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The great British food debate

by 5m Editor
27 February 2006, at 12:00am

UK - Last week, with rising concern over the nation's health, farming and the quality of food, the Sunday Telegraph invited 11 experts to debate the future of British food. The result was a fascinating and opinionated exchange John Humphrys:"We're here to talk about food and I imagine that we're going to try and address the concerns that I have, that most people have, which is a slightly odd one; in the sense that we've got more food than we've ever had in the history of the human race and it is probably cheaper in relation to our total income than it's ever been. And, at the same time, we're probably more worried about what we eat than we've ever been. Let's talk to a producer first. Oliver, you produce a huge amount of food on thousands of acres, you produce intensively, make a lot of money from it. Is the food that you produce today - and it is mostly grain - is it as good as the food that you were producing, or that your father was producing two, three generations ago?" Oliver Walston (a cereal farmer): "It's a terribly difficult question to answer because I produce commodities rather than food. Everything I produce on my farm is processed before it reaches you the consumer. The wheat I produce gets made into flour which gets made into bread etc. So, unlike a dairy farmer or a sheep farmer whose animals go straight to the slaughterhouse and then the consumer, I am a commodity producer - it's not at all romantic. "I have to say, although my yields are a great deal higher and the amount of chemicals I use is a great deal more, the actual quality of the food, I don't believe, is a great deal different. "Having said that, as a consumer, I have a house in France where the food ranges from wonderful to adequate and is a great deal better than food in this country." JH: "And the reason for that is?" OW: "If you want to sum it up in a single word, you'd use the word terroir, which is that strange French word which means what comes from the countryside - it isn't just the soil, it isn't just the sweat of a man's brow, it's a combination of lots and lots and lots of things and of course the fact that they care a lot more than we do, and they sure as hell do care." JH: "It has nothing to do with intensive farming? You don't believe that intensive farming is damaging the food we eat?" OW: "No, I don't believe it is. It's a lot less romantic. It's clearly more romantic to have a milkmaid on a three-legged stool milking an Ayrshire cow all by herself in a clover-infested meadow than it is a Fresian in a milking parlour. But, no, I do not believe as a result of my using more pesticides, more herbicides, more fertilisers - that we produce less nutritious food." Source: The Telegraph

5m Editor