Sustainable Food

Written evidence submitted by Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth welcomes the opportunity to respond to the EAC’s inquiry on sustainable food. How our food is produced and consumed has a direct impact on the environment and our health – ensuring it is produced and consumed sustainably is vital to tackle climate change and global biodiversity loss, and to enable healthy, fair and sustainable diets for everyone here and globally.

Summary

· To address global deforestation and runaway climate change, the considerable environmental and social damage caused by production and consumption of intensive livestock products must be tackled.

· Intensive farming methods in Europe rely heavily on high-protein animal feeds from South America, where forests and other precious habitats are cleared to make way for soy monocultures, causing greenhouse gas emissions, major biodiversity loss, and forcing local communities from their land.

· Producing and consuming less meat and dairy would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, and would free more land and water for producing food direct for human consumption. Friends of the Earth’s research shows we can feed a growing population sustainably, equitably and humanely if we reduce meat and dairy in western diets.

· The Government has a vital role in influencing production and consumption of food by setting targets for healthy and sustainable food and farming and a challenging policy framework to meet them – but current Government support is going in the wrong direction, with large amounts of taxpayers’ money spent on subsidies propping up factory farming and unsustainable food purchased in the public sector.

· Evidence shows healthy and sustainable diets contain less meat and dairy – public menus should reflect this, and the Government should run a public information campaign to raise awareness.

· The dominance of the food system by global agribusiness and concentration in the grocery sector is key to driving intensification and environmental problems, as illustrated in the meat supply chain.

· Concentration in the UK grocery market has given the big supermarkets huge buyer power to drive down prices and conduct unfair supply chain practices which force farmers to intensify production, harming the environment and ultimately consumers.

· The Government should urgently implement the recommendations of the Competition Commission for a Competition Test and an Ombudsman/Grocery Code Adjudicator.

· Urban agriculture, allotments and other local food growing spaces have benefits for food supply, health, environment and community cohesion, and their growth should be enabled through national and local planning policies.

· National planning policy must strongly discourages out-of-town development and instead facilitates the survival and growth of the local economy and small independent retailers. Local Enterprise Partnerships should have a mandatory function to support the local food economy.

· The potential of public sector spend on food to create a market for healthy and sustainable produce is unrealised. Voluntary initiatives on sustainable public food have consistently failed, and emerging Government Buying Standards will apply to only Government departments. Mandatory standards should apply across the wider public sector and include criteria for less and better meat and dairy.

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. Food production and consumption is a major driver of climate change and global biodiversity loss. To address global deforestation and runaway climate change, the considerable environmental and social damage caused by production and consumption of intensive livestock products must be tackled.

2. The UN have estimated that the livestock sector globally is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. [1] Demand for livestock also puts pressure on land to produce the grain and protein feedstocks. Livestock uses 70% of all available agricultural land, and uses 8% of the human water supply. [2]

3. Intensive farming methods in Europe rely heavily on high-protein animal feeds, which have created a global food chain in which UK poultry, pigs and cattle depend on feed crops from the other side of the world. Soy, grown and imported from South America, has become the main source of protein in animal feed. Forests, savannah and other precious habitats are converted to soy monocultures, causing greenhouse gas emissions, major biodiversity loss, and forcing local communities from their land.

4. Producing and consuming less meat and dairy would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, and would free more land and water for producing food direct for human consumption. Friends of the Earth’s report Eating the Planet showed that we can feed the growing global population far more efficiently, sustainably and humanely by eating less meat and dairy in developed countries and allowing for a more equitable distribution of food and a more nutritious diet for people in developing countries. [3]

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

5. The Government has a vital role in influencing production and consumption of food by setting targets for healthy and sustainable food and farming and a challenging policy framework to meet them. But current Government support is going in the wrong direction. We are spending huge amounts of taxpayers’ money on subsidies that make the problem worse, or buying food for our schools and hospitals that is not produced using the best farming methods.

6. Friends of the Earth has calculated that an estimated £700 million of English taxpayers’ money was spent on propping up factory farming through the CAP in 2008, undermining small farms and rural livelihoods. [4] Instead, we should be using the agriculture and rural development funds available under the CAP and in domestic programmes to support a switch to grass-based and extensive meat and dairy production and to promote home-grown protein crop production. Support from farm subsidies should also be used to ensure the UK maintains traditional livestock farming such as on the uplands which, at sustainable stocking levels, has major benefits for landscape, biodiversity and carbon storage and to allow sustainable and high animal welfare farming to compete in the marketplace.

