Sustainable Food: Government Response to the Committee's Eleventh Report of Session 2010-12 - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Appendix 1—Government response


The Government welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on Sustainable Food, published on 13 May 2012. The Government agrees that this is a global issue driven by a number of factors—population growth, changes in diets in developing countries, and pressure on natural resources worldwide.

As the Committee recognise these pressures were clearly set out in the Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming. The UK Government accepts the call for action to respond to these challenges, and welcomes the work of the Committee to aid direction on these issues. The one year review[1] of the Foresight Report published in May this year highlights actions taken across Government, and in all sectors to address the challenges posed.

As the Foresight Report makes clear, it is widely accepted that we must produce more food to feed a growing population in a sustainable way. The UK is committed to playing its part in this global challenge. But we also recognise that there are other factors that can play an important part, such as reducing waste throughout the food chain.

This Government understands that sustainable food requires looking at the social, economic and environmental aspects of the food chain. This Government has put sustainability at the core of its agenda to ensure that it is central to the way we make policy, run our buildings and purchase goods and services.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead for the Government on sustainability and food. The Defra Business Plan sets out the top three priorities, which are to:

  • Support and develop British farming and encourage sustainable food production.
  • Enhance the environment and biodiversity to improve quality of life.
  • Support a strong and sustainable green economy, including thriving rural communities, resilient to climate change.

Department for Health leads for Government on healthy diets with business plan commitments to:

  • Establish the Public Health Responsibility Deal

i. Begin to develop initial plans with representatives from business, voluntary and community sector organisations and local government, looking at the issues of food, alcohol, physical activity and health in the workplace, and incorporating insights from behavioural science.

ii. Launch the Responsibility Deal.

Defra and the Department for International Development (DfID) jointly sponsored the work of the Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington and the Government Office for Science in the preparation and follow up to the Foresight report on the Future of Food and Farming. This is a strategic cross department initiative which draws together expertise from many departments to address the challenges of a sustainable food system.

The UK Government believes it can play its part in addressing these challenges in three ways: by ensuring the UK is taking action to feed a growing population sustainably; by taking action where we have direct influence on these issues in other countries; and through our work at a global level in our participation in multilateral organisations.

In the Government's Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) there is a clear commitment to enhancing the environment at the same time as increasing food production. This recognises that any intensification of agriculture and food production should not be at the expense of the natural environment. The Government also published the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) which is the first analysis of the UK's natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and our continuing economic prosperity.

The Government is looking at how we can increase food production in the UK whilst simultaneously enhancing the environment through the Green Food Project. The Project is a partnership between Government and industry and will set a direction of travel for tackling these challenges. It will not have all the answers, but will identify areas where more work is needed. Some of these, such as on research and development, are consistent with the Committee's own conclusions.

We have been working with the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and industry to improve business resource efficiency, emissions of greenhouse gases, and the amount of waste sent to landfill. We recently launched a new voluntary agreement to promote action on these issues with businesses in the hospitality and food sector.

There is an increasing focus on sustainability in the food chain, and many companies are now seen as leaders in managing their environmental impacts, such as the British Retail Consortium's Better Retailing Climate and the Food and Drink Federation's Five-fold environmental Commitment.

It is also important that the UK works in partnership with other countries to deliver its objectives on sustainable food. We are already looking at ways to make use of our expertise and knowledge in agricultural techniques and life sciences to help developing countries feed their populations, delivering £71.8 million for international agricultural research programmes in the last two years.

But we recognise that there is more to be done by all sectors in terms of addressing the impacts of UK consumption, in identifying better what constitutes a sustainable diet.

The UK food chain is already making efforts to understand and address their impact on global food systems, such as Unilever working with farmers in their supply chains to minimise their impacts on biodiversity, or Nestle and SAB Miller minimising water use in their supply chains.

Internationally, the Government is active in promoting sustainable food systems. The UK has been instrumental in putting sustainable agriculture at the top of the agenda for Rio+20, and continues to push forward the agenda of sustainable food through the G8 and G20 summits.

In Europe the UK is pressing for ambitious reform of both the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, to create sustainability in global food systems.

The Government welcomes the Committee's recommendations on sustainable food, and has set out its response to each one in this document. The Government wants to make clear how seriously it takes the issues raised in this report, and the importance of working together to tackle these challenges.

This is not just work for Government. Other players in the food chain hold the levers and tools to help meet these challenges. The Government's role is to do what others cannot do, to add value and focus its energies on the areas where it is most needed.

