Sustainable Food - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

4  Improving Behaviour

50.  There is a clear need for people to eat food that impacts less on the environment, both in the UK and beyond. At the same time there is a need for more people to eat healthier diets. In 2007 the Food Standards Agencies' Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey found that general nutrition levels in the UK were poor, particularly for people on low incomes.[91] The 2010 Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, illustrated a continuing inequality divide.[92] The Department of Health's Healthy Lives, Healthy People noted that more than 60% of adults and a third of 10 and 11 year olds are overweight or obese.[93] WWF and the Rowett Institute recently published the Livewell report, which formulated a 'sustainable diet'. They calculated the costs of the 'livewell' diet and a standard basket of food, based on the Government's own statistics, and found the Livewell basket was cheaper.[94] They found, nevertheless, that people were eating too much processed food and meat and not enough plant-based products and carbohydrates. They concluded that this needed to be addressed urgently, no matter how much this felt like "nanny stateism".

51.  In many cases, reducing environmental impacts and getting people to eat more healthily can be achieved in tandem. The Food Ethics Council argued that a shift away from a diet rich in animal products, particularly meat, and towards a diet with more cereals and vegetables, would be beneficial for both health and the environment. An overall reduction in food consumption and a reduction in food waste could play a major part in achieving a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain.[95] They saw Government having a major part to play in supporting changes in food production and marketing, including pricing and promotion strategies, so that consumers are encouraged to select foods which are associated with lower emissions, which benefit their health and which are affordable. This was particularly important given some confusing messages on diet that consumers still face:

The government needs to continue to promote and communicate the messages on healthy eating to consumers, as many are confused by conflicting messages, e.g. on the benefits of low carbohydrate, high protein diets which are widely used for promoting weight loss but are often confused with messages about general healthy eating which involves lower consumption of meat and higher consumption of fruit, vegetables and starchy carbohydrates.[96]

The Foresight project saw a need for campaigns to change individual behaviour involving public education, advertising, targeted programmes in schools and workplaces, and the provision of better labelling to enable the public to make more informed decisions.[97]


52.  Many of our witnesses argued that food labelling needed to be utilised as a tool to encourage consumers to make sustainable choices.[98] Opinions varied about how this should be done, in the light of the risks of confusing consumers with complicated schemes. For example, the Rural Economies and Land Use programme noted that 'water footprint' did not currently lend itself to a simple labelling scheme. Which? told us that few people were aware of the debates taking place around the future of the food system or understand the actions needed to reduce the impact of what they eat.[99] Research suggested, however, that many people would be motivated to make more sustainable, lower impact food choices if these were made easy for them. Seven out of ten people interviewed by Which? would have paid more attention to the environmental impact of the foods they bought if labels were clearer.[100] The Government has a vital role to play in advising consumers on the environmental and health benefits of eating well, by ensuring that they have clear and easily-understood information. The sustainability of food, however, is a multifaceted concept, as we have described in this report, covering a range of health, animal welfare, environmental, climate-change, resource-efficiency and ethical dimensions. As a result there is a wide range of different food label claims — recyclable packaging, food miles, organic, local, carbon footprint, fair trade, lower fat, low salt, etc. Recognising the multi-faceted nature of sustainable food, the Government should examine the scope for simple and consistent labelling on the sustainability of food products, perhaps through a weighting system to produce an overall score.


53.  The Sustainable Development Commission recommended that schools be encouraged to put further emphasis on practical food experience, including cooking skills and food growing, and to help develop future 'food citizenship' skills to understand how marketing affects food choices. Food Matters and the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership believed that a sustainable food system required skills and knowledge at all points in the food chain.[101] People needed skills for managing local food networks (paragraph 39) and individual skills for preparing more sustainable food, including knowledge about cooking and healthy eating as well as information on how food is produced. BHFP's efforts were focussed on ensuring that there were local outlets for local producers to supply, and that there was an infrastructure to facilitate this, and this capacity-building for partnership working in local food systems required expertise and local knowledge.

54.  In March 2012, the Defra supported, Food Growing in Schools Taskforce report,[102] found that the most effective food growing schools achieve significant learning, skills, health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people. Food growing in schools had a positive impact on the schools, local communities, organisations and businesses involved. It concluded that more support was needed for school staff to undertake food growing activities with children including more resources for food growing. It found that more could be done to involve communities in food growing activities in schools, and that their involvement could deliver wider benefits for the children and their communities. The taskforce concluded that learning to grow food at school equipped children with an understanding of wider environmental skills that would be useful in delivering a 'greener' economy. It noted, however, that on the curriculum food growing is viewed in isolation from other subjects and is seen only as a "nice to do" activity.

