Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the Fresh Produce Consortium

1. Introduction The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) is the UK’s trade association representing the complete spectrum of the fresh fruit and vegetable produce industry: from growers, importers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, packers, food service organisations and other allied organisations.

2. Executive Summary: FPC welcomes the inquiry by the Environment Audit Committee into ‘Sustainable Food’. We believe that the fresh produce industry has a pivotal role in helping the Government deliver sustainable food security. We believe that long-term food security, sustainable food production and consumption must be delivered in a global context. As a member of the Defra Fruit and Vegetables Task Force we support the aims to increase UK production and to increase consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.

3. The total quantity of fruit and vegetables marketed in the UK decreased slightly by 3.6 per cent (292,000 tonnes) between 2008 and 2009, following consistent growth between 2002 and 2005. There was a 2.7 per cent decrease in vegetables marketed from 2008 and 2009, and a fall of 4.7 per cent in the fruit sector. Since 1999 the market has grown by 10 per cent. There is significant potential for the market to expand further to meet consumption targets, with the UK consumer eating on average only 2.5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day.

4. UK production of fruit increased by 2 per cent in 2009 to 417,000 tonnes, continuing the rising trend of a 20 per cent increase over the last ten years. Vegetable production saw a slight increase in 2009 to 2.6 million tonnes, after declining production of 12 per cent over the last decade. Overall UK fruit and vegetable production increased by 1 per cent to 3 million tonnes in 2009, sustaining an increase of 5 per cent since 2007, with an overall decrease of 8 per cent over ten years.

5. Between 1999 and 2009 vegetable self-sufficiency has fallen from 71 per cent to 59 per cent, whereas fruit self-sufficiency has stabilised at 12 per cent. Overall self-sufficiency increased to 38 per cent in 2009, compared to approximately 55 per cent self-sufficiency in fresh produce between 1988 and 1993 (based on total volume, not solely on UK indigenous products).

6. Until recent price rises there has been an actual long-term decline in real UK food prices, with the average UK household spending 9.2% of weekly expenditure on food in 2007 compared to 20% in the 1960s.

7. Recent research indicates a perception among low-income groups (Mintel research: The Grocer & Daily Telegraph 26/27 03 11) that fruit and vegetables are ‘too expensive’ and that these groups are cutting back on their fruit and vegetable consumption. This is extremely concerning and we call for the UK Government to counter this misperception and support increased consumption of fresh produce as part of a healthy diet as part of its Change4Life campaign.

8. The UK is more self-sufficient than before and after the Second World War, with UK production of 60% in all foods, over 74% in foods which can be produced in the UK.

9. Around 60% of fruit and vegetables are imported into the UK, providing us with produce outside the UK season as well as varieties which simply cannot be grown in the UK.

10. ‘Global not local’ Research indicates that about 83% of greenhouse gases are created in the production phase of food, with transportation representing only 11% of the life cycle of greenhouse gases. The Fresh Produce Consortium is working with the Carbon Trust and others to look at how we can identify sources of emissions and reduce the carbon footprint of companies and their products.

11. According to the Food Climate Research Network studies have shown that some imported products will have been grown or manufactured in less greenhouse gas intensive ways than their UK counterparts, with savings from greater efficiency outweighing negative impacts of additional transport. It is therefore essential to balance transport emissions with other factors when evaluating and full understanding the environmental impact of fresh produce, regardless of its origin.

12. Much of the world’s economy is built on trade and reducing barriers to trade in a considered and proportionate way can often have significant benefits both to the suppliers and consumers of commodities traded on world markets. Trade is a valuable tool that is recognised by the European Commission for its role in aiding development. According to the Commission, trade policies can provide opportunities for promoting economic development and tackling poverty (EU DG Trade 2005).

13. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) claims that the inclusion of sub-Saharan African (SSA) nations in the high value horticulture and flower markets has been a success story for those countries (MacGregor 2007). According to the IIED, the UK imported over £200 million of fresh fruit and vegetables from SSA in 2005, and the quantity of exports from this region continues to grow. These exports are worth £100 million to Kenya alone, and this trade provides employment for about 135,000 people directly. One million people also benefit indirectly through support and employment in ancillary industries. Forty per cent of all air freighted FFV comes from SSA and the vast majority of this (32,500 tonnes) comes from Kenya, with the next biggest source of fresh fruit and vegetable exports by air being Ghana, with 8,000 tonnes. Kenya is the single biggest airfreight exporter in SSA, exporting 91% of all their fresh fruit and vegetable exports to the UK by air.