Government response to the recommendations of the report

1. We do not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices. Relying on markets to identify and to direct where this research is needed, and on sufficient scale, is likely to fail. The Government must be prepared to intervene with universities, colleges and the Research Councils to develop incentives for them to train more agricultural and food scientists. It must also take a more active role in directing the Technology Strategy Board and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to focus research on sustainable food production. In developing the Green Food Project, and a subsequent food strategy, the Government must explicitly recognise the need for more research into:

  • the interactions between the impacts of food production practices and the environment, so that these can be better managed to increase production in a sustainable way;
  • the impacts of agriculture on climate change, to provide a basis for encouraging farmers to adopt more sustainable practices and behaviours;
  • the life-cycle impacts of food, to give producers, suppliers and customers the information they need to be able to make decisions which would have less impact on the sustainability of food;
  • soil science; and
  • the benefits of new farming practices, such as those in fresh water fish farming. (Paragraph 27)

Government Departments have been working with other public funders, industry (including Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) and academics to consider how they can stimulate the skills, research and development (R&D) and innovation needed to address the challenges posed by food security and climate change, under the Food Research Partnership, chaired by the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

The Food Research Partnership Skills Subgroup published a report in 2010 which reviewed the high level agri-food skills and research capability[2] and concluded that while there was no immediate shortage of skills, there was a need to promote the importance and track needs and supply of skills in the food and farming industries.

Government is one partner within the Green Food Project, and recognises the importance of research and development as a tool to deliver more sustainable food production practices. The partners of the Green Food Project are working together to deliver a more joined up approach to research and knowledge exchange, to make sure that the research we already have is useful on the ground to make farming practices more sustainable and build on this by addressing the need for more work into specific areas such as soil science.


Defra has supported the development of the industry led Agri Skills Strategy, which aims to communicate the business benefits of skills and support continuous development. The Agri-Skills Forum is continuing their work in this area. The Apprenticeships Programme is continuing to expand to £1.4 billion for apprenticeships training for 2011-12. The Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) is also providing £12 million for four Advanced Training Partnerships, which provide post-graduate training for sustainable efficient food production; advancement of the UK agri-food industry; food quality and health; and livestock health and production. The BBSRC's Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTP) competition supports PhD studentships across its remit with an increased emphasis on strategic priority areas (this includes both broad and 'niche' research skills relevant to food). To support these new partnerships BBSRC also funds collaborative PhD training with industry (including in areas relating to food) through its CASE schemes.

To support the research base, BBSRC is distributing £250 million in grants to fund their strategic research through 26 research programmes in 8 institutes associated with the biosciences which includes sustainable production.

Directing the Technology Strategy Board and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)

The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform (SAFIP) provide the main mechanism for funding industry-led research to support a more sustainable and competitive food chain. Defra and TSB recently held an innovation summit for farming and food industry, to jointly promote research mechanisms to improve sustainability and competitiveness. Government funders, levy boards and industry work in partnership through the STB SAFIP steering group, to direct the research agenda on agri-food.

Defra also maintains close dialogue and seeks opportunities for collaboration on research with AHDB, which is leading on improving coordination and recognition of demonstration activities and through the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's Food Research Partnership stakeholder group and Horticulture Round Table.

Areas for further research

As committed to in the Natural Environment White Paper, Defra Ministers initiated the Green Food Project looking at how we can increase food production whilst simultaneously enhancing the environment. The Government want to be clear that this Project is a useful foundation on which to build.

The Government welcome the direction set by the Committee. The Green Food Project does not have the remit to cover all the areas of research and development set out in the Committee's first recommendation. But the Green Food Project has identified areas of research and technology that require more investment, such as on improving the environmental, productive and economic performance of agricultural land management.

The UK Government does spend over £400 million per annum on research on farming and food. The multi-partner Global Food Security research programme co-ordinated by the BBSRC and delivered jointly with relevant Research Councils and Government Departments, and including close engagement with industry and the third sector aims to strengthen co-ordination and partnerships, across this research, and to add value in prioritising areas for further research. This research is addressing the topics where the Committee felt more research was needed, however some challenges remain.

Interactions between production and environment: Previous research has focused on the impacts of different production systems, farming practices and land management activities on the environment, notably biodiversity and water quality. This work informed the development of Agri-environment Schemes and the industry-led Campaign for the Farmed Environment. The Government-funded Demonstration Test Catchments provide a platform to assess how best to deploy measures in the landscape to protect water quality with minimum impact on production, and the need to take a more holistic view of the impacts of farming at the landscape scale to identify opportunities to increase food production, in collaboration with land managers.

Agriculture and climate change: Previous research has quantified greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture, developed a wide range of GHG mitigation measures and assessed their effectiveness, potential tradeoffs and economic impact on businesses. This work generated robust evidence to inform the industry-led Voluntary Action Plan on GHG Emissions. The Government has invested over £12 million, co-funded with the Devolved Administrations, the GHG platform to refine the agriculture GHG inventory, to reduce uncertainty and capture the effects of mitigation measures.

