Food and Regulation

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In this section, you will find a number of sound recordings that discuss some of the regulations, standards and policies that have been applied to the food industry: from the Common Agricultural Policy to concerns about animal welfare and the use of pesticides. You will be able to listen to the extracts and access both a transcript and background information about each recording.

Henry Cross

Here, Norfolk farmer Henry Cross discusses pesticides, straw burning and government regulations.

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Transcript

Read more about government regulations and their effect on the food industry as well as the debate surrounding the use of chemicals in farming.

David Gregory

Food is often the focus of concerns about health, the environment, animal welfare and labour inequality. In this extract, David Gregory, Director of Foods at a major supermarket, reflects upon the range of issues that concern food consumers.

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Read more about ethics, consumer consciousness and consumer choice.

Matt Twidale

The government payments given to European sugar producers have been criticised for having a negative effect on farmers in the developing world. For his whole life, Matt Twidale has produced sugar beet on his farm in Nottinghamshire. Here, he talks ahout an interview he gave to a journalist about being a British sugar farmer.

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Read more about the history of the Common Agricultural Policy and its current effects on farmers in the developing world.

Oliver Walston

Here, cereal farmer Oliver Walston explains the much criticised Common Agricultural Policy and its consequences for European farmers.

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Transcript

Read more about the history of the Common Agricultural Policy and its current effects on farmers in the developing world.

Paul Wilgos

Paul Wilgos works as a Senior Agrilcultural Technologist for a major supermarket, and is responsible for food safety and hygiene. Here, he talks about the differences between intensive, free-range and organic food systems.

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Transcript

Read more about food production systems, the debate surrounding the use of chemicals in farming and the environmental impact of meat.

Background

Our food system is currently regulated and controlled in many different ways. There are laws that control the production and sale of foods; voluntary agreements by producers and retailers; consumer pressure groups and the attitudes of shoppers themselves - all these shape the way food is produced, sold and consumed. For generations, these different forms of regulation and pressure have all pushed food producers into meeting the needs of society. In the 1800s, for example, food laws stopped producers from adulterating food - i.e. mixing cheap or fake ingredients into products to fool the customer. Before these laws were put into place, tea sellers, for instance, would bulk out their tea with dried leaves from local trees, and spice sellers would mix into ground pepper generous helpings of floor sweepings.

Shortages

In the twentieth century, one of Europe's main concerns was producing enough food to feed people. Food shortages during WWII, for example, had a major effect within Europe on the rules governing food production and food consumption. Governments specified what food farmers could grow and how much food people were allowed to consume.

Trading place

Governments around the world often try to protect farmers in their own countries by limiting  how much food can be imported. Farms in Europe are affected by the Common Agricultural Policy (or the CAP). After European nations suffered great food shortages during WWII, European governments established policies that encouraged farmers through the CAP to produce more food. The scheme gave farmers government subsidies (or extra payments) to pay for the cost of the food they produced and the help them maintain a good standard of living. This situation can make life particularly difficult for farmers in developing countries - most of whom do not receive subsidies and who must compete with the cheap goods produced in the West. In recent years, organisations like Fairtrade have been working to ensure that farmers in the developing world are paid a fair wage for their products.

Defining and protecting

In some countries, certain foods are defined and regulated by laws, making sure that they cannot be copied and that standards of production are maintained. France, for example, has a system which strictly regulates how wines, spirits, certain cheeses and other foods and produced and graded.

In today's age of biotechnology, gene patenting is an important and controversial issue. Patents have been taken out on plant varieties, micro-organisms and genes. Since patenting is very expensive, it is often carried out by corporations in industrialised countries, often on plants found in the the developing world. Some people see this as 'bio-piracy'. When, in 1998, an American company patented a strain of rice very similar to Indian basmati, the Indian government fought against it and the patent was revoked.

Confident or conned?

As UK consumers, the foods we eat are regulated by rules. Chocolate, for example, must contain a minimum amount of cocoa solids. Debate rages as to whether the government, the food industry or the individual consumers should control what people eat. Some believe that the government has a duty to restrict foods that are unhealthy, particularly from children. Others believe that consumers should be allowed to make their own choices about what foods they consume. There are huge debates about the kind of information that should be available on food labels. The risks associated with particular foods and trends in eating are often very complicated and difficult to decipher. Food companies spend large sums of money every year advertising their products. The government spends considerably less on promoting healthy eating. Who do you believe is best placed to determine what people should be allowed to eat?

Safe to eat?

During the mid-1980s, the UK saw an outbreak of BSE or 'Mad Cow Disease'. The disease was spread by feeding meat and bone meal (MBM) to cows. The Foot and Mouth crisis which took place in 2001 in the UK caused some 10 million animals to be slaughtered and prompted an urgent inquiry (The Curry Commission) from the government into the modern food system. Today, there are real worries about bird flu, the spread of which has been linked to the rise of intensive poultry farming.