Weekly roundup: Budget, sheep and Eatwell

The budget

The big news this week is the budget, and while the conversion of schools to academies and cuts to disability allowances have made headlines, the one we’re most interested in is the sugar tax.

A summary of the budget on GOV.uk states that:

Soft drinks companies will pay a levy on drinks with added sugar from April 2018. This will apply to drinks with total sugar content above 5 grams per 100 millilitres, with a higher rate for more than 8 grams per 100 millilitres. This won’t need to be paid on milk-based drinks or fruit juices.

This will be used to double the primary PE and sport premium (the additional money schools have to spend on PE and sports) to £320 million a year.

The aim of this tax is to tackle the worrying rise childhood obesity by reducing sugar intake and increasing exercise.

The business implications are interesting, and may in fact benefit many soft-drink manufacturers. As noted in the International Business Times:

The fact that this tax is not to be applied until 2018 gives soft drinks companies plenty of time to change the formulation of their drinks. The likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Britvic have time to introduce healthier variants of their most popular soft drinks, replacing sugar partially or fully with such naturally-derived sweeteners, such as Stevia.

These companies are well aware of the probable backlash on sugary drinks and are well positioned to deal with it having low-sugar alternatives in development and on the shelves.

Other winners are likely to be companies producing sugar alternatives such as Splenda (Tate and Lyle) and Stevia (Pure Circle).

It has also been noted that drinks manufacturers may file a legal case against the government for unfairly discriminating against soft drinks while making milk-based drinks and fruit juices exempt. George Osborne has reportedly said “Bring it on“.

Sheep worrying

A recent attack on sheep on a farm near Chichester, West Sussex, left 116 animals dead. The deaths are believed to be caused by an uncontrolled dog.

With lambing imminent most of the animals will have been pregnant.

credit Oast House Archive

(c) Oast House Archive

Sgt Tom Carter reminded dog owners that farmers are legally allowed to shoot dogs who are worrying their livestock, in accordance with the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.

The Eatwell Plate

The editorial of FW this week raised an interesting point this week: while the media was busy with the budget, Public Health England released a new Eatwell Guide which halves the recommended intake of dairy from 15% to 8%. Figures explaining why it has been reduced are apparently hard to find, and there has been little consultation with the UK dairy industry – both Dairy UK and the Dairy Council say they had no input in the process.

 Eatwell plates new (left) and old (right)

Easter lamb

‘Tis the festival to eat lamb, and I have always had it at Easter. This year I was disappointed to find that my supermarket only had imported New Zealand legs of lamb. Nothing against the Kiwis, but we do produce rather a lot of it here and I always like to support our farmers. At some point chez Roberts will get back to getting our meat from an actual butchers. I miss discussing cuts and projects with butchers.

Apparently I was not the only one to notice this, and a FW spot check showed a wide mix of UK and NZ lamb on offer for Easter. The NFU’s chief livestock adviser criticised Morrisons for its heavy promotion of NZ lamb, and praised Aldi for only stocking UK lamb. Read more here.

A4 Waist challenge

A step away from impartiality, and from food directly; but the A4 waist challenge this week highlights the poor attitude so many people have to food (and their bodies).

What is it? Simple: you hold up a piece of A4 paper against your tum to show that your waistline is no larger than a piece of A4 paper.

Why? Because social media, that’s why.


On the homestead: spring is sprung!

Ah, spring is in the air, hobbit baby has finally sprouted a tooth, and the winter salad is suddenly going mad!

Granted it’s been a very mild winter, but I am eternally grateful that so much salad can withstand the English weather to pop up in the spring. Salad is our staple crop as we eat so much of it, and winter veg is our new passion. Thus winter salad = win.

Left over from last year are land cress (modelled here by hobbit baby) winter purslane (miner’s lettuce), spinach, and the remains of some chard that hobbit husband hacked back at the end of summer to keep it under control.

The chard stumps are looking decidedly gnarly and will be replaced by younger plants soon, but until then there are a few verdant leaves popping up which we will make good use of.

Sown so far: komatsuna and perilla.

Self-sown: chard.

Weekly Roundup: Brexit, Brexit, Brexit

Well, I’m sure there’s lots of other things happening in the world of food this week, but the issue of agriculture in the referendum on us leaving the EU is still the biggie.

The process for withdrawing from the European Union

A document released by the cabinet office this week outlines the process for withdrawing from the European Union. It is covered well in The Guardian here.

Most pointedly, section 2.9 of the document states that:

… a vote to leave the EU would be the start, not the end, of a process. It
could lead to up to a decade or more of uncertainty.
Opinion rages on both sides, but I do wonder if many people realise that if we vote to leave the EU on 23rd June it won’t mean freedom from Brussels by July. It’s a long process.

Defra 25-year plan for Agriculture

This week Liz Truss stated at the NFU’s conference that Defra’s 25-year plan for agriculture will:

… detail how we will attract even more skilled people to the industry, build the British brand and increase exports.

Unfortunately though it hasn’t yet been published, and it is long overdue: initially it was expected before Christmas. Now the government says it will be published later in the spring, writes Johann Tasker in FW.

I, and no doubt many famers am awaiting it with baited breath.

‘Childish turf war’ blamed for farm payment delays

Meanwhile in Whitehall, a pretty damning report released by the Public Accounts Committee outlines the reasons behind why payments to farmers have been delayed. The key reasons, outlined in the summary were:

 … key bodies involved in the Common Agricultural Policy Delivery Programme … were unable to work together effectively.

Dysfunctional and inappropriate behaviours amongst senior leaders were inexcusable and deeply damaging to the Programme.

An inability to agree a clear vision for the Programme meant that the frequent changes in leadership were accompanied by changes of direction, shifts in focus and further disruption.
Some reasons given by those involved, mentioned by Labour MP Meg Hillier (quoted in FW) were:
‘we worked on different floors’ and ‘we dressed differently’
I’ve been trying to stay on the fence on this, but the more I read, the more I find it hard to believe that us exiting the EU is going to result in anything beneficial for farmers any time soon.