Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by Dairy UK

Executive Summary

- The impact of the dairy industry on the environment has been exaggerated. Globally dairy is responsible for just 2.7 % of man-made green house gas emissions .

- The UK dairy industry takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. Through the Dairy Roadmap the industry is subject to challenging and demanding targets to improve its environmental performance .

- Dairy foods are nutrient dense and affordable. They are an essential part of a balanced healthy diet and their nutritional value cannot easily be replaced by substitute products.

- The Government can improve the sustainability of food production and consumption by encouraging changes in productive efficiency through:

o Supporting the creation of sector specific roadmaps ;

o Encouraging consumers, within the context of a healthy balanced diet, to choose products from companies and industr ies committed to improving their environmental performance, particularly through the use of Roadmaps.

- Consumer information systems should be developed to help consumers make such choices.

- The Government should not seek to d efine a ‘sustainable diet’. The research evidence is not available to do so and the re is no certainty that any Government recommendations for a sustainable diet will produce desirable environmental outcomes.

- Dairy UK therefore recommends that improvements in sustainability should be led by improvements in productive efficiency , ac hieved through Roadmaps and rei nfor ced by consumer demand , rather than an approach based on changing patterns of consumption.

Dairy UK

1. Dairy UK represents the interests of dairy farmers, producer co-operatives, manufacturers of dairy products, and processors and distributors of liquid milk throughout the United Kingdom.

2. Between them Dairy UK's members collect and process about 85% of UK milk production.

Question 1: How can the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we choose to eat best be reduced? What are the land-use trade-offs that affect food production and supply and how should these be managed?

3. Dairy UK believes that the environmental and climate change impacts of the food we choose to eat could best be reduced by :

- Government supporting the creation of sector specific Roadmaps that set out objectives for the improvement in the environmental performance of the sector concerned .

- Encouraging consumers, within the context of a healthy balanced diet, to seek to identify products and brands from farms, processors, retailers and national agricultural sectors which have a demonstrable commitment to improving sustainability, particularly through the use of Roadmaps .

4. In combination this approach can deliver quantifiable improvements in environmental performance and provide the incentives for the supply chain to invest to deliver those improvements.


5. The dairy industry leads the UK in the development of Roadmaps. The Dairy Roadmap sets out the environmental vision and strategy for the entire dairy industry supply chain, from producer to the retailer. The Dairy Roadmap is a living document that will ensure that the industry is subject to challenging and demanding targets for improving its environmental performance.

6. The Roadmap was drawn up by a working group chaired by the industry, with membership from across the milk supply chain, from feed and fertiliser manufacturers to consumers.

7. The dairy sector will publish a report on progress against the first target period of the Dairy Roadmap in March/April this year. The processing sector has already reached the 10% incorporation of recycled plastic in milk bottles across all major supermarkets and is pushing towards 15%. The sector is set to meet its Climate Change Agreement commitments in this final phase of the current agreement. In terms of benchmarking the dairy sector has collected key environmental performance indicators since 2008 and will report the progress in the Roadmap report.

8. Dairy farmers have committed to a range of environmental improvements through the Roadmap, including addressing climate change, pollution and resource efficiency. By 2020 dairy farmers commit to reducing the greenhouse gas balance by 20-30%, active nutrient planning and the refore reducing nitrogen runoff and investing in renewable energy.

9. As agriculture is a devolved issue, the 2008 Dairy Roadmap was launched in partnership with Defra and covers England. In 2010 the Welsh Assembly Government published a Dairy Roadmap for Wales. Both Roadmaps are similar and despite devolved responsibility for government the industry has committed to applying the targets nationally and making improvements throughout the UK.

10. In addition to reporting on progress, the processing sector has taken the opportunity to review the 2015 and 2020 targets and has updated a number of these to ensure that the targets remain relevant and challenging.