Defra is also funding research to assess options for reducing GHG emissions from fertiliser use, assess the value of legumes in crop rotations and assess the potential for improved dietary formulation and livestock breeding to reduce emissions from the dairy, beef and sheep sectors. Research is also ongoing to understand the relationships between measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and farm productivity, competitiveness, efficiency and delivery of other ecosystem services. So there is considerable research activity to identify opportunities for reducing GHG emissions from agriculture and provide the robust evidence of their effectiveness and wider impacts.

Life-cycle impacts of food: Defra has funded research to assess life-cycle impacts of agricultural commodities and compare impacts of different supply chains, reviewed the evidence and tools available and engaged industry to develop guidance on how to use these for water and GHG. Beyond agriculture and primary production, Government-funded research has focused on GHG emissions, resource use efficiency and waste generation, concentrating on those sectors where evidence and/or action have been limited or fragmented to date.

Defra and WRAP are engaging industry to identify opportunities and scope for collaboration in quantifying and addressing these impacts, but further research is needed to develop evidence and tools for assessing a wider range of impacts and decision-making. We are aware that there is considerable research activity in this area, including databases and tools developed by the private sector. Government has a role to play in facilitating collaboration and supporting research where there is market failure, and will consider priorities for action in discussion with stakeholders.

Soil science: Defra currently spends approximately £5 million a year on soils and water management research covering a wide range of themes including the sustainable use of agricultural soils, the role of soils for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and peatland restoration. Defra contributed to a report by the Royal Agricultural Society of England[3] which found that current numbers of soil and water specialists are considered to be adequate but these may well decline due to a number of factors. The report also concluded that over the past three decades the emphasis has been mainly towards soil and water research for environmental management rather than productivity, and therefore to meet future challenges in relation to sustainable production, there is a need for a change in direction for research and development. The Natural Environment White Paper committed Defra to undertake a significant research programme over the next four years to explore how degradation can affect the soil's ability to support vital ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, carbon storage and nutrient cycling and how best to manage our lowland peatlands in a way that support efforts to tackle climate change.

We are also considering ways of better integrating research on agriculture and the environment towards a goal of sustainable intensification within the context of appropriate land use scenarios. This would include improving our understanding of the role that soils can play in relation to both agricultural productivity and the natural environment.

The benefits of new farming practices such as those in fresh water fish farming: As detailed above, the Government supports a range of research into a more sustainable and competitive food chain, including the impacts of different farming practices. In the specific case of fresh water fish farming the Government does not believe any research is required. The issues that affect this sector are well known, as are the benefits and risks. Any research should address the challenges faced by the industry and not be targeted at the benefits of this sector. It should also be noted that marine aquaculture has an important role to play in the development of a sustainable, farmed fishery resource. The Government believes any growth in the industry must be market driven and industry led.

2. Unless and until there is both clear public and political acceptance of GM, it is proven to be both beneficial to the environment and to producers, and evidence that demand for these products is based on understanding by consumers and transparent product labelling, the Government should not license its commercial use in the UK nor promote its use overseas. The Government must ensure that the public and Parliament is well informed on this issue. It should establish an independent body to research, evaluate and report on the potential impacts on the environment of GM crops, and their impacts on farming and on the global food system. An initial focus of such research should be on the scope for, and risks of, the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming regimes. (Paragraph 28)

The Government recognises that GM technology could deliver benefits providing it is used responsibly, in particular as one of a range of tools to address the longer term challenges of global food security, climate change and the need for more sustainable agricultural production. The Government therefore supports farmers having access to developments in new technology, including GM, and being able to choose whether or not to adopt them. The Government takes a science-led approach to GM, and the protection of human health and the environment are our overriding priorities. We will only agree to the planting of GM crops, the release of other types of GM organism or the marketing of GM food or feed products if a robust risk assessment that has taken full account of the scientific evidence indicates that it is safe.

As far as licensing GM crops is concerned, decisions on the marketing of GM products, including seeds for cultivation, are taken at European Union (EU) level. Two types of GM seed have received EU authorisation and have been grown in certain Member States. However, they are not being sold in the UK because they are not relevant or suitable for our conditions. GM crops are not expected to be grown here commercially for some years at least, but in principle the Government is open to this possibility, providing it is undertaken safely and responsibly.

The Government does not agree with the Committee's recommendation that there should be additional conditionalities applied to GM crops beyond those which form part of the EU environmental risk assessment and authorisation procedure. The EU regime focuses on protecting human health and the environment, leaving the normal operation of the market to determine whether or not an approved GM product gains acceptance. The Government believes that this is the right approach, taking account of the need for regulation to be proportionate. Some GM crops in the research and commercial pipeline can potentially offer enhanced health or nutritional benefits—however, requiring all GM crops to deliver, for example, additional environmental benefits as the recommendation implies could in itself become a barrier to such developments in the technology; developments that we can expect to be of significant interest to potential consumers.

