Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by WWF UK

Government policy should be used to promote more sustainable practices in the UK food industry, more effective public policy and more sustainable behaviours from the public by:

· Taking a holistic, whole values chain approach focusing on consumption change as well as production systems and resource efficiency.

· Support more sophisticated, interconnected, policy making and the strengthening of national and supranational governance and decision making.

· Specifically addressing the issue of livestock consumption and its impact on the global environment.

· Supporting more research into the links between food production and ecosystem services.

· Championing national and international governance and policy that supports and rewards farming systems and countries that provide public goods.

· Adopting targets for GHG emissions reduction from the food system accompanied by a route map to achieving these targets.

· Working to reduce food waste across the food chain – post harvest losses, losses during food distribution, processing and retailing and losses at the consumer end.

· Supporting work in defining a sustainable diet, integrating this into advice to consumers.

· Support policy that aims to address the demand side including those that actively seek to reduce the demand for resource demanding, high emission, foods.

· Adopting and promoting the sourcing of certified sustainable commodities including fish (marine and aquaculture), palm oil, sugarcane and soy.

· Adopting policies, convening stakeholders and allocating funds to ensure that water resources are managed sustainably in the UK and in developing countries.

· Embedding measurable, achievable, challenging, sustainability goals into procurement standards.

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

1.1 WWF’s One Planet Food Programme aims to reduce the global environmental and social impacts of UK food production and consumption. It identifies greenhouse gas emissions, water use and impacts on key biodiversity places as the most significant challenges. It is important that what we consume does not depend on depleting finite resources in other parts of the world and that food policy recognises the dependence of food production on ecosystems services, 60% of which are in decline yet form the very basis on which our food system relies. There must be both a demand and a supply approach to the sustainable development of food systems. On the supply side, One Planet Food sees solutions in the sustainable intensification of production and the improved governance of land and water resources -complemented by essential change on the demand side, with collaboration between all stakeholders for systemic change.

1.2 Sustainable intensification is an upcoming concept that has a great deal of potential, so long as it is clearly defined, such as in the Foresight report. Sustainable intensification aims to increase production in a given area of land while reducing the environmental consequences and increasing contributions to natural capital and the flow of environmental services. When technology is used it must contribute without adverse ecological consequences. Sustainable intensification must aim to maintain and deliver a range of public goods and services.

1.3 Improved governance of land and water resources is a critical, but often forgotten, part of the solution. Land needs to be managed for multiple functions for example food production, supporting rural economies, fuel production, water resource management, flood attenuation and the protection and restoration of biodiversity. As population pressure grows, the dangers of tension and conflict between different users of land and water will increase, especially as climate change brings with it increased uncertainty. Traditionally policies governing these have been managed in isolation and there is a growing recognition of their interdependence. The fact that food production requires ecosystem services provided by both farmed and non-farmed land requires much more sophisticated, interconnected, policy making. Further, WWF’s experience in countries such as Tanzania, Pakistan, India and Mexico is that, despite the proven effectiveness of better farm management practices, improvements in farm water efficiency are, by themselves, insufficient to restore the flow of dry rivers to downstream users or to reverse the depletion of aquifers. Put simply, if one farmer improves water efficiency, his or her neighbour will normally use any water saved as a consequence. A key role of government is to ensure that natural resources are allocated according to principles of sustainability, equity and productivity. But in most parts of the world government agencies charged with making these difficult decisions are under-resourced and are subject to lack of a clear mandate and/or political interference. Government departments such as DEFRA, DFID and FCO could all have a role to play in supporting the strengthening of these institutions.

1.4 Sustainable production of food and improved governance of land and water resources are important and can significantly contribute to reducing the UK’s food footprint. However evidence suggests [1] that the potential for reduction through improved production methods alone is limited in relation to what is required; we need also to change the types of food we eat, focusing on the hot spots. Meat and dairy has the biggest impact in terms of GHG emissions [2] , so reducing the amount of meat and dairy we eat in the UK is critical to reducing our food footprint. Government needs to do more to support changes in consumption behaviour; this is further addressed below (questions 2,3 and 4).

1.5 In particular Government needs to increase its efforts at a European and International level to ensure that policy and trade mechanisms support sustainable food production and provide a level playing field for those that farm sustainably. The Foresight report pointed out that there is a clear case for integrating and improving considerations of agriculture and food production in negotiations on global emissions reductions. Mechanisms should be developed to reward countries that produce environmental goods while policies that have negative environmental impacts in other countries should be avoided. Government should champion these and other approaches.