Consumer Engagement

11. In addition to Roadmaps c onsumer information systems are required that enable consumers to choose products within their existing dietary preferences that improve their sustainability. By way of example this means that if an individual is consuming liquid milk, then they would continue to consume liquid milk, but they would be encouraged to choose brands of liquid milk that have a better or improving environmental performance.

12. The consumer can be informed about the relative performance of individual brands by a variety of means. This can include information communicated by processors through marketing claims, or, for green house gases in particular, they can be informed through the right sort of carbon labelling systems.

13. For carbon labelling to be beneficial it has to inform the consumer of the improvement in the greenhouse gas emissions achieved by the product. This would have to express the change against a base period, so the information would be in the form of X percent reduction in carbon compared to a baseline.

14. The wrong sort of carbon labelling would be the type that attempts a simple quantification of the greenhouse gases associated with any product; the sort that says the product generated so many grams of carbon. This sort of information prompts consumers to make comparisons between products based on the impact of the current pattern of production. This information is insufficient to make an informed choice about changing patterns of consumption. That would require information on the environmental impacts associated with land use changes from decreasing consumption of one product, and increasing consumption of another. That is why great care has to be taken to provide the right sort of carbon labelling to mobilise and engage the consumer.

15. Once the consumer is engaged, this will send a commercial signal to individual companies, and through the process of market competition, to the rest of the industry, to continue to improve its environmental footprint. This would provide an additional competitive market dynamic that would supplement and reinforce the commitments in the Dairy Roadmap.

Land-Use Trade offs

16. Switching land used for dairy production to other uses could have serious negative environmental consequences. Pastureland captures and stores carbon. Ploughing up land for conversion to arable crops releases significant amounts of carbon. Precise quantification of this effect is not available, but it could mean that positive environmental payback from any change in land use could take many years to come through.

17. In respect of the land-use effects of increasing the production of dairy substitutes, the effects are potentially unknowable, as there can be no certainty how consumers may choose to change their diet or where these substitutes will be sourced from .

Question 2: How can the Government help to deliver healthy food sustainably, whilst also delivering affordable food for all?

18. Sustainability has three components; economic, social and environmental.

Social Sustainability

19. In respect of the social aspects of sustainability, good nutrition is key to health. The easiest way for consumers to get all the nutrients their bodies need is to eat a variety of foods from all food groups in appropriate amounts. Dairy foods are included in food dietary guidelines worldwide because it’s recognised that they contribute substantially to a wide variety of nutrients across all age groups.

20. In GB, dairy foods (particularly milk, cheese and yogurt) make an important contribution to nutrient intakes in all population groups. For all age groups, they are a major source of calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12, phosphorus and iodine. They also contribute significantly to intakes of protein, vitamin A, potassium, magnesium and zinc. With regard to dietary fat, the dairy industry provides the consumer with a vast range of choice from virtually fat free to low-fat to regular fat varieties.

21. Dairy products are also clearly affordable, with liquid milk achieving up to 98% penetration of UK households.

22. The Government can therefore help deliver healthy food sustainably through recommendations to consume nutrient dense affordable foods produced by sectors activ ely engaged in delivering their products sustainably.

Economic Sustainability

23. In respect of the economic aspect of sustainability, the most effective mechanism for ensuring the economic sustainability of food production and consumption are properly functioning competitive market s . The competitive pressures of markets ensures that operators continually to seek to improve their efficiency and reduce waste. This ensures value for consumers and affordability. Regulated markets protect inefficient and potentially wasteful operators.

Environmental Sustainability

24. As stated above the development and support by Government of sector specific roadmaps would be the most effective mechanism to ensure improvements in the environmental sustainability of healthy food.

Question 3: How can consumers best be helped to make more sustainable choices about food?

Difficulties of Defining a Sustainable Diet

25. As stated above Dairy UK believes that consumers can be helped to make choices about food that reduces the environmental impact of consumption through labelling and consumer information systems that assist consumers to make informed choices within their existing diet.