To facilitate consumer choice, which the Government strongly supports, the EU has also adopted rules which require clear labelling of any food or feed products made from a GM organism. The Government will do its bit to foster an informed and balanced debate around GM issues and listen carefully to what people have to say, but everyone has a role to play in this—including scientists, farmers, consumers, civic society, media and the food industry. In relation to the use of GM overseas and in developing countries, the Government believes that they should have fair access to GM technology and make their own informed decisions regarding its use.

The Government does not agree that a new independent body should be established to research, evaluate and report on the potential impacts on the environment of GM crops, and their impacts on farming and on the global food system. There is a wide evidence base that already exists on this subject, as well as significant practical experience of GM cultivation globally. In 2011, it is reported that almost 16.7 million farmers around the world planted GM crops on 160 million hectares—over 11% of the world's arable land. The environmental impact of proposed GM crops is already robustly evaluated by independent scientists as part of the EU regulatory process. In 2010, the European Commission published a report entitled "A decade of EU-funded GMO research" which summarised the results of 50 research projects addressing primarily the safety of GMOs for the environment and for animal and human health. The findings of these projects confirmed that GMOs potentially provide opportunities to reduce malnutrition, especially in lesser developed countries, as well as to increase yields and assist towards the adaptation of agriculture to climate change providing there are strong safeguards in place to control any potential risks. The Commission also concluded that there was no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.

In terms of other impacts, the EU is setting up a Technical Bureau to examine the socio-economic implications of GM cultivation, and has a separate Technical Bureau which is producing detailed guidance on the coexistence of GM and non-GM crops. There is no reason in principle why GM and non-GM crops should not coexist and work has been undertaken previously to inform how coexistence arrangements might operate here. If and when GM crops are grown in England commercially, Defra will implement pragmatic and proportionate measures to segregate these from conventional and organic crops, so that choice can be exercised and economic interests appropriately protected.

3. The National Planning Policy Framework potentially provides local authorities with more powers to provide communities with better access to local food and to be able to grow their own food. However, the NPPF lacks the detail that could assist planning authorities in drawing up local plans to provide for this. The Government should make clear in the subsequent guidance it provides for local authorities that for Local Plans to be consistent with the NPPF they should take account of communities' access to sustainable food and ensure that they are provided with alternatives to unhealthy food options. There should also be provisions in Local Plans to ensure that communities are provided with open spaces to grow their own produce, including for example options for communities or co-operatives to buy land for these purposes. To help develop such guidance, the Government should also identify best practice from leading local authorities in this field and quantify the benefits of developing local food strategies. (Paragraph 37)

The Government welcomes the Committee's focus on the importance of local food in a sustainable food system. The Government agrees that local food can play an important role in developing a sustainable food system in the UK. The Government has developed initiatives such as the Food Growing in Schools Task Force and published documents on local food such as the How to guide on Space for Food Growing.

The Government is considering how to take forward planning guidance across a range of matters. In doing so we are considering carefully all of the submissions that have been made in response to our consultation on the draft National Planning Policy Framework which asked for views about supporting guidance.

4. Food systems are more likely to be sustainable if food reflects value or cost of the environmental impacts of producing it; an area we identified as needing more research. In the absence of such mechanisms food prices have been relatively low particularly when supplied through supermarkets which are able to bring economies of scale to bear. The Groceries Code Adjudicator's role in delivering fairer prices to producers will be vital in helping all food producers to achieve a fair price for their produce and with the means to invest in less impacting methods of production. The Groceries Code Adjudicator should be established so that it is able to begin investigations following representations from third parties, and it must have the power to fine retailers for breach of the Code. (Paragraph 42)

Reflecting environmental impacts

In the Natural Environment White Paper the Government set out a range of measures to ensure the decisions of both Government and business take better account of the value of the services nature provides and the underpinning natural assets.

The Natural Capital Committee has been established to provide expert independent advice on the state of English natural capital. Other initiatives will help business play their part; for example, the Ecosystem Markets Task Force - a business-led Task Force - will review the opportunities for UK business from expanding green goods, services, products, investment vehicles and markets which value and protect nature's services.

The Government also published the UK National Ecosystem Assessment which is the first analysis of the UK's natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and our continuing economic prosperity.

The project has produced an independent and peer-reviewed assessment of the state and value of the UK's natural environment and ecosystem services, identifying what has driven change observed in the natural environment and the services it has provided over the last 60 years, and what may drive change in the future. It includes an investigation into the monetary and non-monetary value to the economy, society and individuals from various ecosystem services, including how some of these may change in future.

Groceries Code Adjudicator

The Government recognises the importance of producers being able to manage excessive risk and unexpected cost.

The role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) will be to enforce and monitor the Groceries Supply Code of Practice, which was introduced in response to the Competition Commission finding that the retailers had the power to transfer excessive risk and unexpected costs to their direct suppliers. It will not be the Groceries Code Adjudicator's role to reflect the value or cost of the environment in the pricing of food.