14. The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) acknowledges that robust action is necessary in order to begin to tackle climate change, but the Department believes that restricting airfreight in order to try to reduce GHG emissions will have negative economic impacts on the least developed countries which do export horticultural produce to the UK. DFID argues that policies aimed at reducing emissions should also acknowledge that:

· Agricultural growth is essential to economic development;

· Increased productivity means cheaper food, more jobs and higher incomes;

· Agriculture is the most likely source of growth in Africa – 70% of the poor work on the land.

15. Carbon footprints of and carbon emissions associated with the production, trade and distribution of fresh produce are issues which the industry takes extremely seriously and the FPC is actively engaging with the Carbon Trust and other bodies to look at ways in which this sector can identify sources of emissions and reduce the carbon footprint of companies and products. We believe that focusing solely on the method of transport of imported food as a basis for determining whether it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ from an environmental perspective is short-sighted and misleading to consumers. Transport accounts for only one element of the carbon emissions of a particular product and therefore looking at the carbon footprint of the whole product supply chain – through the use of life cycle assessment – would be a far better way of determining its environmental impact.

16. The horticulture industry already leads in the adoption of integrated pest management systems and we will continue to press the UK Government and others to ensure that the industry has the necessary tools to provide a sustainable supply of fresh produce.

17. Encouraging a healthy diet The industry’s campaign Eat In Colour is ideally placed to provide consumers of all ages with advice on how to enjoy eating healthily and to reach the recommended 5-a-day target.  Findings of a TNS consumption survey have indicated that on average consumers are eating 2.5 servings of fruit and vegetable a day. Without a dramatic change in eating habits it could take another 25 years for consumers to meet the recommended 5-a-day.

18. With rising obesity levels across Europe it is essential that we encourage more people to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and that we can continue to provide a sustainable supply of fresh produce against the challenges of feeding an increasing world population, competing pressures on agricultural land and the impact of climate change.

19. Around 1.9 million less well off people in the UK are eating less than one serving of fruit and vegetables a day. Increasing food prices would deter them further from enjoying a healthy diet, adding to concerns about rising obesity levels and poor health.

20. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is an example where potential restructuring from a central procurement strategy will lead to inefficiencies and additional costs for Government and businesses involved in the scheme.

21. The fresh produce industry has a pivotal role in helping Government to encourage healthy eating and we believe that it is essential to focus on developing good eating habits at an early age to achieve this. Many UK fresh produce businesses are involved in the successful School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme, which has contributed to an increase in consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables among young children. (A September 2007 report found that five-a-day consumption among school children participating in the scheme had risen from 32% in 2004 to 44% in 2006.).

22. Currently there are 16 companies involved in supplying under the Scheme, mostly small to medium sized businesses, located around the English regions. For many of these companies the Scheme is a significant part of their trade, and its restructuring or removal could have a devastating impact on overall business viability.

23. Obesity and poor diet among children is a rising epidemic across Europe, and nearly one in three 10-11 year olds in the UK is overweight. On average consumers are eating 2.5 servings of fruit and vegetable a day. Without a dramatic change in eating habits it could take another 25 years for consumers to meet the recommended 5-a-day. An ambitious national programme is needed to tackle this public health issue; one which recognises the need to establish healthy eating habits among young children and avoids placing greater strain on stretched NHS resources required to combat poor health and rising obesity levels due to poor diets.

24. Government departments can make a far greater impact to combat poor diets and rising obesity levels, simply by having a cohesive policy for public sector food procurement which encourages greater consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, regardless of their origin. Defra’s Fruit and Vegetables Task Force identified the need to increase production of UK indigenous fresh produce and to encourage greater consumption of fruit and vegetables among the UK population. The School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme is fundamental in helping to achieve these objectives, with 64 million English apples going into the Scheme every year.

25. National support must be maintained for the Schools Fruit and Vegetable Scheme which has already proved its worth in delivering value for money and achieving its objectives. We recognise the current financial constraints but we would argue strongly that the scheme should be maintained and extended so that more children have the chance to eat fresh fruit and vegetables and to encourage a healthy mindset for future generations. 

26. It is vital that the Department of Health acknowledges the proven potential of this Scheme for a modest investment to increase consumption of fresh produce and establish healthy eating habits among young children.

