Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

1. The world needs more food, at less cost to the environment, and sold at a price which supports production, but without increasing food poverty. Global food security requires the UK, and other governments in the developed world, to help farmers everywhere to adopt methods of sustainable intensification. This can help to build the farming practices that will provide the abundant food we need for the future.

2.The complexity of the challenges requires action across the entire food chain: working closely with processors, manufacturers, retailers and consumers to reduce the impact of their activities.

3.The UK Government supports ambitious reform of the CAP to ensure the increased flexibility of Pillar 2 and that the dual aims of improving productivity and sustainability are tackled together to the benefit of farmers, consumers, taxpayers, other parts of the food chain and the environment.

4.The Government is committed to using research and development to identify win wins & trade-offs in the above scenarios

5.The Government is committed to a sustainable future for farming and food production and consumption in which farmers, food chain businesses, consumers and Government all have a role in operating efficiently, sharing research and knowledge, and eliminating waste.

6. Increasing production sustainably is a Departmental priority for Defra. One of the aims in Defra’s Business Plan is to promote increased domestic food production, as we recognise the benefits that regional and local and seasonal food can bring to both producers and consumers alike.

7. The Government is committed to setting out a clear and consistent position on Government Buying Standards - which will for the first time set out what constitutes healthier and more sustainable food and catering services for the public sector. It will allow Central Government to lead by example and provide a model for the wider public sector and the food industry to follow.

Q1 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?

By understanding the Global Food Challenge

1. The world needs more food, at less cost to the environment. Global food security requires the UK, and other governments in the developed world, to help farmers everywhere to adopt methods of sustainable intensification. This can help to build the farming practices that will provide the abundant food we need for the future.

2. The recent Foresight Report "The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability" identified the factors that will increase pressure on our finite land resource as the century unfolds. These include climate change, demographic shifts, and changing patterns of work and habitation that will all create major challenges and intensify the demands we make on our land. It showed that this is already happening as we seek to maximise economic returns, and increasingly recognise the potential of land to yield multiple benefits in diverse areas such as ecosystem services, mitigating climate change, and wellbeing. It concluded that deciding how to balance these competing pressures and demands is a major challenge for the coming century.

3. The Government will shortly be publishing a Natural Environment White Paper which will consider the importance of food as an ecosystem service, and the relationship between food production and environmental objectives.

4. Because the impacts of the food we consume in the UK have an international impact, the Government is committed to tackling global climate change and is providing £2.9 bn towards tackling issues related to land use and food production abroad, with a significant amount of this money to be used for addressing illegal logging, deforestation and ensuring forestry contributes to climate change mitigation. The key international mechanism for this is the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or REDD programme.

By adopting a Whole Food Chain Approach

5. The complexity of the challenges requires action across the entire food chain: working closely with processors, manufacturers and retailers to reduce the impact of their activities. It also requires consumers to have the information and knowledge they need to make more sustainable choices.

6.Tackling food waste is crucial to reducing the environmental and climate change impacts of our food and is a priority of this Government. We’ve been working with industry to prevent food waste as part of the Courtauld Commitment, and as partners in the Love Food Hate Waste campaign, and we’re starting to look at how responsibility deals like Courtauld can be used to tackle waste in other sectors. The Government’s aim is to work towards a zero waste economy and we’re conducting a thorough review of waste policies which will produce its preliminary findings in May.

By reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

7. The CAP supports sustainable environmental practices through Pillar 2, which is focussed on ensuring that farmers manage the land effectively to ensure long-term resilience to climate change and environmental degradation. In England, Pillar 2 is enacted through the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE).

8. As part of the RDPE, strong agri-environment schemes are a primary tool to tackle environmental challenges such as climate change, water management and biodiversity. They provide appropriate targeting of environmental benefits where they are most needed, and are capable of providing a significant level of benefit to agricultural land.

9. Well managed farms are best placed to manage the land sustainably and provide valuable public benefits, for which they should receive compensation through Pillar 2 of the CAP. Some competitiveness actions in RDPE, for example around resource efficiency, will have a positive impact for both the farmer financially and the environment, particularly in the areas of water and air quality, GHG emissions, and soil protection. A more flexible structure for Pillar 2 would make measures producing multiple outcomes easier to incentivise in the future.

10. The UK Government supports ambitious reform of the CAP to ensure the increased flexibility of Pillar 2 and that the dual aims of improving productivity and sustainability are tackled together to the benefit of farmers, consumers, taxpayers, other parts of the food chain and the environment. This must be founded on a twin-track approach, building competitiveness and so reducing reliance on subsidies, enabling farmers to better deliver environmental goods that the public demands. In the medium term, payment for ecosystem services may provide the most appropriate measure under a flexible programme.