The GCA Bill has already begun its progress through Parliament, and had its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 22 May. The Government has heard arguments made by stakeholders representing both retailers and suppliers, and has considered the points raised by Parliament in the course of pre-legislative scrutiny. As a result of this consultation, the Bill has been amended from its earlier draft form to allow the Adjudicator to consider information from any source, including trade associations. If retailers do break the Code, the Adjudicator will have tough sanctions, including the ability to make recommendations and to require retailers to publish information about a breach—so called 'name and shame'. Furthermore, if these sanctions prove to be insufficient, the Bill allows the Secretary of State to grant the Adjudicator a power to impose financial penalties.

5. The Government should amend the Office of Fair Trading's remit to take account of sustainable development while protecting competition, and task the OFT and the Competition & Markets Authority to investigate and clarify the scope for supermarkets to cooperate in developing shared sustainability good practice. (Paragraph 44)

Whether any individual example of supermarket (or manufacturer) cooperation to develop shared sustainability good practice is compatible with competition law depends on its specific details. Some agreements may not restrict competition at all, or not do so in an appreciable manner. Even cooperation agreements that do have an appreciable impact on competition may benefit from an exemption. In broad terms, this will likely be the case where the agreement results in efficiencies and consumer benefits, the restrictions are indispensable to the obtaining of these benefits, and competition is not eliminated.

Regarding the scope for the Office of Fair Trading[4] (OFT) (or Competition and Markets Authority) guidance on the matter, since Modernisation of European competition law in 2004, parties must self-assess the compatibility of their actions with competition law. The OFT and European Commission have produced a wealth of guidance material to help parties self-assess; this is available on the OFT and European Commission websites. The European Commission has published new guidance on horizontal cooperation agreements in 2010 (available at The OFT has published further comment on the application of Article 101(3) of the EU Treaty, which allows for anti-competitive agreements where there are efficiency benefits.

In addition, to help parties self-assess novel and unresolved questions around horizontal collaboration, the OFT introduced the Short-form opinion tool in 2010. This allows businesses (or Government departments) to seek a detailed opinion from the OFT on prospective horizontal collaboration agreements in a relatively short timescale of around three months. The OFT's opinions are also published for the benefit of a wider audience. Details on the tool are available at .

Given that competition assessments are highly dependent on the exact circumstances of the proposed cooperation, it is not clear what further general guidance could be of assistance without significant numbers of caveats. It is recommended that businesses use the current guidance options referred to above.

However, the Government welcomes the role of industry in incorporating sustainability into its practices. Some good examples of this include, the Food and Drink Federation and the British Retail Consortium agreed sustainability targets (the FDF's 5-fold Environmental Ambition and the BRC's Better Retailing Climate), which many of their members have signed up to. Each company that has signed up to the scheme will consider how it can best meet the specific targets around reducing its environmental impact and thus remain in compliance with competition law.

6. The Government Buying Standards for food should be extended to cover the wider public sector, to ensure healthy and sustainable food is made accessible to more people and to help establish new markets for producers. Though it is proven that the Standards can be adopted for minimal cost, voluntary measures to promote them have not achieved the necessary improvements across the sector. The Standards must be extended to require local authorities to adopt them across schools and hospitals. It should also continue to raise the Standards further, to reflect existing best practices in particular for eggs, dairy and meat. Effective public food procurement standards could also allow Government to lead by example, and make any new food strategy more credible. (Paragraph 49)

The Government is leading by example on sustainable procurement through the Government Buying Standards (GBS). 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. Local people have a number of options available to them in how they make their public bodies respond to their requirements. There is the Food for Life catering mark for example, as well as the sustainable and local sourcing policies of a number of small and medium catering firms.

We do not believe that the Government in Whitehall should regulate how every school, hospital and care home should provide 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, making them best placed 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.

The Government does believe that the GBS for food and catering is a credible and workable example of sustainable catering criteria that can deliver what many local people look for from their public bodies. To help those that want to take up GBS, we have developed a sustainable food procurement training module aimed at procurers in Local Authorities and other public bodies.

We have also worked with the major public sector buying organisations to include GBS-compliant products in the offer available to Local Authorities. In addition, we are shortly to complete pilot studies in a number of schools and hospitals where GBS criteria have been introduced in order to learn what barriers and opportunities exist, and to provide guidance to those that want to take up these principles. Working with Department of Health the adoption of GBS has been encouraged for all NHS organisations in the 2011 NHS Operating Framework and is part of the recommendations for the Boorman (2009) review of health and well-being on the NHS implemented by NHS Employers. The Government is committed to support local decision-making in the NHS, however, we are considering appropriate measures to more actively promote GBS within NHS organisations.