1.6 Food waste is already top of the political agenda, with the Foresight report seeing it as being a key issue that once tackled will help ensure food security. Up to 40% of food is wasted, with WRAP estimating 30% of household food purchases being thrown away, much of which is edible. WRAP and WWF have recently published a report which shows the considerable carbon and water savings that can be made by tackling household waste [3] . Government needs to work to reduce all types of food waste from producers to consumers covering post harvest losses, losses during food distribution, processing and retailing and losses at the consumer end.

1.7 WWF would recommend Government adopting a number of medium and long term targets whilst supporting the development of better and more comprehensive metrics of greenhouse gas emissions in the global food system. We have worked with the Food and Climate Research Network and have assessed food consumption based emissions (including land use change) for the first time. Based on this evidence we would recommend targets for reducing GHG emissions from the food supply chain by at least 25% by 2020 and reducing meat consumption by 15-20% by 2020, and developing with partners a route map to achieving a minimum 70% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050.

1.8 From an international perspective it is important to remember that at the same time as 1.6 billion people being overweight or obese one billion people are undernourished worldwide. [4] The current food system is desperately unequal. Any food and farming strategy should be based on securing the basic human rights to adequate food and good health, and on reducing the global environmental impacts of the food we produce and consume. It should not be premised on a continuation of the status quo: widespread hunger, ill health associated with poor diets and increasing environmental degradation. The underlying causes of inequalities in the food system, such as unfair trade and subsidy systems, need to be addressed to ensure food security for the poor, and to promote sustainable agriculture. To reach a future where agriculture is sustainable requires investment, technology, a different approach to land and water use planning, a strengthened policy environment and shifts in patterns of consumption and production.

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

2.1 This question is misleading as the phrasing of it suggests that healthy, sustainable food is not affordable for all. Perhaps the question should have been ‘how can the government deliver affordable, healthy and sustainable food’?

2.2 A move towards more sustainable diets is aligned with healthier eating. WWF, in partnership with the Rowett Institute, recently published the Livewell report in which we have identified what a sustainable diet looks like [1] ; we compared it to government healthy eating advice and to what people are really eating. Based on current population figures the Eatwell plate is sustainable and going forward to 2020 would only need small changes to the different sectors for it to remain sustainable, the biggest change being to meat consumption. Before we can move to a healthy diet we need address what people are currently eating. The evidence is clear people are eating too much processed food and too much meat and not nearly enough plant based products and carbohydrates. This must be addressed urgently however much this feels like nanny stateism.

2.3 The report also calculated the cost of the livewell diet and a standard basket of food based on the government’s own statistics. The Livewell basket was cheaper. This confirms that healthy sustainable food can be more affordable than other types of food. The issue here is people do not know or believe this and as this would mean people have to buy more raw ingredients they are nervous as they have lost the skills necessary to prepare the foods.

2.4 We believe that in order to tackle this question the government needs to:

· Work cross departmentally and with key stakeholders to define the key principles of a sustainable diet and then to integrate them into healthy eating advice.

· Ensure its own procurement policy reflects the sustainable diet.

· Invest in home economics in school for all students to teach them how to cook and budget.

· Work with retailers and the food industry to promote sustainable food choices over unsustainable ones, and encourage them to make more promotions based on healthy choices, the opposite to the current situation.

· Investigate a new tax on high impact foods, ring fencing the revenue to subsidise low impact food such as fruit and vegetables.

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

3.1 There is a need to simplify messages around food and where there are clear overlaps between health and environmental recommendations bring them together in government advice and promote them together as win wins. WWF have done this with its Livewell plate (see above); messages around this would be an ideal place to start.

3.2 WWF has 5 food rules which the government could use:

1) Eat more plants

2) Waste less

3) Treat meat differently, eat less – meat does not have the be the central part of a dish

4) Eat fewer highly processed foods – they tend to be more resource intensive to produce and often contain high levels of sugar, salt and fat

5) Buy sustainably – whether that’s MSC fish or ASC, when on the market, from well-managed sources or food containing sustainably sourced palm-oil for example.

3.3 Food labelling needs to be utilised as a tool to encourage consumers to make sustainable choices. More importantly this will encourage producers and retailers to create and sell more sustainable products. A clear, simple, universal system, much like the traffic like system advocated by the FSA, would be practical and easy for consumers to understand. This should be done in conjunction with a simplification of nutritional labels, once again a simple universal one would be most appropriate.

