Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by Jo Ripley

Sustainable Food Inquiry.


Food and agriculture probably have an enormously important impact on:

        Biodiversity

        Climate Change

        Energy Use

        Water resources

        Flood management

        People’s health

        Animal welfare

        Social and economic diversity



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?


1. To ensure major GHGE reductions from our food, we must move from chemically intensive systems that are heavily reliant on fossil fuels to low chemical-input agriculture.


a)      This will help rebuild up the carbon in the soil that has been so seriously eroded by industrial farming practices.

b)      This in turn will help make farmland able to retain more water and therefore reduce irrigation requirements and reduce flooding risk.

c)      It will help restore our global biodiversity.

d)      It will reduce the emissions of nitrous oxide emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas. The manufacturing process for Nitrogen fertiliser is not only highly energy intensive but causes the emission of large quantities of nitrous oxide.

e)      We need to move to extensive farming and away from intensive animal systems that rely on huge areas of the world’s cropland, as well destroying biodiverse-rich land like rainforest, for producing intensive monoculture feed crops.

f)       Intensive systems do not feed the world’s poor as stated in the recent UN report: Agro-ecology and the Right to Food, which calls for a fundamental change to our approach to food production; from intensive agriculture, where any short-term gains will be offset by the long-term losses of further destruction of ecosystems undermining future production, to agro-ecology farming.



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

2. The Common Agricultural Policy must support farmers to produce food that is both healthy for people and helps restore the health of global biodiversity.

Essentially this is only possible if meat makes up a far smaller part of our diets. Meat and animal products need to come from animals that are extensively reared, resulting in healthier products, (see below: Economic and Social Research Council report Eating biodiversity: an investigation of the links between quality food production and biodiversity protection) and greatly reduced pollution risks to ground water as is associated with intensive animal production.


3. Nearly half of the world’s cereal crop is grown for animal feed.

Clearly diverting much of this cropland towards primary food crops for direct human consumption will increase the capacity to ‘feed the world’. This would also result in reduced meat consumption in the western world’s diet - in line with health recommendations.


4. Millions of pounds + has been spent cleaning up results of industrialised farming. This costs the taxpayer but does not affect the price at the checkout.

Governments need to be bold about the truth behind the true costs of "cheap food" in terms of its:

a)      Damage to biodiversity

b)      Negative impact on climate change

c)      Unsustainable reliance on fossil fuel

d)      Unsustainable reliance on water in a world with shrinking water resources

e)      Soil erosion

f)        High costs related to food scares arising from industrial food production; eg water pollution and BSE

g)      Unhealthy properties (e.g. heavy dependence on antibiotics, chemical residues)

h)      Lack of health-giving properties:


'Eating biodiversity: an investigation of the links between quality food production and biodiversity protection' (award number: RES-224-25-0041), a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. The research was carried out by Professor Henry Buller and Dr Carol Morris at Exeter University, Dr James Kirwan at Gloucestershire University, Professor Jeff Wood at Bristol University, and Mr Alan Hopkins and Dr Robert Dunn at the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. The project was part of the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme (RELU).


Chemical analysis showed that the meat from animals with a more biodiverse diet was healthier too. Meat from wild-grazed lambs, particularly those grazed on heather, had higher levels of the natural antioxidant, vitamin E, than meat from animals grazed on improved grassland. It also had higher levels of healthy fatty acids including the long chain omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, thought to play a key role in brain development and to protect against heart disease. And higher levels of the anti-carcinogenic compound, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) were found in meat from lambs grazed on moorland and Longhorn cattle grazed on unimproved pastures than in control meat.


The researchers undertook detailed fieldwork on 39 farms where farmers had specifically sought to graze their animals on natural grasslands. The fieldwork included ecological surveys of pastures, farmer interviews and business surveys and, in a sample of farms, meat analysis, taste panels and consumer focus groups. Control farms operating more intensive livestock systems were used to compare the nature of the grasslands (species numbers and variability), the farm management practices and, where appropriate, the product characteristics.


5. Food must be affordable without compromising vital ecological services and infrastructure.

The costs to our economic system that will result from wide-ranging impacts of climate change were spelt out in the Stern Report


Provide fiscal support for sustainable agriculture; if taxpayers money is not having to pay for the external costs resulting from industrial agriculture it will redress the balance between the prices of sustainable produced food and intensively produced food.


6. Encourage more and more people to grow their own produce.

Many allotments have been sold off over the past decades and this needs reversing.

The survey May 2010 of allotment waiting lists held by English principle Local Authorities (LAs) showed no sign that the increase in the demand for allotments is slowing down; waiting lists are long and getting longer. Total waiting lists for sites where data was available increased from 76,330 the previous year to 94,124 while only 483 plots in new allotment sites were brought into use by LAs. This demand is reflected in the great interest in the national Landshare scheme:

The benefits of increasing the number of people growing their own are many:

· Health – exercise and increased access to fresh vegetables

· Low carbon food production – low food miles

· Community and social benefits

· Source of productive work in time of rising unemployment


7. Carbon should be costed such that it reflects all external costs of production, transport, retail and packaging.

Extend carbon trading of quotas to individuals; this would not hurt the poorer in society whose carbon footprint is generally smaller.


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


8. Honest labelling – a food’s ‘origin’ can mean that it is labelled as UK but have come from meat from animals reared in countries with lower welfare and environmental standards (undermining our producers) because of an unspecified "last substantial change" - which might be that is was re-packaged in the UK.


The recent survey by the Local Government Regulation (LGR) found that almost a fifth of products they inspected claiming to be ‘local’ were making false claims. Testing 558 products labelled as "local" in 300 shops, restaurants, markets and manufacturers, the LGR found that, of these, 18% of "local" claims were "undoubtedly false", with a further 14% unverifiable and so assumed to be false.


9. Publicize the costs of intensive agricultural systems and food produced by such means reflecting these costs.


10. Run a public awareness programme to explain reasons for not affording ‘cheap’ meat and need therefore to reduce our intake (in line with health recommendations).

Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are
presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food

I would think that intensive animal production presents the biggest problems – for reasons already stated.


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?


How could Government procurement practices be improved to
promote better practice across the food sector?


11. Local authorities and public bodies, e.g. the NHS, should be encouraged to source local produce of high animal welfare and environmental standards through having statutory low carbon budgets.




Jo Ripley

Trenant, Hyde Lane, Marlborough, Wilts. SN8 1JN


I have been concerned with food and food production for many years. I have run a small Farmers’ Market for almost 12 years and have been involved in a number of other ways promoting agriculture that is produced to high animal welfare and environmentally sound standards. I am also on the Steering group of a community group, Marlborough Climate Pledge ( ) that encourages people to reduce their personal energy use in 5 key areas: energy, food, transport, waste and water. We have a small Community Allotment for people to have a mini-plot for a couple of years to put their hands to growing.

22 March 2011