By using Research and Development to identify win wins & trade-offs

11. The UK Government invests £400m per year on agriculture and food research to help the industry increase productivity, improve resource efficiency and reduce environmental impacts across the food chain. Defra itself contributes approximately £65m of this - £29m on farming and food research and the remainder on animal health and welfare.

12. The UK’s main public funders of food-related research are working in partnership (for example, through joint research programmes such as the Global Food Security and Living with Environmental Change) and at the EU level via EU Framework Programmes. The Global Food Security programme in particular aims to help meet the challenge of providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable and secure supply of safe, nutritious and affordable high quality food. Defra is also funding work with the devolved administrations to the tune of £12.6 m. into research to improve our understanding of greenhouse gas emissions from farming

13. In terms of trade-offs farmers need to adapt to the likely effects of climate change to continue to produce food sustainably and deliver public benefits. Future land-use trade-offs should pay close attention to this need as farming’s contribution to the UK is a complex one, with our landscapes, biodiversity, food security, and the viability of many of our rural communities shaped by the productive activities of farmers and food production. A number of actions have multiple positive results in supporting both sustainability and food production. For example, increased resource efficiency helps farmers adapt to climate change, increases the competitiveness of the industry and has environmental benefits. It will also consider the sustainability behaviour of consumers.

14. Taking difficult decisions and identifying these trade-offs can only be done effectively on the basis of a robust evidence base. Defra, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Technology Strategy Board’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform will see investment of up to £90 million over the next five years in innovative technological research and development in areas such as crop productivity, sustainable livestock production, waste reduction and management, and greenhouse gas reduction. Following a first call on crop protection, there are planned calls on sustainable protein and food technology.

15. Defra is also co-funding research with the livestock industry on the environmental consequences of replacing soya with home grown legumes in pig diets; on the life cycle analysis of poultry production systems and on an analysis of nutrition regimes for ruminants to reduce greenhouse gases.

16. More widely across the food chain Defra has also supported the development of tools for businesses to appraise and report environmental performance such as PAS2050, guidance on green claims and corporate reporting guidelines. We are also funding research to develop the evidence on sustainable healthy diets.

By Working in Partnership

17.The Government is committed to a sustainable future for farming and food production and consumption in which farmers, food chain businesses, consumers and Government all have a role in operating efficiently, sharing research and knowledge, and eliminating waste.

18.To that end we are working closely with the agricultural industry’s task force on its action plan to reduce greenhouse gases from farming and with livestock levy bodies and their partners on product roadmaps to reduce environmental impacts. We are also working closely with the food industry and interested organisations, manufacturers, retailers, NGO’s, social enterprise organisations and community organisations to establish a cohesive way forward where actions and delivery are shared between those who can achieve the best results.

Q2 How can the Government help to deliver healthy food sustainably, whilst also delivering affordable food for all?

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

By giving consistent evidence based population level messages on a n affordable sustainable balanced diet and by working closely with a wide range of partners to ensure wide dissemination of these messages to all

Healthy & Sustainable Food

1 9 . Government advice is that most people will get their energy and nutrients from a healthy balanced diet that has –

· plenty of fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions of a variety every day);

· plenty of starchy foods, such as bread, rice, potatoes, and pasta, choosing wholegrain varieties whenever possible;

· some milk and dairy foods;

· some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein;

· and just a small amount of foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar.

2 0 . The ‘eatwell plate’ provides a visual representation of the balance d diet, as described above and is widely used across Government, food industry, civil society organisations and health professionals.

21 . Government has recently issued advice to cut down red and processed meat consumption [1] to the UK average of 70g a day as this can help reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Advice focuses on achieving behaviour change by eating smaller portions or by eating red and processed meat less often i.e. having a meat free day.

22 . Advice nudges people towards choosing fish from sustainable sources and choosing a variety of fruit and vegetables, whether in season, fresh, canned, frozen, juiced and/or dried can also prove to be a more affordable option.

23. Advice also nudges people to plan meals ahead of shopping, reduce food waste, think about healthy, affordable and sustainable trade-offs and make the most of social enterprise and community schemes.

By using research and evidence to show the impact of production and consumption patterns.

24. Defra is funding research to support sustainable food production, by developing and testing options to reduce negative impacts on the environment (emissions to air and water, natural resource depletion) and support biodiversity.

