Sustainable food

Written evidence submitted by the Fairtrade Foundation

Executive Summary

· Food sustainability and international development are intrinsically linked. It is unlikely that efforts to improve the former will be entirely successful without fairly addressing the needs all actors in the supply chain. This lack of fairness is most keenly felt in food production originating in the developing world.

· Food waste takes place throughout the global supply chain and not just in developed countries. However, the causes and solutions to reduce food waste in low-income countries differ considerably from those in richer economies. The scale of the problem deserves greater public policy attention, which can easily be linked to international development goals.

· The Government is far from fulfilling its potential as a market-leader in sustainable and ethical procurement being trapped in a vicious circle of under-investment in procurement metrics preventing more intelligent purchasing.

· The Coalition Government is yet to fully reconcile in practical terms, its localism ambitions with it desire to be the ‘greenest Government ever’.

1. Food Policy - Linking Sustainability and International Development

1.1 The UK imports £1.3bn worth of food products from sub-Saharan Africa a year, constituting a small (roughly one percent) but significant proportion of UK food imports. [1] Food exports to the UK can be a substantial contributor to the economies of some poor countries and communities. Addressing the sustainability issues of food production from low-income countries requires special consideration because of the extreme poverty that affects all aspects of food production, from the choice of crops cultivated to the mode of transportation of goods used to get products to the UK.

1.2 There are considerable opportunities for linking developmental and environmental aspirations. Moreover, the synergies from combining the two may lead to greater effectiveness and efficiency for both. Conversely, environmental aims, as they pertain to low income countries, are unlikely to be successfully without proper consideration of the particular challenges faced by food producers in these countries. Therefore, there should be strong links between the Government’s international development objectives and its food policy. The Fairtrade Foundation believes there is not sufficient coherence between these two areas. One telling example is a recent draft of the Review of Government Buying Standards for Food [2] , assessing the impact from setting new standards for Government food buyers that failed to mention any direct or indirect impact on international development from the £922m spent by the Government on food.

1.3 The Fairtrade experience has shown that there is significant business interest in greater coherence between sustainability and development. For example, in 2008 Cadbury’s committed to invest £44m over a decade in its Cocoa Partnership, ‘to secure the economic, social and environmental sustainability of around a million cocoa farmers and their communities in Ghana, India, Indonesia and the Caribbean’ [3] . Sustainability and development were identified as drivers for this scheme as Cadbury’s research revealed, ‘the average production for a cocoa farmer has dropped to only 40% of potential yield and that cocoa farming has become less attractive to the next potential generation of farmers.’ This demonstrates the business community has identified commercial drivers, to address both social and environmental factors in supply chains. Fairtrade acts as an important tool for many businesses in this respect.

1.4 Recommendation:

Ending the interdepartmental policy silos for food, potentially through implementing an overarching cross-government food strategy, would help ensure environmental and developmental aspirations are being equally met..

2. Tackling Waste in the Entire Supply Chain

2.1 One obvious way to reduce the environmental impact of food is to require less to be produced. Therefore, waste reduction is clearly a significant route to improving food sustainability. The Government has funded initiatives to reduce consumer food waste in the UK. [4] However, waste will not be fully eliminated from the global supply chain unless there is public and private support to help poor farmers. Whilst rich world waste is a matter of behaviour, in low income countries a significant proportion of food is wasted in production because of the lack of resources, knowledge and technology. For example, grain will be stored on plastic sheets rather than sealed silos leaving it at greater risk of rats and spoiling. Such loss is estimated to be 30-50% in both rich and poor countries. [5]

2.2 Sustainability in the food sector therefore cannot fully be achieved without effective support being provided to producers, especially small scale farmers, who have the potential to significantly increase production efficiency. Experience from the Fairtrade system of the use of a social premium, afforded to the primary producer (provided through democratic producer organizations) to re-invest in the community and the business, shows that ensuring a greater capture of the value of the final product by small scale producers is an successful strategy to improving investment in small scale production systems

2.3 Recommendation:

The Government to review how its developmental interventions address waste in food production, as well as support innovation by providing incentives at the production level to invest in improved smallholder production systems, share costs and risks with businesses and by promoting fairer and equitable trading systems. [6]

3. Government Procurement – Setting an Example

3.1 The Government estimates it spends £922m on food per annum. [7] This makes the Government one of the largest food purchasers in the country, with the opportunity to have a significant catalytic effect on food sector behaviour. We welcome Defra’s recent review of the Government Buying Standards for Food, where this potential is acknowledged. However, this review process revealed significant flaws in the Government’s understanding of its own purchasing behaviour preventing this full potential being realised.