The Government has published practical guidance, supporting the roll out of GBS, to help caterers provide food that meets the nutritional needs of adults working in or in the care of the public sector and is currently developing plans to update previous guidance on food served to older people.

Defra's own catering provision is fully compliant with GBS and we have encouraged all departments to report their own performance as part of their Greening Government commitments.

7. 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. (Paragraph 52)

The Government agrees with the Committee, that it is vital consumers have clear information about the food they eat. This will empower them to make decisions on an affordable, healthy and sustainable diet.

The Government also agrees that sustainable food is a multifaceted concept, involving a wide range of environmental, social and economic aspects. Whilst labelling has a role to play in providing information to consumers, we do not believe that they can convey all the information.

There is an important role for industry, suppliers and trusted third parties to contribute to consumer information, and provide the information to give consumers the chance to make informed choices about the food they eat.

Sustainability labelling

Providing consumers with a clear label on what food is sustainable is a complex and difficult task. This is in part due to the diversity of the issues it needs to cover, such as animal welfare, impacts on wildlife, fair treatment of producers, management of natural resources. But also because of a lack of common metrics; a given quantity of water used in Spain does not imply the same environmental impact as a cubic mega-litre of water used in Scotland, for example.

The evidence on how effective labels are as a tool to stimulate change is lacking. However, the Government agrees that food labelling could play a role in encouraging more sustainable consumer behaviour. In 2010 the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs undertook research[5] looking at effective approaches to environmental labelling of food. The principal conclusion from the work that has been undertaken in this project is that we do not believe that the science is sufficiently robust to develop an outcome-based, environmentally broad, omni-label[6] at this time. Additionally, the costs that such a scheme may incur could be unacceptably high in relation to the potential benefits that could be realised.

There will continue to be a role for environmental labelling alongside other initiatives to improve the sustainability of food production and consumption. For example, within industry, food chain information, including environmental impact data, can be valuable to help manage issues and identify areas for improvement.

With respect to consumers, labelling can educate and empower consumers to make informed choices through provision of information in relation to food. However, efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of food should not focus primarily on labelling as this is unlikely to deliver desired outcomes on its own. Labelling should be one element alongside Government regulations and industry schemes designed to provide the right information.

In practice, there have been a number of private sector-led initiatives which have been developed to address some of the information gaps in the food chain. Examples of this include the Marine Stewardship Council sustainable fish label, and the Fairtrade brand.

But this has led to a situation where there are a large number of different categories of food labels making different types of claim about sustainability. The research undertaken by Defra suggests a single sustainability label is not the right solution at this time. But the Government acknowledges that the current situation does leave consumers significantly confused (such as research undertaken by Which?[7]) and there may be other ways than via individual labels of providing information to consumers to explain the difference between the different types of claims and to give some indication of how they relate to each other.

Working on Defra's behalf WRAP has created the Product Sustainability Forum to encourage the public and private sector to work collaboratively to strengthen the evidence base for measuring the environmental impact of products and identify the "hot spot" areas which are priorities to address. The Government is also currently seeking to assist the European Commission with their development of a general methodology for assessing the environmental footprint of products (including food) to try to ensure that it is supportive of UK policy and business needs.

As noted in the report, under the 2011 Guidance to the Application of Date Marks to Food, food packaging should only carry either a 'use-by' or 'best-before' date. 'Sell-by' and 'display-until' labels used for stock rotation should be removed to avoid confusion for shoppers, with retailers finding different ways of stock control. This will help to reduce the 5.3 million tonnes of perfectly edible food that is thrown away each year, with a knock on effect on the sustainability of food worldwide.

Health and nutrition

The Government has a key role to play in supporting individuals to improve their diet, by providing accessible information, and in creating an environment which makes it easier for people to make healthy choices about what food they eat and drink.

The Change4Life campaign continues to provide information to support individuals to make healthy choices around diet and nutrition. NHS Choices also provides advice and tools to help individuals eat more healthily. In addition, guidance is provided on dietary areas which have parallels with sustainability issues, for example, advice to reduce red meat consumption in some groups.

Accessible and consistent nutrition labelling also has a very important part to play in helping consumers make healthier food choices. Much is determined at EU level and the Government has worked hard to secure an effective framework for nutrition labelling in the new EU Food Information Regulation (FIR, No.1169/2011).

Within this framework, we have launched a consultation on what a consistent, clear front of pack label should look like and are considering what action needs to be taken by the Government and partners to make a single scheme a reality. The shared objectives of all four Governments across the UK are:

·  to maintain and extend the use of front of pack labelling across the widest possible range of food and drink products;

·  to achieve the greatest possible consistency in the content and presentation of front of pack nutrition labelling, in a form which is clearest and most useful to consumers.

