The great British food debate

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

UK - Last week, with rising concern over the nation&#39;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:&quot;We&#39;re here to talk about food and I imagine that we&#39;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&#39;ve got more food than we&#39;ve ever had in the history of the human race and it is probably cheaper in relation to our total income than it&#39;s ever been. And, at the same time, we&#39;re probably more worried about what we eat than we&#39;ve ever been. Let&#39;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?&quot; Oliver Walston (a cereal farmer): &quot;It&#39;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&#39;s not at all romantic. &quot;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&#39;t believe, is a great deal different. &quot;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.&quot; JH: &quot;And the reason for that is?&quot; OW: &quot;If you want to sum it up in a single word, you&#39;d use the word terroir, which is that strange French word which means what comes from the countryside - it isn&#39;t just the soil, it isn&#39;t just the sweat of a man&#39;s brow, it&#39;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.&quot; JH: &quot;It has nothing to do with intensive farming? You don&#39;t believe that intensive farming is damaging the food we eat?&quot; OW: &quot;No, I don&#39;t believe it is. It&#39;s a lot less romantic. It&#39;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.&quot; <i>Source: The Telegraph </i>

5m Editor