First published in The Felixstowe Flyer, December 2020.

Free School Meals: U-turn again!

Marcus Rashford is amazing – forcing the Government into yet another U-turn! There will be free school meals vouchers for eligible children all through the Christmas holidays and on into next summer. That’s brilliant news, and a big ‘Thank You’ to all those who ensured Felixstowe children didn’t go hungry in the autumn half term break. What is needed now is a permanent solution to this issue. There has been a 15% increase in eligibility for Free School Meals in Suffolk this year. Suffolk County Council unanimously agreed to a Labour resolution to establish a Food Justice Plan by the end of 2021. The aim is that the issue of food poverty in Suffolk can be accurately quantified and subsequently eliminated.

Cycling and walking

The number of additional cars being driven in the past decade would cover the length of Britain’s coastline, all 11,000 miles, an increase between 2009 and 2019 of 13%. The Local Government Association says this massive increase in cars and traffic on our roads is contributing to worsening road conditions, poor air quality, congestion, and carbon emissions. Councils need long-term funding certainty and investment so they can create safe and attractive cycling and public transport networks and deliver a more resilient roads network. With the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference next year, there is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to tackling climate change and investment in harmful emissions from transport.

Food deals after Brexit

The Government has announced that chlorine-washed chicken from the US is off the menu in any trade deal. A newly established Trade and Agriculture Commission is to be put on a statutory footing. It would provide independent advice on post-Brexit trade deals as they pass through Parliament. Without proper safeguards on future trade deals, we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here. For instance, antibiotics are used five times as much on US farms as in the UK. Using antibiotics in large quantities leads to the growth of resistant strains of bacteria which can infect people and in serious cases can kill. Pesticides are still used in the US and other countries that have been outlawed in the EU because of health concerns, with residues found in fruit and vegetables. Meat produced in the US has lower welfare standards than we would expect. Eating a portion of US-raised chlorine-washed chicken is unlikely to harm us but in the long term it may fundamentally damage the UK’s food system and standards. If farmers are to keep access to their biggest export market, Europe, then UK standards must be kept in line with EU regulations. If the Government does not mandate similar standards for imports, floods of cheap food produced to lower standards will undercut UK produce, destroying the domestic market. The impact is likely to hit small family farms hardest and thousands could go out of business.

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