on the coast. It forms an integral part of their traditional meals and shared culture, as food does in all cultures. For children, it holds nutrients essential to their development. For artisanal processors, most of them African women, the fish once represented a living and a way of life; in competition with the international market, it is now a commodity they cannot afford. 

Instead, it is indiscriminately processed in foreign-owned factories, where skilled jobs are not given to local people, and foreign-owned fishing fleets (sometimes subsidised by foreign governments) help drive already-depleted fish populations to breaking point. Factoring in the consequences of climate change, also driven disproportionately by countries which enriched themselves on the back of colonialism, the food security for inhabitants of the region is worsening. 

More and more West Africans, normal people pushed to take huge personal risk, are being forced to emigrate to look for jobs and income elsewhere. These people are leaving behind homes and families, forced to travel in a way defined as ‘illegal’ by European governments – the same governments which have self-interestedly allowed their homes to become uninhabitable in the search for resources. 

 “They want our fish, but they don’t seem to want us.”, one fisherperson in Senegal told us. 

 Underlying this demand is animal farming in Europe and beyond. Most ironically, farming of aquatic species, for which FMFO is a main feed input. In Scotland, salmon farming has become a billion-pound industry, controversial for its environmental damage, pest infestations, and high mortality rates. Industry body Salmon Scotland claims salmon farming will “increase food security at home and feed the growing global population”, but fails to recognise that it does not create food, it moves food. On the whole, farming salmon leads to a net loss of up to 99% for key micronutrients, 90% of calories, and a 72% of protein input. Scottish salmon’s £578m export value does not come from returning the degraded product back to West Africa, it is sent to France, the USA, and China as an affordable luxury. The chief business of salmon farming is to take edible food from food insecure places and convert it into a higher value, lower nutrition food in the rich world. It is the business of extraction. 

Particular businesses in the supply chain bear a responsibility for actions past and present. However, we must remember that the system that surrounds them is a complex web of ideology, private interests, and inertia. As author Ta-Nehisi Coates describes perceived evil in the face of historical forces: “The destroyers are merely men enforcing the whims of our country, correctly interpreting its heritage and legacy”. 

In order to properly recognise and interpret the crises currently unfolding in the European salmon industry, in the lives of West Africans, and in the movement of ordinary people from West Africa to Europe, we have to recognise that these crises exist as a function of neo-colonialism – of commodification and extraction.  We need to see food as more than an ingredient for profit maximisation by powerful countries and corporations, we must centre food access in our visions for a sustainable future and we must learn from our history to move forward in an equitable way.

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us

Looking back to move forward – reflections for Black History month

10th Oct 23 by Andre Kpodonu

By rejecting ahistorical narratives, can we become more effective in finding the sources of hope we are so desperately in need of? 

“From the standpoint of the grower, the greatest defect of slavery lies in the fact that it quickly exhausts the soil. […] As Jefferson wrote of Virginia, “we can buy an acre of new land cheaper than we can manure an old one.”  

Capitalism and Slavery (Eric Williams, 1944) 

‘Sankofa’ is word of the Akan people of Ghana used to convey the idea that there is wisdom in looking backward to move forward. Sankofa is often represented by the minimalist symbol of a mythical bird, with its feet pointing forward whilst its head reaches backward to retrieve a treasured egg behind it. In January Natalie Lartey used the term to open our session on Reparations at the Oxford Real Farming Conference. It seems apt to re-engage with the concept for Black History Month given the challenging public discourse those who care about people and environment must now confront daily. We are desperate to know how to get out of this doom spiral, and I believe that a more careful study of Black history holds lessons for us all. 

New inspiration has rarely felt more desperate. Whether we should do away with our legal commitment to uphold human rights, and the degree to which it is ok to let Black and Brown people drown in the English Channel are serious political questions today. Credible plans with broad support to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are being abandoned. Corporate profits are greater than ever, while those who rely on wages, salaries, benefits, and state pensions to live are left with an increasingly grim menu of realities to choose from. And yet, we could all be forgiven for questioning at this time whether there is need to dredge up horrors long past, when there so many horrors in our present?  Why search for tears when it is hope that is missing? In my view, to see these two drives as being opposed is to miss the fundamental benefit of engaging with history. We must do this because the process allows us to connect our humanity to that of others. We gain an opportunity to reaffirm our values, reveal new avenues to act, inspire renewed perspectives on what we should be aiming for, and gain a better sense of the power we already hold. This is key for organisations as much as it is for individuals.  