27. We welcomed the Government’s focus on better regulation and have raised a number of issues with the Task Force on Farm Regulation with regard to regulations and their implementation which are causing an immense burden on our members, and with no benefit to UK consumers, and where simplification would bring significant benefits to the industry:

· Application of Approved Trader Scheme across EU Regulation and other legislation;

· Integration of electronic systems to share existing data provided by companies;

· Removal of detailed Marketing Specific Standards;

· Simplification of UK implementation of EC Regulation 669/2009;

· Simplification of regulation of organic products;

· Review of level of service of plant health inspections provided to the industry, with more reduced inspection levels reflecting the negligible risk from fresh produce and no increased charges;

· Government to maintain its support of the School Fruit and Vegetable Scheme including the central procurement strategy.

28. In addition, the fresh produce industry would welcome further support to remove unnecessary documentary processes imposed within the UK which put the UK on an unequal footing with regard to other EU member states and third countries which apply and interpret the same legislation in a less bureaucratic manner.

29. Following extensive lobbying by FPC and discussions with Defra and the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (HMI) the Approved Trader Scheme has been introduced for the UK’s implementation of the EU Marketing Standards, resulting in significant deregulation of import procedures. From 20 July 2010 HMI has recognised the high standards of reputable traders by assigning them Approved Trader status, permitting immediate release of products at their point of importation.

30. To be eligible for the Assured Trader status a company must have a record of low action; have training in place for staff; maintain records of inspection of their goods showing appropriate corrective action; and have suitable facilities. The status is applied for three years, during which a company is subject to regular checks and audits of its quality control records, occasional conformity checks by HMI at the port of entry, as well as an annual review. If a company starts to fail to meet the required criteria it will receive a warning, prior to its status being removed.

31. The scheme allows inspectors to focus checks on companies identified as carrying potentially higher risk. Data can be shared across Government departments through the online PEACH system, another excellent example of government listening to industry, which has been developed to provide fast track electronic clearance of goods. More recent developments such as the Automatic Licence Verification System (ALVs) have meant integration of electronic systems with Customs’ CHIEF system.

32. Without these achievements many small to medium sized businesses would have faced a mass of additional bureaucracy, costs and delays, as well as having to deal with the current economic pressures.

33. It is extremely frustrating that these proven examples of pragmatic approaches to the interpretation and implementation of regulation are not recognised and adopted by other government departments and agencies, notably the Food Standards Agency in relation to the UK’s implementation of EC Regulation 669/2009 (control of ‘high risk’ products) and Fera in relation to plant health import inspections.

34. Integrating systems and using electronic processes A report by SITPRO (‘The cost of paper in the supply chain’ 2008) found that the current documentary systems cost the perishable food supply chain more than £1 billion annually.

35. The cost of document-related administration in the sector is estimated to be around 11% of the supply chain value per annum, with the generation of paper-related documentation estimated at £126 million a year. Nearly 13 million man hours in 2005 were estimated to have been taken up with entering data, chasing late or missing documents or preparing claims for deferment monies deposited with HMRC, equating to over £354 million a year.

36. A single consignment transaction, from grower to retailer, can comprise up to 150 documents (or up to 225 pieces of paper) which results in duplicate elements of information being entered up to 42 times.

37. There is enormous scope to simplify procedures between importers, exporters and authorities, and to integrate electronic systems to reduce these costs to the fresh produce industry. According to the SITPRO report, with the introduction of e-documentation and shared data through a ‘single window’ the chilled food industry could save at least £700 million, around 70% of the costs, and benefit from fewer inspections of consignments, and reduced clearance processing time. The fresh produce industry represents about 25% of the chilled food industry, and therefore could save around £175 million according to SITPRO’s estimates.

38. There is evidence that several Government departments and agencies often require the same documentation, leading to duplication of resources by the industry. Improved sharing of data, transfer of documentation and better integration of Government departments and agencies would also reduce unnecessary bureaucracy.

39. Government investment – research and development, and training for future workforce There is a need for Government to invest further in research and development to support the industry. It is vital that the industry continues to make advances and develops the necessary tools to meet the challenges of increasing food production.

40. Government support is needed to encourage young people to develop careers in food production and to provide the necessary training. The fresh produce industry has to compete with other industries which have greater investment in this area and which are perceived as more attractive by a younger generation.

41. Contact details: The Fresh Produce Consortium, Minerva House, Minerva Business Park, Lynch Wood, Peterborough PE2 6FT, tel: 01733 237117.

28 March 2011