3.2 The scarcity of accurate data on food specifications, such as premiums for higher standards, is an obstacle to greater improved purchasing practices. [8] However the Government is failing to rectify this. [9] This has become a vicious circle where its policy-setters refuse to set more ambitious targets for higher food standards, for fear of imposing new cost burdens, yet refuse to accurately assess the premium it pays, allowing it to potentially set more ambitious standards.

3.3 The Sir Philip Green Efficiency Review found that Government is failing to capitalise on the scale of economy to demand better prices from its suppliers. [10] Economies of scale can equally be used to demand improvements in the wider terms and conditions from suppliers, including more ethical and sustainable goods for a better price. This aspect of inquiry was absent from the review.

3.4 The Coalition Government is still to resolve the divergence between a drive to increased localism with the devolution of powers and decision making and its desire to be the ‘greenest Government ever’. In procurement policy, it is unclear how the Government will impose green and ethical standards on decision-making bodies that are free to reach their own purchasing policy imperatives. Government Buying Standards do not apply to the NHS and local authorities for this very reason, and yet some of the largest gain in improving food sustainability and ethics are likely to be found in these high food consuming parts of Government.

3.5 Recommendation:

- Government to build on the Sir Philip Green findings, to explore how economies of scale can be used to demand greater sustainability and ethical standards from Government food suppliers.

- Government should invest in Purchase Management Systems that allow it to better collect data on the specifics of the food products its purchases. This would improve policy setting, allowing better assessment of the environmental and developmental impacts of its purchases and facilities negotiations for better prices.

- Examine and introduce mechanisms, such as incentives or penalty, to induce green and ethical decision-making in an increasingly devolved decision making framework.

4. Supermarket Regulation

4.1 Open and transparent supply chains are a necessary component of a sustainable and ethical food system. Supermarkets are the gate-keepers to much of the UK consumer food supply chain. They must balance meeting consumers’ demands, particularly on price, against the danger of abusing their dominance to the detriment of the environment, workers and producers in the supply chain.

4.2 The Government’s intention to introduce a Grocery Code Adjudicator (formerly Supermarkets Ombudsman) is welcome, but there is a danger that opportunities to fully tackle this abuse will be missed if this Adjudicator is not able to respond and react to the needs of primary producers, outside the UK and EU, who supply into these markets.

4.3 If the Adjudicator is to be successful in preventing supermarkets unfairly imposing risk on its suppliers, which in turn can undermine the environment and workers, it must be geared to the needs of suppliers susceptible to such pressure. However, there is little evidence the Government has taken steps to ensure the Adjudicator will be able, or has a duty to give special consideration of the needs of complainants who do not have the resources to make articulate arguments with legal support. [11]

4.4 Recommendations:

The Government should carry out a full assessment of its proposed Grocery Code Adjudicator to ensure it is able to effectively deal with complaints from suppliers in low income world.

5. Carbon and Global Food Production

5.1 Developing countries have legitimately argued that their citizens and their ancestors are not responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Therefore, we support a global carbon finance mechanism that properly compensates poor countries for lost income opportunities and does not unfairly penalise countries which have a legitimate need to develop.

5.2 There is understandable concern about the sustainability of air-freighting fruit, flowers and vegetables. However it is important to consider this concern in the correct context. In 2005, £105m worth of vegetable and £89m in fruit were imported into the UK from sub-Saharan Africa, supporting the livelihoods of an estimated 1 to 1.5m people. [12] Whilst carbon intensive on a per unit basis, this represents a fraction of the total emissions associated with UK food production. Dropping this trade overnight, with investing resources and time in providing viable alternatives would have negative developmental impacts disproportionate to the potential carbon savings. The Fairtrade Foundation supports systems that correctly price the externalities of production and transport in a way that does not punish the poor.