Feedback campaigns for a food system which is good for people and planet. In doing so, we often find ourselves working to hold corporations and policy makers to account for decisions which are demonstrably harmful or working with communities and activists to pilot alternative ways of doing things. Increasingly our daily reality and that of our peers is of a world where winning the argument counts for very little at all. Policy consultations appear to have little impact on decision making processes. Historical malpractice appears to present no barrier at all to future profits.  

Bringing Black History into the fold helps to debunk the idea that we ever successfully civilised agribusiness. There is an unbroken tradition, stretching back through colonialism to antiquity, of elites holding profits in higher regard than human lives or ecosystems. The transatlantic trade of enslaved Africans is uniquely responsible however for embedding the perverse economic logics we are now left grappling with within the food system – wasteful and polluting production methods, disposability of racialised people and the ecologies they rely on, the subordination of agricultural production to commodity markets, and malnutrition in the context of systematic overproduction. 

In August 1962 Eric Williams, an Oxford educated academic, became Trinidad and Tobago’s first Prime Minister having led the country through the post-WWII movement for independence. His work Capitalism and Slavery is one of the first historical analyses critiquing the presumed moral character of Britain’s abolitionist and emancipatory achievements. Systematically, his work outlined evidence that the abolition of the slave trade was only possible once it was clear doing so could hurt the sugar production of the competing colonial powers of France, Spain and the USA. As the world’s foremost trafficker of enslaved Africans, Britain could starve them of labour.  

He also paints a similar picture around the time of emancipation. Excited by the prospect of investment opportunities in the new republics of Abya Yala / Pindorama (The Food Sovereignty movement’s preferred names for the South American continent), free trade proponents pushed for the liberalisation of trade policy, breaking the Caribbean slaveocracy’s monopoly on the British sugar market. Unable to compete with lower costs and beset by rebellions and uprisings from enslaved Africans, and an organised nexus of abolitionist and free trade lobbies in the UK, profitability collapsed for the West Indian Interest, along with their resistance to emancipation.  

Once we dare to look beyond the rousing mental image of a morally triumphant Wilberforce, we are left with some stark realisations. The value of Black life, or indeed almost any life, has yet to be accepted as a valid basis to proactively and systematically curtail harmful industry. The oft cited fact that it was the enslavers and not the enslaved who were compensated is typically used to underscore viscerally that there is unfinished business on the matter. Yet rather than an aberration, this bargain should be seen as the core of the situation.   

This is where Williams’ opening quote, of Thomas Jefferson’s 1793 letter to George Washington comes in. Although the word “slave” appears nowhere in his letter, Jefferson was explaining the core of plantation racial capitalism to his friend, the first President of the United States: It was more profitable to acquire a new patch of land and then exploit the dispensable bodies of enslaved Africans, (who would quickly exhaust the land after a few seasons crops), then move onto a new parcel and yet more newly trafficked African bodies, than think about caring for Black lives or bringing life back to the soil. Thus, racial capitalism ruthlessly put financial gain above the care of their fellow living beings (be they African human beings, Native American human beings or the creatures maintaining the health of the stolen soil). 

Two hundred and thirty years later, with its capacity to destruct life increased by a century of fossil-fuel derived agri-chemicals, capitalism has still not acquired the ability to embed a respect for life into its systems of governance. Instead, many in society consider themselves post-racial – having grown adept at interpreting historical alignments of interests – as with abolition and emancipation – as proof of a universal rejection of barbarism by former colonial powers. For both the individual and organisations like Feedback then, there are clear challenges levelled. Can we reduce our vulnerability to the allure of false narratives by striving to hold the fullest picture possible? Can we find where our sector has inherited a disregard for life, and in particular Black life? And by rejecting ahistorical narratives, can we become more effective in finding the sources of hope we are so desperately in need of? 

It is in this work that we find the cure to the pervading sense of futility. This is where we can reveal what systems need to rebuilt or restored, the relationships in need of repair, who should be expected to bear the cost. Moments like this helps us find ourselves amongst the chaos and underline where we, specific organisations and people with valuable strengths and particular experienceare needed. Tomorrow does not have to be even more bleak than today. All it takes is a small amount of courage and the commitment of some time. 

Over the course of October and beyond, we’ll be working to reveal our Sankofa inspired reflections on the unacknowledged roots of Feedback’s work within Black History. We will strive to be courageous even where this proves harder than we might expect. Our attempts will not be perfect. They may not even be satisfactory. But this work is everybody’s to further and so we will do our best to play our part.  

 

What can you do next?
Instagram

Follow us on Instagram to see our work in action.

Follow us