7. Although finance comes via the EU, the UK can decide how it spends much of the CAP funding. This must be redirected to support small and sustainable farming. CAP reform in 2013 offers the opportunity for a radical new European policy that will deliver planet-friendly farming in the long term and support rural livelihoods.

8. A focus on consumption is also urgent and necessary. UNEP’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 set out the need to ‘tackle the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss... by encouraging more moderate, less wasteful - and more healthy - levels of meat consumption.’ [5]

9. In its report on sustainable diets, the Sustainable Development Commission concluded that one of the changes likely to have the most significant impact on making our diets healthier and more sustainable would be to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products. [6]

10. The average Briton eats three times as much meat as recommended by the World Health Organisation. Overconsumption of meat has been linked to diet-related diseases including, heart disease, strokes and some cancers. This has a direct cost to the public purse through treatment.

11. Modelling carried out by Oxford University for Friends of the Earth shows that switching to lower but better meat diets could prevent around 45000 early deaths and save the NHS £1.2bn per year. [7] Specific health benefits of a reduced meat diet include reductions in unhealthy saturated fats and cholesterol in diets, overconsumption of which is linked to cardiovascular disease, and reduced incidence of some forms of cancer linked to high consumption of red and processed meat.

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

12. Consumers can be helped to make more sustainable choices through information, labelling and ‘choice editing’ of products – that is, taking the most unsustainable choices off the menu or shelf thereby limiting choice to sustainable options.

13. Friends of the Earth is calling for public menus to be aligned with advice on sustainable and healthy diets to set an example for consumption – for example the World Cancer Research Fund recommends an average daily intake of no more than 70g of red meat. [8] The proportion of meat and dairy available on public menus should reflect this and that meat which is on offer should be sustainably produced.

14. The Government should also run a major public marketing campaign aimed at achieving specific dietary changes which incorporate less but better meat (‘better’ meaning reduced global environmental impact). To be effective it would need to reach different consumer audiences and provide support and advice for consumers as well as information on their choices. Industry action will be a valuable part of this measure but will not, by itself, be adequate to change the nation’s diet. This could build on the lessons learnt in the Department of Health’s five-a-day programme. Awareness of the five-a-day message is increasing, albeit slowly, as is fresh fruit consumption.

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

15. The meat and dairy sector is a major hotspot of environmental impacts as outlined above.

16. The dominance of the food system by global agribusiness and concentration in the grocery sector is key to driving intensification and environmental problems, as illustrated in the meat supply chain.

17. For example, the corporations involved in the soy supply chain are the key drivers of expansion and intensive production. Multinational companies such as Cargill and Bunge dominate the soy industry, buying beans, running crushing mills and exporting soymeal and oil to the UK and rest of Europe. Cargill also owns one of the UK’s main chicken processing companies and processes 1 million chickens a week in the UK, highlighting their control in every step of the supply chain. [9]

18. In the UK grocery supply chain, the big four supermarkets control over three-quarters of the retail grocery sector – with Tesco alone accounting for 31%. [10] This gives them huge buyer power to dictate terms of trade to farmers and drive down prices – forcing farmers to intensify production and produce more for less.

19. It is vital that the Government implements the recommendations of the Competition Commission’s 2008 report from its inquiry into the grocery sector: a Competition Test to stop a supermarket opening a store where it already controls 60% of the local market, and a supermarket Ombudsman or Grocery Code Adjudicator (GCA) to enforce a Code of Practice stopping abusive supply chain practices.

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?

20. Despite the steady erosion of local food infrastructure resulting from the drive to centralise, there has been a growth in interest in local food, with local food networks flourishing through the transition town movement, farmers’ markets and local food growing initiatives. More support must be directed towards local food networks because of the wider benefits they bring, including supporting local economies and cutting down on transport. There is an important role for public procurement in supporting local food networks.

21. Urban agriculture, allotments and other local food growing spaces must be encouraged and enabled in national planning policy and by local authorities in proactive planning policy and development control, for the benefit of our food supply aswell as the wider community benefits for health, cohesion and the local environment.

22. Small and locally-owned shops must be valued for the benefits they bring to the local economy and community. Small shops and street markets are vital for low income groups and those with limited mobility, such as the elderly. Independent retailers are operating in a fiercely challenging environment with unfavourable economic conditions and dominance of the grocery sector by a handful of retailers with the power and resources to use the planning system to their advantage. National planning policy must facilitate a resurgence of the local economy.