26. Dairy UK does not believe that an improvement in sustainability would be achieved by making recommendations to consumers to change their consumption patterns towards a ‘sustainable diet . This is because

- the evidence base does not exist to make recommendations on a sustainable diet

- there are no effective guarantees that any recommendations to consumers will deliver positive environmental benefits

27. Determination of a sustainable diet would require examination of the social, environmental and economic aspects of sustainability. This would have to be followed by determining the trade-offs that might have to be made between the three components. There are major challenges in all th ese areas.

Environmental Impacts

28. To assess whether it is desirable to change the diet information is needed on the environmental impact of land use change. It’s not enough to know the environmental impact of the existing pattern of production.

29. In respect of evaluating land-use changes for dairy farmers in the UK, account would have to be taken of fact that production decisions by farmers are driven by market signals and consumers are free to choose what they want. If a message was communicated by government to change patterns of consumption, and in particular to reduce the consumption of dairy products, there is no telling precisely how that signal will manifest itself in the market place. Possible outcomes could include:

- Demand would fall and the resulting market signal would encourage dairy farmers to switch to beef and sheep production, which would generate a worse environmental footprint.

- Demand may not change, but the industry will lose any confidence about its future and reduce its investment. The result will be that production will slowly being exported.

- Domestic demand changes, but export demand does not, so the industry focuses on growing markets in the far-east, with consequential additional transportation impacts.

30. In respect of evaluating land use changes for the products that could be substituted for dairy the challenges may be even harder. For example, the only readily available substitute for liquid milk is soya drinks. Greater demand for soya means usually means land use changes. Consumers could be encouraged to switch to soya grown sustainably, but this would not address the issue of displacement. This is because a ny increase in production of ‘sustainable’ substitutes to meet increased demand could, by a process of displacement, result in an increased in unsustainable production elsewhere.

31. It should be noted that the dairy industry already uses soya as a feed input, but the volumes involved are miniscule, and could best be addressed by the Dairy Roadmap.

Economic Impacts

32. Relevant aspects that would have to be considered under the economic pillar of sustainability would be employment issues, current levels of economic activity, resource efficiency, and possibly most importantly, food security.

33. The Government’s policy is for trade to be central to achieving global food security. Trade implies countries specialising in those products for which they have a competitive advantage and in which production is sustainable.

34. The UK is ideally suited climatically for the production of dairy products. As an efficient and predominantly grass based industry , the UK dairy industry has a lower environmental footprint than other countries. On this basis food security policy may require the UK to increase its production of dairy products. This would stand in apparent contradiction to any policy to reduce the consumption of dairy products. These messages could create confusion in the minds of consumers and those considering investing in the industry.

Nutritional Impacts

35. With regard to nutrition, the nutrient contribution of dairy foods to the GB diets was set out earlier in this document. Given the substantial contribution dairy foods make to the GB diet, any recommendation that resulted in a reduction in dairy consumption would ultimately impact on the dietary adequacy of population groups.

36. Consumers would need a significant amount of nutritional knowledge to replace the nutrients dairy foods provide using other foods. For example, they would have to know the quantities of nutrients in other foods so that they could make up for any shortfall in nutrients in their diets resulting from a reduction in dairy intake. They would also need to understand concepts such as bioavailability which is particularly important for calcium.

37. The calcium in dairy foods is highly bioavailable - it is present in a form easily absorbed by the body. This compares with the soya in calcium which is less bioavailable than the calcium from cows’ milk.

38. The potential negative impact of removing dairy from the diet has been shown in the existing literature on individuals who do not consume milk and dairy foods , or who consume only limited amounts. Dairy-avoiders tend to have lower intakes of calcium and a short-fall of other nutrients , including protein and riboflavin, has also been reported. Poorer bone health is a consistent finding in those with a history of long-term avoidance of cows’ milk and dairy foods.

39. Therefore m aking recommendations about food consumption on the basis of sustainability without taking into account the possibility that shifting dietary patterns may negatively impact on the nutrient status of the population is not appropriate.