25. Defra is also funding research to develop the evidence base on sustainable healthy diets and understanding the impacts of the food chain.

26. Aquaculture has the potential to provide a sustainable food source (with a minimal contribution to climate change). The Government is supportive of the role aquaculture can play, and is assisting the industry to produce an Aquaculture Plan for England setting out how the industry will develop itself, and is conducting a review of relevant regulations as part of this process.


By reviewing the affordability of food

27. Government will review the results of spend on food in 2010 when Family Spending and Family Food 2010 are published later this year. These publications look at the proportion of spend by households on food - it is currently predicted that for the population in the lowest fifth by income their share of spend on food and drink will have decreased slightly in 2010. 

28. The expenditure on food in low income households has declined since 2008 when it experienced a peak due to food price rises. Only Netherlands and Sweden have a lower percentage spend on food for their low income households.

29 . The 2008 C ompetition C ommission investigation fou nd that generally the groceries market was delivering a good deal for consumers. However we do know that healthy foods cost more per calorie. Analysis by Defra statisticians using Family Foods 2008 data indicates that fruit and vegetables can be over ten times more expensive than fats and oils on a per calorie basis .

30. Fruit and vegetables may be under-consumed because individuals, particularly children, are not sufficiently aware of the future health benefits of such consumption. This is partly due to imperfect information in the marketplace and, as behavioural economics shows us, because individuals tend disproportionately to discount distant costs, such as the future health problems sown by a poor but pleasurable diet in the present.

31. The Department of Health’s most recent Health Survey for England (December 2010) claims that, "For both men and women, the proportion that consumed five or more portions per day increased significantly to a peak in 2006, from 22% in 2001, to 28% in 2006 among men, and from 25% to 32% among women.  However, the proportion of adults consuming five or more portions a day was lower in 2008; when 25% of men and 29% of women reported consuming five or more portions".‘Health Survey for England – 2009: Trend tables’ –

32. Estimates of edible food wasted of 15% (16% by calorie) suggest that consumers could reduce waste in order to keep food costs down. The highest levels of waste are for bread, vegetables, potatoes and fruit.

By Supporting Consumers

33. The Government is committed to honesty in food labelling including the sustainability of the food we buy.

34. Government’s guidance on Green Claims is aimed at business to help them communicate the environmental benefits of their products in a way that is clear and easy to understand for consumers.

35. Published research on the environmental labelling of food and internet information on food sustainability provides clear information on the choices available to consumers and the impacts of their food buying choices.

36. Government is also working in partnership with industry and stakeholders to share information and ensure that the best possible advice is available.

37. We are also engaging in the current EU debates on eco labels for food including their economic and social implications.

By supporting consumers on their sustainable choices

38. We will provide consumers with evidence about how much sustainable produce they are buying. This can be broken down by their understanding of the issues, their beliefs and ethics, and the extent to which they claim to actively seek to buy sustainable products.

39. Another area where action is food waste and making an effort to waste less food is a key ‘sustainable choice’ consumers can make . For example, UK households create 8.3Mt of food waste a year and at least 60% (and up to 80%, potentially) of this is avoidable, i.e. could have been eaten at some point.

40. Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) research has revealed the reasons consumers waste food to include:

· issues around habits, attitudes, values, motivations, skills and knowledge; and

· the retail environment, range of products and provision of information.

41. Thus the strategy for tackling household food waste is twofold:

· Target consumers’ habits, attitudes, values, motivations, skills and knowledge, e.g. the government-funded Love Food Hate Waste campaign

· Changing the retail environment, making it easier for consumers to waste less

By introducing creative initiatives

42. Also we are supporting consumers by launching initiatives such as ‘Fishing for the Markets’ which is looking to encourage consumption of under-utilised, sustainable species that are often discarded we aim to better understand fish eating/purchasing habits and attitudes among fish eaters, and give a clear strategy for actions to help encourage consumption of the more sustainable species. There are also other initiatives being taken forward by UK Devolved Administrations focusing on improving the uptake of sustainable fish of national and local origin.

43. Also we are supporting campaigns to reconnect people with food from encouraging education to food growing (see more detail at Q5).

Q4. Which aspects of the food production and supply chain are presenting the biggest problems for the sustainability of the food industry?

44. In 2007 farming and fishing accounted for around a third of GHG emissions from the food chain in the UK. Around 25% were attributable to net trade, and 9% from commercial transportation of food for UK consumption. The total food waste from the whole supply chain amounted to 11.3 million tonnes, and total packaging 5.1. million tonnes. Households accounted for more than 70% of each total.

