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A decade of learning from our Business Forums

15/06/17
Liz Barling
A decade of learning from our Business Forums

 

The Food Ethics Council hosted our first ever Business Forum for senior food business leaders in June 2007. During the 10 years since our guests sat down at that first dinner, we’ve discussed the seismic shifts in geopolitics, and their effects on our food systems and food businesses in the UK and around the world.

These shifts include the 2007-08 financial crash which – along with erratic harvests – led to a dramatic rise in food prices, and the more recent shake-up of establishment politics with the US election of Donald Trump and the UK’s rejection of membership of the European Union.

On top of this political and economic turmoil, international organisations (such as the World Bank and the UN) predict a ‘perfect storm’ of climate change, resource constraint and population growth. These three factors, they have warned, will place great strains on society and on the businesses that operate within it.

The turbulent times continue: a snap general election leading to a hung parliament will have a huge effect on how the UK is governed, and how our politicians negotiate Brexit. How it will affect our food and farming businesses is another huge unanswered question.

Over the past year we have held a number of Business Forums on some of the issues that Brexit might have an impact on, from trade to migrant workers. The truth is we don’t know what our food system will look like in two years’ time; we can only hope that politicians take a leaf out of our Business Forum members’ book, and think ahead to the long-term impacts on food and farming when they negotiate our terms of Brexit, rather than on short term political necessities.

The idea of policy making for the long term is something that we have increasingly discussed over the past decade in our Business Forums. Progressive food business leaders understand that the world can’t carry on regardless. At our meetings, we’ve discussed how they can ‘be the change they want to see’ by adopting new business models, and how they can use their influence to encourage governments to adopt more long-sighted food and farming policies.

Our Business Forums offer opportunities for likeminded food and farming business leaders to explore a wide range of food and farming issues from labelling to workers’ rights, from novel foods to obesity. We discuss the ethical issues that face their businesses; and learn from each other. Each meeting focuses on one topic led by one or two expert speakers, after which the floor is open to general discussion. We invite guests to get their teeth into the issues that are often labelled as ‘intractable’ or ‘too complex’, and we give them opportunities to explore these issues in a safe space, under the Chatham House Rule. Our Business Forum reports summarise the discussions into easily digested points which are freely available for all businesses, whether they’re members or not, to read.

The Food Ethics Council analysed the first 50 Business Forum reports, to draw out key trends and messages for food and farming businesses. Food: all things considered was written before the UK voted to leave the EU, but its learnings are just as – if not more – valuable now, for policy makers and Brexit negotiators, just as much as for industry insiders.

There has to be a radical shake-up of how the market operates; new business models must be encouraged and adopted; and the government must commit to long term food policy that supports and underpins all the other changes we believe are necessary.

The report looks at what’s holding us back from achieving change; how we can build on positive foundations already in place; and encourages businesses and government alike to take a leap of faith towards a wholly new way of doing things.

Why not read Food: all things considered,and see if you agree with our analysis? Our Business Forum summaries are all available on our website free to download for businesses interested in tackling the big issues that face them. And if you’re interested in coming along to a Business Forum dinner, get in touch with Dan Crossley (dan@foodethicscouncil.org) to find out more.