As part of the Public Heath Responsibility Deal, we are working with the food and drink industry to agree practical actions which will support individuals and help them to make healthier choices. For example, we are encouraging companies to introduce calorie labelling in out of home settings. There are now more than 40 out of home businesses committed to putting calories on menus. This year we will see labelling in around 9,000 outlets across the country.

8. 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. (Paragraph 56)


The Government recognises that cooking is an important skill, and it is currently an element of design and technology in the National Curriculum. In his announcement on 11 June, the Secretary of State for Education confirmed that design and technology will continue to be compulsory in all maintained schools in Key Stages 1 and 2, and the Department is now considering what the content of design and technology should be. Decisions on the Foundation subjects to be included in the secondary National Curriculum will be announced in due course.


The rules covering non-broadcast advertising are the responsibility of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who are independent of Government. The ASA's codes specifically recognise the social imperative of ensuring that advertising is responsible and that children and young people are suitably protected from harmful or inappropriate advertising.

The ASA's non-broadcast Advertising Code, which covers online promotion (including promotional activity by companies on their own websites, on social networking sites and the use of advergames and user generated content), already contains strict rules on all food and drink advertising aimed at children.

These rules already prohibit food and drink ads from condoning or encouraging poor nutritional habits or an unhealthy lifestyle in children. In addition, with the exception of adverts for fresh fruit or fresh vegetables, adverts that are targeted at children of primary school age or below must not include licensed characters or celebrities popular with children or include promotional offers.

However, the Government continues to keep this area under review and recognises that there are calls for increased restrictions on High in Fat Sugar and Salt food and drink advertising. We recognise that it is widely accepted that advertising has a modest, direct effect on children's food choices but is just one aspect in determining children's choice of food. It is also recognised that advertising can play a positive role in promoting healthier choices. This is why food promotion has been identified for further consideration as part of the forward work programme of the Food Network of the Responsibility Deal. Over the coming year we intend to look at all forms of advertising and promotions, especially those aimed at children, and we will work with key partners to identify what further steps, if any, need to be taken.

9. 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. (Paragraph 61)

The Government agrees with the objective of a healthy anaerobic digestion (AD) sector producing renewable energy from waste. We support AD through subsidies—paid for by the electricity consumer—for renewable energy. Some AD plants have also received capital grants. Over the last year, the number of AD plants has increased by about a third.

Our AD Strategy and Action Plan aims to ensure that this growth continues. This includes identifying potential sources of feedstock and promoting food waste collections. The Waste and Resources Action Programme has launched a £500,000 Challenge Fund to support demonstration projects that encourage the development of food waste collection services from businesses in England.

The Weekly Collection Support Scheme is intended to help support local authorities provide the waste collection services that their residents expect. A number of local authorities have indicated that they want to use funding from the Scheme to introduce food waste collections. However, it is too early in the bidding process to say how many of those bidding will receive funding.

Government provides funding through the Local Government settlement to enable local authorities to fulfil their duties on waste management. However, decisions about the exact configuration of waste collection services are for local authorities to make taking into account local circumstances and the needs of their residents. This includes whether to provide a separate food waste collection service or not.

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

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently conducting a review of the situation regarding disposal and recycling of food and catering waste, and exploring the feeding of food and catering waste to farmed animals as a future option. The outcome will be reported at the end of 2012.

Feeding of catering waste has always been tightly controlled because of the potential risks of spreading serious animal diseases. The practice was banned in the UK and subsequently throughout the EU following the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak.

Some food waste that originates from manufacturers and retailers such as bakery products, fruit, and vegetables, can be fed to livestock if it comes from premises with appropriate procedures to keep it separate from animal by-products. Defra and the Food Standards Agency have been working with supermarkets and feed businesses to ensure this can be done safely.

11. The overarching aim behind the Government's work in improving the UK's food system is 'sustainable intensification'. The Foresight report presented sustainable intensification as the solution to the global food crisis. The challenge for the Government is to define what this term means in practice, and particularly for the UK. Sustainable intensification must be more than simply increasing yields: The emphasis should be on 'sustainable'. Policy must take account of social and environmental impacts of the food system, including retaining space for small scale production practices and local food networks. (Paragraph 67)

The Government recognises the need for clarity over the term sustainable intensification. As the Committee state, the Foresight Report set out the need to produce more food sustainably, in order to feed a global population that is projected to reach 9 billion before 2050.

The Foresight Report[8] defines sustainable intensification as:

"Simultaneously raising yields, while increasing the efficiency with which inputs are used and reducing the negative environmental effects of food production. It requires economic and social changes to recognise the multiple outputs required of land managers, farmers and other food producers, and a redirection of research to address a more complex set of goals than just increasing yield."