45. The food industry has already taken a number of steps to improve its resource efficiency. Emerging research indicates that measures already taken to save energy and waste have also saved the food and drink sector approximately £275m, and it is estimated that a further £76m can be saved from more efficient water usage. Defra supports the recently launched industry Greenhouse Gas Action Plan which allows industry leaders to show their commitment to securing a long-term sustainable future for British farming by reducing emissions.


46.However, a major barrier to improved sustainability in the food industry remains a lack of quality skills and knowledge in this area among the workforce. Stakeholders have raised concerns about this and the difficulties in recruiting new employees. Indications are that the gap is at all levels, from basic processing skills up to the level 4 and 5 skills required by food scientists and technologists.

47. Raising skills is equally important for farming, because agriculture’s impacts on the environment are wide-ranging. Nutrient and nitrogen use in fertiliser and manures is vital for crop growth, but it raises nitrate levels in rivers, releases poisonous ammonia into the air, and produces the GHG nitrous oxide. The indicators published by Defra and available online measure farming’s effect on the environment, including on water and air quality-but the story they tell applies only at an aggregate level.

Nutrient management and emissions

48. Broadly, the last 10 years have seen a step-change in nutrient management prompted by the implementation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs), the spread of good conduct through tools such as Defra’s fertiliser manual, and considerable uptake of the nutrient management components of Environmental Stewardship schemes. Not only has this saved farmers money and helped them become more competitive, but there have been clear environmental benefits: ammonia emissions from agriculture fell 23% between 1990 and 2008 to 282 thousand tonnes, while the industry’s methane emissions fell 19%. Since 2000, the total percent of Britain’s river lengths whose nitrate content exceed 30 mg NO3 per litre (the EC nitrates directive limit is 50 mg) has gradually fallen from 39% of river lengths to 29% in 2009.

49. However the 19% fall in methane emissions should be seen in the context of a roughly 20% fall in the size of the national dairy herd. Thanks to greater productive efficiency, the total of milk produced in the UK fell by only around 7% in this period, masking the true cause of this apparent sustainability success. In order to both maintain these improvements and grow more food (in line with Foresight recommendations), even greater advancements in productivity will be necessary.

Sustainable water use and management

50. Another area of food production and the supply chain which has implications for sustainability is water supply and the efficiency with which freshwater is being used for food production. A recent study commissioned by WRAP and undertaken by WRc plc pulls together sources of data, examining the use of freshwater as a resource for human activities including food production, via data on industrial and commercial use of water. (draft "Freshwater availability and use in the United Kingdom, 2010").

51. It is clear from available data on water use and abstraction that climate change is expected to play a role in reducing available water in future, and work is under way to assess the scale of the impact of climate change on water resources. Therefore in assessing future levels of abstraction and direct use of freshwater for agriculture and food processing, it will be necessary to take account of climate change. In addition, trends in food consumption and population effects will need to be mapped to see the effects on water scarcity in different parts of the UK, as well as the potential effect of new technologies which may bring efficiencies in resource use. The Federation House Commitment (FHC) aims to help reduce overall water usage across the Food and Drink sector by 20% by the year 2020. It is run jointly by WRAP and the Food and Drink Federation.


52. Fisheries contribute to food sustainability and security both directly and indirectly. Fish provide essential nutrition to millions of people across the world. Yet globally, fish stocks are over-exploited. The necessary governance is often ineffective or absent, and the potential to capture wealth from this valuable resource is being dissipated. Efforts to manage stocks sustainably continue to be undermined by a high value trade in illegally caught fish while capacity-enhancing subsidies serve to provide further incentives for over-exploitation, which can damage the marine eco-systems on which fish depend.

53. Lack of market demand for the full range of edible or otherwise useable fish species caught in UK fisheries leads to the wasteful practice of discarding. It also means that fishermen and the food industry are failing to maximise revenue from existing catches. As mentioned above, the Fishing for the Markets initiative will also seek to recommend business development and marketing skills in the fishing industry that are required to get different fish to the market.

54. The UK imports the majority (around 60%) of the fish we eat, and this rises to 90-100% in respect of some of the most popular species (cod, Alaskan pollock or tuna). Our supply of fish is therefore closely linked to the continued availability of global fish stocks and the sustainable use of this valuable natural resource. And this at a time when we are being encouraged to eat more fish, to supplement a healthy diet. As a result we have a considerable global footprint when it comes to fisheries, and we have a responsibility to help deal with the global problems that result.

Q5 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?