55.  In 2008 the Government announced that every pupil would receive at least 24 hours of cookery classes during the first three years of secondary school.[103] In January 2011 the Secretary of State for Education announced a review of the National Curriculum in England which is expected to be implemented in 2014.[104] A number of organisations, including the British Medical Association and Sustain are campaigning for the Government to retain the cookery requirement in the National Curriculum. They argued that without basic cooking skills, people have to rely more on processed food which can be less healthy and higher in saturated fat, salt and sugar than alternatives.[105]

56.  Sustain argued that young people's appreciation of what is healthy and good to eat is being undermined by online advertising.[106] In 2011 the Advertising Standard Authority's remit was extended to include online advertising, including company websites and social networking platforms. Sustain said that unlike television regulations, the non-broadcast code did not distinguish between healthy and unhealthy food. It existed to ensure that advertising was 'legal, decent, honest and truthful', rather than to protect and promote health. Research by the Children's Food Campaign and the British Heart Foundation found that over 75% of websites that showed products high in fat, salt or sugar had links to social networking sites that were designed to "appeal to children through the use of language intended for, spoken by or directed to children". We welcome the findings of the Food Growing in Schools Taskforce. Good food education and skills, such as cooking and gardening, should be part of the curriculum in all schools. The current review of the national curriculum provides an opportunity for the Government to promote that. The Government should consider stricter advertising limits, to extend the protection for children from junk food marketing on children's television to all media viewed by children, including the internet.

Food waste

57.  The requirement for increasing yields, and the risks that come from 'intensification', may be eased to some degree by reducing food waste. Colin Tudge, from the Campaign for Real Farming, told us that feeding an increasing global population could be achieved by eliminating waste, and that the risks associated with intensification were not worth delivering it.[107] The World already produces enough food for 14 billion people, twice the present population.[108] The Foresight report calculated that as much as 30% of all food grown worldwide might be lost or wasted before and after it reaches the consumer. Addressing waste across the entire food chain would be critical in any strategy to feed eight billion people sustainably and equitably by 2030, and nine billion by 2050. Foresight saw halving the total amount of food waste by 2050 as a realistic target.[109] WWF believed that making the food chain more efficient through waste reduction measures would reduce pressure on resources required for food production, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to other policy agendas such as cutting the need for further space set aside for landfill, which in turn would further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.[110]

58.  In a UK context, WRAP estimated that 30% of household food purchases were thrown away, much of which was edible. WRAP and WWF calculated that 3% of the UK's carbon foot print could be avoided and 6% of the UK's water footprint could be saved by tackling household waste.[111] The Government has taken some measures to reduce waste and has asked manufacturers to scrap sell-by dates, which are meant for stock control purposes rather than food safety. It has produced guidance stipulating that a single 'best before' date is displayed on products, to help stop customers unnecessarily discarding produce too soon. It has also published a new Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and action plan to increase energy generated from food waste.[112] The Government's £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme can now to used for separated food waste collections. [113]

59.  WWF saw some scope, however, for further action across the supply chain to reduce waste:

I think it is crazy that non-animal food waste from things like schools and prisons is not fed to livestock. That came in after obviously the BSE crisis. I would encourage the Government and the Committee to look at that aspect, but also other aspects in terms of working with the food retail sector through the Courtauld Agreement that set key targets in terms of reducing food waste.

60.  The private member's Food Waste Bill, debated in the House in March 2012,[114] aimed to require large food retailers and manufacturers to reduce food waste and donate surplus food to charities for redistribution and, when food is unfit for human consumption, to make it available for livestock feed. One way of reducing food waste from food outlets is through sustainability 'audits' of restaurants and the introduction of 'doggy-boxes' that the Sustainable Restaurant Association[115] have developed. Although the Bill will not progress with the end of the Parliamentary Session imminent, it has received much support.

61.  We welcome that the Government will now enable local authorities to use the £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme to initiate food waste collections. Without such collections, there is a risk to the use of food waste in anaerobic digestion, as well as for packaging recycling rates. The Government must ensure that there is sufficient funding available for all councils to be able to make sufficiently regular and separated food collections, to help develop a healthy anaerobic digestion sector.

62.  The Government should also undertake new research to consider the opportunities and risks in using food waste to feed livestock.

91   Food Standards Agency, Low Income Diet and Nutrition Survey, 2007. Back

92   The Marmot Review, Fair Society, Healthy Lives, 2010. Back

93   Department of Health, Healthy Lives, Healthy People, 2011. Back

94   WWF Livewell, 2011. Back

95   Ev 164 Back

96   IbidBack

97   The Government Office for Science, Foresight, The Future of Food and Farming, 2011. Back

98   Ev 103, Ev 122, Ev 129 Back

99   Ev w73 Back

100   Ibid. Back

101   Ev 125 Back

102   Food Growing in Schools Taskforce, Report, March 2012. Back

103   Department for Children, Schools and Families, Press Notice, Compulsory cooking lessons for all young people, 2008. Back

104   Department for Education, review of the National Curriculum, 2011. Back

105   Ev 129  Back

106   Heart Foundation and Children's Food Campaign, The 21st C. Gingerbread house: how companies are marketing junk food to children online, 2011. Back

107   Qq 88-92  Back

108   International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, Agriculture at a Crossroads, 2009.  Back

109   Government Office for Science, Foresight, The Future of Food and Farming, 2011Back

110   Ev 104 Back

111   Ev w 62 Back

112   Defra, Anaerobic Digestion Strategy and Action Plan, 2011, and Defra, Guidance on the application of date labels to food, 2011. Back

113   Communities and Local Government, Press Notice, £250 million fund to herald return of better weekly collections, February 2012. Back

114   HC Deb, 14 March 2012, c261. Back

115   We had an informal briefing from the SRA when we met 2012 'Climate Week' finalists. (see Back

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Prepared 13 May 2012