Trade-offs and Implementation

40. Economic, environmental and social issues have to be traded off against each other. There does not appear to be any form of approved methodology to do this.

41. There are considerable challenges to implementing any policy based on changing patterns of consumption . Consumers could be implored to change their dietary patterns and the Government could supplement this with standards for government catering contracts. Choice editing may also be available to a degree, but it’s quite possible that with the limited policy implementation options available the outcome could be negligible. They would be certainly less predictable than a production efficiency approach based around Roadmaps.

Question 4: Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food industry?

42. The greenhouse gas impact of dairy is misunderstood and exaggerated. Recent reports have shown that the contribution from the dairy sector is relatively limited and, despite rising milk production, emissions have been falling through efficiency gains throughout the supply chain.

43. Considering just global milk production, processing and transportation, and excluding meat production, the dairy sector contributes 2.7 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as proven by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report "Greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector" and supported by a report from the Dutch research institution CE Delft. If emissions related to meat produced from animals originating from the dairy system is added, the sector accounts for only four percent of all global anthropogenic GHG emissions.

44. The milk industry’s competitive environment, energy-intensive operations, environmental targets and customer demand have resulted in a proactive approach to energy efficiency and cost reduction.

45. In 2009 and 2010 the Carbon Trust worked with the dairy processing sector to understand energy use in raw milk processing and to identify opportunities to improve efficiency. The opportunities indentified were in three broad concepts: low temperature pasteurisation, alternative homogenisation techniques, and reduction in CIP water consumption and temperature. There are also other potentially cost-effective good practice improvements already available to the dairy industry, including scope for further process optimisation and the use of heat pumps to recover energy from refrigeration units.

46. Dairy processors, as part of the Climate Change Agreements, have improved energy efficiency by over 27% in the last ten years, saving over 200,000 tonnes of carbon annually.

47. Dairy farmers are reducing emissions, through increases in efficiency, reductions in fertiliser use, and better slurry and manure management. The dairy industry has funded a three year project to determine a crucial benchmark through the measurement of carbon footprints on GB dairy farms. The project will identify ‘hot spots’ on-farm where business efficiency can improve, whilst reducing carbon at the same time. Building on the Dairy UK, DairyCo and Carbon Trust work on carbon footprinting, the initiative will establish a national annual average figure for greenhouse gas emissions. This realistic indication of emissions from dairy farms will allow the industry to monitor progress in achieving the targets laid out in the Dairy Roadmap. This project will also report any mitigation or abatement opportunities investigated by the participating farmers and what impact these strategies have had on their carbon footprint.

Question 5: How might the changing powers of local authorities and the localism agenda hinder, or be used to encourage, more sustainable production and supply of food?

48. Reducing the distance raw milk and processed milk products are transported may generate no positive environmental benefits; instead it may have the reverse effect.

49. In the dairy sector transport costs are a small portion of the total costs of production and processing. For liquid milk , transport costs can represent only 5% of total costs. Reducing the distance raw milk or processed product travels does not necessarily result in a reduction in transport costs. Local supply chains can be more fragmented resulting in smaller volumes being supplied per delivery. This could drive up transport costs.

50. Local milk processing could also result in higher processing costs. Key to processing efficiency is scale of operating plant to achieve economies of scale. Smaller plants serving particular locales will have higher unit costs and therefore probably a higher environmental impact.

51. However, provenance and local supply can be a way of increasing the value of market returns if consumers are prepared to a pay a premium. Higher market revenue could therefore assist in the economic sustainability of some producers and processors.

Question 6: How could Government procurement practices be improved to promote better practice across the food sector

52. Government procurement practices could be improved by giving preference to sourcing food from industries that have formulated Roadmaps that commit their respective sectors to improving their environmental performance. In particular preference should be given to individual companies that have committed to the delivery of Roadmaps and which are able to demonstrate that they are meeting or exceeding industry targets. This would give a further market incentive that would enhance the effectiveness of Roadmaps as delivery tool for achieving environmental change.

28 March 2011