The Green Food Project, which has looked at how to reconcile the tensions between increasing food production and improving the environment, has given equal importance to both aspects of sustainable intensification. The project has recognised that the food production system is intimately linked with biodiversity and natural resources and that a healthy, functioning natural environment is a foundation for food production, economic growth and prospering communities. Through the process of developing the Project's conclusions the Government, with partners, has begun to look at what sustainable intensification means for the UK in practical terms, focussing on specific geographic areas and sectors such as wheat and dairy production. This is the first step in a longer process of determining how the UK will respond to the food and environmental challenges of the future, within which policy will continue to take account of the social and environmental impacts of the food system.

Sustainable intensification is not just about large scale intensive farming, given rising demand for food. There is a place for any kind of farming enterprise that can be profitable in the future and the Government will not advocate particular approaches to farming. To some extent the structure of the industry will change naturally over time in response to market forces.

12. The Government must use the Green Food Project to provide a foundation for developing a broader food strategy that takes into account the health, environmental, social and economic consequences of the way that the food we eat is produced, sold and disposed of. Such a strategy should explicitly shape the way policy is to be coordinated across departments to provide a sustainable food system. It must provide information on the trade-offs that need to be examined when considering food sustainability and give direction on the types of foods considered sustainable. It must also provide an impetus to shift food policy to deliver a more equitable food system so that healthy and sustainable food is available to all. (Paragraph 71)

The Government agrees that the Green Food Project is a useful foundation on which to continue strategic work on sustainable food policy. However, a single project or document will not be able to provide a comprehensive answer to the wide range of challenges posed in trying to create sustainable and healthy food systems.

The challenges posed by food security and feeding a growing world population create real opportunities for the farming and food industry, in responding to market challenges and public demand. Government should not be closely supervising the industry or limiting its ability to react to those signals. The challenges are not for Government alone and many of the instruments of change do not belong to Government, which should be delivering those services that only it can provide.

This is why the approach taken by the Green Food Project—to bring Government, industry, environmental and consumer organisations together—is a useful starting point. It is through our agenda to embed sustainable development, the delivery of departmental business plans combined with cross government initiatives such as the Foresight project on the Future of Food and Farming, the Public Health Responsibility Deal and the UK Food Security Assessment that coordinated tangible outcomes will be delivered. The Government's role should be to add a strategic direction by focussing resources through better collaboration along the food chain, which is key to delivering sustainable, safe and healthy food that consumers want and can afford.

The Green Food Project identifies areas where Government and other sectors can take on challenges and bring people together on problems that are difficult to tackle, and where a joined-up approach across Government will be beneficial. These include land use, innovation and consumption and demand for food. The Green Food Project was undertaken within short timescales and therefore reaching consensus on all of these issues was challenging, but Government and the other Green Food Project partners recognise that the project was the start of an ongoing dialogue, and will be following up actions after publication of the initial conclusions.

There is work underway within Government and beyond to identify sustainable production and consumption methods. This is however a complex area, but Government can help to provide information to allow businesses and consumers make informed choices in their day to day purchases. Initiatives such as the Products Sustainability Forum, Defra's Green Claims Code and Shoppers Guide to Green Labels are helping to ensure that consumers can have confidence in the sustainability of the products they buy, and the claims that businesses make about them.

The Government will continue to maintain a strategic approach to sustainable food; we will continue to work with all sectors and will focus our activities on the areas where Government alone can add value.

13. A key theme of the Rio+20 Earth Summit will be sustainable food production. The Government should review its food policy in the light of the Summit agenda, and after the Summit it should build any commitments agreed into that strategy. That review must ensure that UK food policy is consistent with the global aspirations for delivering a sustainable food system. (Paragraph 72)

The Government welcomes the Committee's recognition of the importance of Rio+20 in setting the global food security agenda. The Government worked hard in the preparation to Rio, to ensure that food security was one of the top issues addressed at the summit.

In addition to this the Government pushed for food as one of the themes for a Sustainable Development Goal, as a part of a nexus of issues (food, water and energy), and will continue to do so as themes develop.

The Government hopes that the work to influence the outcomes of Rio, as well as the G20 and G8 agendas on food security and sustainable agriculture, will mean that the UK's food security policy will play a key role in the global food security challenge. The Government will continue to work globally to ensure work progresses towards a sustainable food system.

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2   High-level Skills for Food, Report from the Food Research Partnership Skills Subgroup, 2010 Back

3   A Gap Analysis on the Future Requirements of Soil & Water Management in England. Back

4  The matters which the OFT may take account of in deciding whether agreements infringe the prohibition of anti-competitive agreements in Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union are a matter of European Union jurisprudence and are not therefore open to the Government to amend. The jurisprudence on the related Chapter 1 prohibition in the Competition Act 1998 is also substantially derived from European Union jurisprudence. Back

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6   Omni-labels seek to convey information on a range of different environmental impacts, integrating these into a single, easy to understand format. Back

7  Making sustainable food choices easier, Which?, 2010.  Back

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Prepared 12 September 2012