55. . Increasing production sustainably is a Departmental priority. One of the aims in Defra’s Business Plan is to promote increased domestic food production, as we recognise the benefits that regional and local food can bring to both producers and consumers alike.

By using Big Society

56. . The Big Society is a localism vision for reforming government which means a decentralisation of power to local areas, neighbourhoods and individuals. ‘Localism’ can help in reconnecting people to their food supply through educational activities, such as ‘grow-your-own’. Government activity to support this is focused on reducing barriers to people growing their own food, including funding the development of a meanwhile lease which would help provide access to land on a temporary basis for community groups and individuals wanting to grow; it has also funded the piloting of a community landbank that would act as broker between landholders and community groups

57. . However, the environmental benefits of ‘local food’ are not conclusive. The recently launched Foresight report concludes that ‘food miles’ is an incomplete way of judging whether the food we eat is sustainable.  We believe it is better to consider the environmental, social and economic impact of a food over its entire life cycle (from farm to fork) when assessing its sustainability.

By supporting Enterprise

58. . Government’s role is to remove barriers and support green growth. With the changes at the regional tier we are therefore working with key partners (including the English Food & Drink Alliance), to make sure that the sector is able to access the support available via the Local Enterprise Partnerships, and to encourage local food hubs which bring growers, processors and small food businesses together as part of building a strong and sustainable green economy.

By acknowledging the role of Localism

59. The Localism Bill also contains a number of measures intended to empower communities and give them the right to challenge their local authorities. Most relevant in this context is the power to petition for a referendum on a local matter, this could be used, for example, in relation to the food served in schools.

60. Greater transparency is at the heart of enabling the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account. Departments are required to publish tender documents and new contracts over £10k and will also be required to publish performance data on their websites to drive improvements and the reform of their operations.

61. We do not believe that the Government should regulate how every local public body should provide healthier, more sustainable food. However, as part of localism, Government can provide the tools – for example Government Buying standards, to encourage more sustainable production and supply of food at a local level.

Q6: How could government procurement practices be improved to promote better practice across the food sector?

By setting out a clear and consistent position

62 . The Government agrees that there is a need for a new approach on public procurement of sustainable food. This is why Defra and the Department of Health are developing Government Buying Standards (GBS) for food and catering services. This will for the first time set out a clear and consistent position on what constitutes healthier and more sustainable food and catering services for the public sector. It will allow Central Government to lead by example and provide a model for the wider public sector and the food industry to follow. The lack of such a framework has been cited as one of the key barriers to progress in driving up standards of public sector food in the past.

63 . GBS are mandatory for central government and their executive agencies and are promoted to the wider public sector. The Greening Government commitments include an aim to ensure government buys more sustainable and efficient products – including by embedding GBS in departmental and centralised procurement contracts, within the context of Government’s overarching priorities of value for money and streamlining procurement processes.

By ensuring they are robust.

64 . The y are based on a robust analysis of costs and benefits and input fro m industry, NGOs, Government departments, and other interested parties. This process ensures that the standards are practical and that, overall, they achieve net savings, on a whole life cost basis. The standards cover the three main areas of sustainable procurement:

· Foods produced to higher sustainability standards;

· Foods procured and served to higher nutritional standards.

· Procurement of catering operations to higher sustainability standards.

65 . The Impact Assessment identifies the costs and benefits of the policy. When these are aggregated the total benefit from the policy is quantified at £39m over 10 years, with additional unquantified benefits identified. We expect to launch the GBS for food and catering services shortly .

By acknowledging the role of localism

66 . For the wider public sector, the Government’s work on localism and transparency will give local people the tools and information they need to address issues that are important to them (see question 5). We do not believe that the Government should regulate how every local public body should provide healthier, more sustainable food. Each of these organisations will have a different set of requirements and the people concerned with them (parents, patients, governors) will have different priorities, placing them best to decide how to achieve the objectives we are aiming for. This local prioritisation is even more pertinent given the current financial pressures on all public expenditure.

6 7 . We are also developing a sustainable food procurement training module aimed at procurers in Local Authorities and other public bodies. In additio n , Defra is working with other government departments, in particular the Departments of Education and Health, to explore how we can encourage the incorporation of GBS into school and hospital food contracts in the future. To this end the NHS Operating Framework makes it clear that NHS organisations are encouraged to consider the Government Buying Standards for food and catering.

5 April 2011

[1] B ased on advice from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), which reviewed the evidence of the links between red and processed meat and bowel cancer and concluded that red and processed meat probably increases the risk of bowel cancer.