6. Solutions for More Sustainable Food

6.1 The Fairtrade system can be viewed as a non-governmental initiative to address the developmental shortcomings of the food supply system. There are several aspects of the Fairtrade experience that can potentially be used to help improve the environmental impact of food. Fairtrade labelling has shown that government’s encouragement and support for voluntary labelling and standards systems can be an effective approach to creating changes in the food sector. In spite of tough economic times, Fairtrade sales reached £1.17bn in 2010, helping over 7.5m producers, workers and their family in some of the poorest countries in the world.

6.2 Although less measureable, beyond the direct benefit to producers, Fairtrade labelling has arguably created space and momentum for greater ethical consideration by shoppers, providing opportunities for further action by business and government.

6.3 Labelling based only on carbon footprint or food miles is not currently a viable option. It is important in any public education that an appropriate balance is maintained between concerns about environmental impact (based on life cycle analysis) and social justice.

6.4 The Government could do more to recognise the cross-over of standards. Fairtrade standards include strong environmental considerations. For example, the use of 128 chemicals are either prohibited or severely restricted in the production of Fairtrade products. However the environmental benefits of Fairtrade have never been explicitly acknowledged in Government procurement guidance. [13]

6.5 The success of Fairtrade provides an example of how innovative local campaigning can lead to significant changes in consumer understanding and behaviour. Public education has a significant role to play in deepening understanding about the food system and affecting consumer behaviour, but it needs to be delivered in innovative and appropriate ways.

6.6 Recommendation:

As the public sector is a considerable consumer, without whose business many suppliers would struggle, it is vital to ensure public procurement rules and regulations, including those set by the EU, continue to allow public buyers to support initiatives such as Fairtrade.

The government should seek to support organizations that are able to provide effective public education on sustainable consumption.

About the Fairtrade Foundation

The Fairtrade Foundation is a registered charity (no. 1043886). It is also a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales (no. 2733136). Our vision is of a world in which justice and sustainable development are at the heart of trade structures and practices so that everyone, through their work, can maintain a decent and dignified livelihood and develop their full potential.

To achieve this vision, Fairtrade seeks to transform trading structures and practices in favour of the poor and disadvantaged. By facilitating trading partnerships based on equity and transparency, Fairtrade contributes to sustainable development for marginalised producers, workers and their communities. Through demonstration of alternatives to conventional trade and other forms of advocacy, the Fairtrade movement empowers citizens to campaign for an international trade system based on justice and fairness.

8 April 2011

[1] Procurement for Development: Aligning Social with Commercial Considerations in the Supply Chain, Chatham House Briefing Paper, Catherine Pazderka, September 2010

[2] Impact Assessment: Government Buying Standards for Food, Defra, September 2010



[5] ‘Waste not, want not: Far too much food never reaches the plate’, Economist, 24th February 2011

[6] Adaption of recommendation made in ‘Procurement for Development: Aligning Social with Commercial Considerations in the Supply Chain’, Catherine Pazderka, Chatham House, September 2010

[7] ‘ Draft Impact Assessment of 'Government Buying Standards' specifications food and food services’, Defra, 2010

[8] For example, the Government is unable to accurately assess the price it pays to buy Fairtrade tea and coffee, therefore this has led to an arbitrary assumption of 15% premium, which would appear to be a gross overestimation for what one of the largest food buyers in the country should pay.

[9] Written Parliamentary Answer, 28 th March 2011 from Jim Paice , Defra Minister


[11] ‘Taking forward the establishment of a body to monitor and enforce compliance with the groceries supply code of practice (GSCOP): The Groceries Code Adjudicator’, BIS, August 2010

[12] ‘Fair miles: recharting the food miles map’ IIED, Dec 2010

[13] GENERIC FAIRTRADE STANDARDS, FLO Prohibited Materials List