3.4 Care needs to be taken with some aspects of consumer-focused food labels though. For instance, water footprints do not currently lend themselves to a simple labelling scheme. The impact of a product’s water footprint is dependent not only on the volume of "virtual" water used during its production, but also on the relative scarcity of water in the place where the original crop was grown and processed. Thus, hypothetically, a loaf of bread made using wheat grown in Canada and with a water footprint of 100 litres may have less adverse impact on freshwater ecosystems than a loaf made with Australian wheat with a water footprint of only 50 litres. Simply adding a volumetric water footprint number to a product on the supermarket shelves would miss this critical point and could therefore often lead perversely to increased consumption of irrigated foodstuffs originating from arid locations over those grown where water is abundant and crops primarily rainfed.

3.5 Retailers and restaurants need to be encouraged to provide and promote a greater proportion of healthy sustainable food choices. The overall effect should be to raise awareness of green choices and make these the default choices in our retailing and food culture.

3.6 According to research undertaken for the Sustainable Consumption Roundtable (Looking Back, Looking Forward, 2006):

"The evidence suggests that, historically, the green consumer has not been the tipping point in driving green innovation. Instead, choice-editing for quality and sustainability by government and business has been the critical driver in the majority of cases ... Choice-editing for sustainability is about shifting the field of choice for mainstream consumers: cutting out unnecessarily damaging products and getting real sustainable choices on the shelves."

Choice editing is already widely utilised by retailers, in the organisation of stores, through what is promoted, what is placed at eye level and what is sold by the tills. Government should work with them to use choice editing to promote different types of food, at first through voluntary agreements but if this does not work through compulsory ones.

3.7 There needs to be a truly comprehensive sustainable food procurement policy across all government providers of food including; prisons, schools, hospitals, care homes and government offices (see 5 below).

3.8 Food skills and science need to be taught to all pupils in schools, in order to give everybody the basic skills needed to cook from scratch and for people to understand what is healthy and sustainable. This should be made available to adults in order to provide skills for the people who do not have them and to help tackle the obesity epidemic.

3.9 The government needs to investigate the possibility of a tax on some foods in order to persuade people to eat less of them. The revenue must be ring fenced so it does not disappear into the treasury and be used to subsidise low impact foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables and support other food related initiatives, including teaching people the skills needs to cook from scratch.

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

4.1 Our food system relies on a wide range of environmental services both here and overseas [1] . Whilst much has been done to improve the impact of our activities on local air quality or pollution of our rivers, less attention has been directed to global impacts resulting from the sourcing of increased proportions of raw materials, food and fibre from the global market. WWF would like to see supply chain governance transformed to support ecological restoration in important biodiversity places and the sustainable sourcing of key commodities – fish, palm oil, sugarcane and soy.

4.2 WWF considers that working with mainstream farmers, fisher folk and buyers to measurably improve the main environmental impacts of food production through the creation and monitoring of certification schemes is key. We have initiated and supported schemes such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Bonsucro and the Roundtable on Responsible Soya, multinational partnerships which aim to establish international standards for the production of those global commodities that most threaten biodiversity globally. WWF would recommend that Government support and actively promote sustainably produced products such as MSC and ASC fish, Bonsucro-certified sugar, RSPO and RTRS soy.

4.3 Meat and dairy has the biggest impact in terms of GHG emissions. Food related emissions account for 20% of the UK’s total consumption footprint (excluding land use change); livestock products account for nearly two-thirds of this – a significant proportion for any one activity. If we allocate emissions relating to global land use change in relation to the size of the UK food economy, the total emissions burden attributable to food increases to 30% [2] . The majority of this land use change is a direct result of livestock production, either directly through land use change for the provision of grazing and crop land for animal feed, or indirectly through increasing the overall demand for agricultural land. As well as contributing to climate change, UK livestock consumption contributes to other environmental problems overseas such as habitat loss, pollution and water scarcity. A global move towards a high meat western diet is unsustainable. Improvements in production methods for livestock products is key, but so is reducing the amount of meat and dairy we consume. Such calls are backed up by others including the recent Foresight report and the Climate Change Committee’s fourth carbon budget. Yet Government is doing little to address this. Our current work with producers [3] aims to break the stalemate in the debate, challenge policy obstacles and develop potential interventions. WWF recommends that the Government do more to address policy options, support a dialogue process between civil society, producers and retailers on the issue and support changing consumption towards less meat and dairy.