23. Friends of the Earth supports revitalised, sustainable and diverse town centres, and believes that national planning policy must set a framework for local and neighbourhood plans which strongly discourages out-of-town development and instead facilitates the survival and growth of the local economy and small independent retailers.

24. Local Enterprise Partnerships have a role in supporting local food economies but the emerging agendas of LEP Boards do not offer much encouragement. Supporting the local food economy must be made a mandatory function of LEPs.

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

25. More than £2.2 billion – about 7% of all the money spent in the UK catering sector – is spent every year feeding patients, pupils and other public sector service users. [11] This is money which could be used to create a market for healthy and planet-friendly food, that is currently squandered on unhealthy and unsustainable food.

26. Standards for public sector food purchasing are currently very weak and the potential the public purse has to transform our food system has not been realised. A glut of voluntary initiatives has been introduced, each failing to make a difference to the standard of food on the public plate. [12] This is particularly evident for the standards and quantity of meat and dairy on public menus. It is not currently possible to say exactly how much of the annual £2.2 billion spent on food goes on meat and dairy, but data from household expenditure surveys suggest the amount could be around £0.77bn. [13]

27. According to research by Sustain – the alliance for better food and farming – over £53 million of Government money has been spent in the last ten years on voluntary initiatives to improve the sustainability of public sector food, with no demonstrable benefit for health or the environment. [14] This includes the flagship Sustainable Food Procurement Initiative which set out, amongst other things, to improve consumption of healthy and nutritious food, improve sustainability of production and promote animal welfare. After six years – and around £2.5m of taxpayers’ money – the initiative was wound up after an evaluation concluded that its take-up had been limited and it had failed to make the impact it had sought. [15]

28. More recent efforts to improve public sector food include the Healthier Food Mark, which despite the use of an extensive team of management consultants for its development, and being part of official Government policy on food, didn’t manage to progress beyond the pilot stage. The emerging Government Buying Standards for food will apply only to Government departments, representing a fraction of total spend on food in the public sector, and the standards are very weak on sustainability with for example no criteria on meat and dairy consumption.

29. The drive for short-term financial savings – rather than investing in better quality food for longer term health, sustainability and economic benefits – means cheap, processed meat is the norm. Less but better meat and dairy on public menus would have direct health and environmental benefits. The NHS has also said that procuring less meat for patients could save 18,000 lives a year. [16]

30. The Government should commit to assessing the impact of meat, dairy and eggs bought with taxpayers’ money. It should ensure that all livestock products (meat, dairy, poultry products) procured publicly do not damage biodiversity, and address carbon reduction targets and support local sustainable livestock production such as organic where possible. This should affect meals in the government estate, in local and national government, schools, hospitals, care homes, and other publicly funded food service and the armed forces. This will inevitably require a reduced reliance on cheaply procured meat and dairy processed products and an emphasis on local quality produce, such as grass fed meat. This would provide health, environmental as well as local economic benefits.

31. It should also include changes to menus, and education and awareness-raising schemes to encompass a change in overall consumption and the use of measures such as standard-setting and best practice, skills development in the procurement sector.

5 May 2011


[1] FAO (2006) Livestock’s Long Shadow

[2] FAO (2006) Livestock’s Long Shadow

[3] Friends of the Earth/Compassion in World Farming (2010) Eating the Planet : Feeding the world without trashing the planet

[4] Friends of the Earth (2009) Feeding the Beast

[5] UNEP (2010) http://www.cbd.int/doc/publications/gbo/gbo3-final-en.pdf

[6] SDC (2010) Setting the Table: Advice to Government on h ealthy and sustainable diets

[7] Friends of the Earth (2010) Healthy Planet Eating

[8] WCRF (2007) Food, nutrition, Physical Activity and Prevention of Cancer: A Global perspective

[9] Friends of the Earth (2008) What’s feeding our food?

[10] Competition Commission (2008) Final report of Grocery Market Inquiry

[11] National Audit Office (2006) Smarter food procurement in the public sector

[12] Sustain (2009) A decade of hospital food failure ; Sustain (2010) Yet more hospital food failure

[13] Approximately 35% of total average weekly household spend is on meat and dairy products (£16.60 of £46.09) h ttp://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_social/Family_Spending_2006/FamilySpending2007_w

[13] eb.pdf

[14] Sustain (2009) A decade of hospital food failure

[15] Deloitte (2009) Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative: An Evaluation

[15] http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/policy/publicsectorfood/documents/090311-PSFPI-

[15] %20evaluation.pdf

[16] Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer (2009) On the state of public health