A bittersweet Brexit? Unite vision for food future launched

A radical new vision for food and farming was warmly welcomed by the guest speakers and audience who attended the launch last week of new book Bittersweet Brexit, published by Unite Education and Pluto Press.

Bittersweet Brexit: the future of food, farming, land and labour has been written by Unite member Charlie Clutterbuck.

The author draws on his 40 plus years’ experience as an agricultural science worker and trade unionist to spell out and stimulate a debate about the big changes to come surrounding Brexit. The ultimate aim is to encourage the development of new forms of food and farm production that increase skilled job opportunities, which in turn will help build stronger sustainable rural communities, and are better for ourselves and also the planet.

Key to these proposed changes is the role of the state and the need for politicians to construct new policies to deliver better for land and labour once the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) no longer applies to Britain.

With Tory minister Chris Grayling having so casually suggested that Britain can “grow more food here” Bittersweet Brexit outlines the major challenges and opportunities ahead in attempting to do so.

Franny Joyce, Unite regional officer for the food, drink and agriculture sector (FDA) in the NW, praised “Charlie’s efforts over many decades in representing and improving workers lives. Two years ago Charlie said he would love Unite to have a bigger voice on food and farming issues. This easy-to-read book certainly does that. It places Unite ahead of the game on many vital political affairs.

“It is madness that we have people going hungry while in some farming sectors there is overproduction that sends farmers into bankruptcy.

“In Britain we cannot allow the supermarkets and large landowners to direct future policies. That will lead to reductions in both food quality and working standards, which are already too weak in the FDA sector. Plus there will continue to be an over reliance on food imports.

“The book rightly argues that the current CAP subsidies to landowners should be used to create training opportunities and skilled jobs, especially for young people. Their wages will be spent locally, thus boosting the overall income of rural communities and in turn this will create more jobs and services.”

There was also praise from Todmorden’s Pam Warhurst, co-founder of the Incredible Edible network, which today has over 100 UK local groups that are improving communities by taking action on food by starting up small herb gardens and community plots as well as new businesses that include Incredible Farms. Charlie is a board member at the farm in Todmorden, which was the first of its kind.

Local markets
“Incredible Edible has shown the significance of local markets and supply chains. We now need an informed discussion about the future so that children are taught some of the skills that their grandparents possessed. Teachers need to understand the importance of soil. This will feed everywhere into the creation of edible landscapes, such that, for example, in hospitals recovering patients can wander through gardens of vegetables, which can later be used to provide them with nutritious, healthy meals.

“Charlie appreciates the success of what we have achieved so far. But he also understands how important it is to get political support, funding and investment to make the big changes needed. His connection with Unite is very welcome. I shall be seeking to get him to speak to as many of our local groups as possible about the contents of Bittersweet Brexit, which is packed with lots of ideas.”

A delighted Charlie thanked Jim Mowatt, the Unite Education director, for backing his efforts in teaming up with Pluto Press to get his work published. He described just how difficult it is going to be for the farming sector and food-producers as we exit the EU, especially if state support disappears and is replaced – as proposed by the Tories – by a woefully misconceived agricultural export drive that cannot possibly deliver.

“At the same time we have an opportunity to set matters off in a new direction – even if we don’t Brexit. The book gives people a chance to join the debate and then make up their own mind as to what is best for most of us, the future of the country and for the earth. Then go out and fight for it.”

Jim Mowatt, who chaired the launch and whose many observations had the audience smiling with laughter, ended the afternoon by telling the audience that Unite delegates to the sector conferences in Brighton next month will all receive a free copy of Bittersweet Brexit. Copies will also be sent to all shadow ministers.

He said: “We shall be looking to get Charlie to speak to branch meetings and on our education courses. The contents of the book will play a part in the future policies and work of Unite.”