4.4 Sustainable aquaculture, such as that defined by the upcoming Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) , has many advantages and as such should be more actively supported by Government. Aquaculture in general has minimal GHG emissions and low freshwater requirements, while shellfish and algae can sequester carbon and excess nutrients. Marine fish, shellfish and algae can be grown in the sea without using valuable arable land. Much less feed is required than that used by other forms of livestock as feed conversion rates for fish are better than those for land based livestock.

4.5 62% of water needed to produce goods consumed in the UK is in the form of water embedded in imported agricultural and industrial goods [4] . Better water management not only reduces the absolute size of the footprints, but also promotes water use which is sustainable, equitable and productive. There are a number of possible actions that the Government could take here. DEFRA could convene NGOs, academics and major private sector interests in ‘thirsty’ sectors such as agriculture, food, textiles and beverages to share best practice and agree guidelines for corporate water stewardship. It could provide technical and policy support to global initiatives such as the Alliance for Water Stewardship and the Water Footprint Network. DEFRA could also adopt mechanisms to support more sustainable consumption, for example encouraging a substantial reduction in food waste would have a big impact on water footprint [5] . Through DFID and the FCO, the Government could provide support to the establishment of stronger local water management agencies which can develop and implement effective policy and legislation for water management and, in doing so, help to underpin global efforts to ensure food security. This would help to meet international development, climate adaptation and conflict reduction aims.

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

5.1 The government has recently finished consulting on the Government Buying Standards (GBS) to which we responded [1] , though we are deeply concerned that the proposed standards did not go far enough. Public procurement standards are a vital tool in promoting better food practice whilst contributing to global food security. The GBS demonstrate that the government is aware of the need to look at food consumption and reduce its negative impacts. The government is in an excellent position to develop standards that provide nutritional and sustainability benchmarks, whilst incorporating the highest standards in other areas, such as animal welfare.

5.2 We believe that government procurement practices should:

1. Extend to all areas of public sector purchasing as a mandatory standard

2. Deal with the problem of consumption, especially the need to reduce meat consumption

3. Integrate advice on health and environment. Consideration should be given to incorporating the Eatwell plate and sustainable diet ‘plates’, such as WWF’s Livewell plate

4. Adopt a definition of seasonal food in line with the government-sponsored Eat Seasonably campaign and the School Food Trust’s seasonality chart

5. Include a commitment to 100% MSC sourced fish on all menus and ASC fish once available

6. Include sourcing products that contain RSPO certified palm oil by 2015

7. When sourcing livestock fed on soy, source products certified by the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS)

8. Have high animal welfare standards, RSPCA as a minimum

9. Source all chocolate, coco, sugar and exotic fruits from accredited sustainable and Fairtrade sources.

10. Establish targets for reducing the amount of waste in the public sector

11. Ensure implementation is supported by appropriate training, communication and monitoring

5.3 By promoting and enforcing strict, far reaching procurement standards the government will be sending a clear message to the food industry that there is a market for food produced to this level, they will be providing staff and the public with high quality, sustainable foods, with resultant health benefits, and people may start looking for the same standards at home, creating a further market.

5.4 The government needs to lead by example, and go past the lowest common denominator, such as the Red Tractor standard, if the industry is to believe the government is committed to supporting the industry as it continues to develop along sustainable lines.

23 March 2011

[1] Audsley et al (2010) How Low can we go? An assessment of the greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope for reduction by 2050. WWF-UK

[2] For example see FAO (2006) Livestock’s long shadow; Murphy Bokern, D (2008) An assessment of environmental impacts of UK food consumption. WWF UK; various reports and briefings from the FCRN;

[3] Chapagain, A. James, K. (March 2010) The water and carbon footprint of household food and drink waste in the UK.

[4] For more on sustainable agriculture from an international development perspective see

[1] MacDiarmid, J, et al (2011) “Livewell a balance of healthy and sustainable food choices”

[1] Murphy-Bokern, D. (2009) “Environmental impacts of the UK food economy”

[2] ibid

[3] WWF/ FEC (2010) Livestock consumption and climate change: progress and priorities. And WWF/FEC (2009) Livestock consumption and climate change: a framework for dialogue.

[4] Food 2030 (2010) Defra.

[5] Chapagain, A. James, K. (March 2010) The water and carbon footprint of household food and drink waste in the UK