Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Food Ethics Council

1. The Food Ethics Council (FEC) is a charity that provides independent advice on the ethics of food and farming. Our aim is to create a food system that is fair and healthy for people and the environment. In pursuit of this aim we:

Research and analyse ethical issues.

Mediate between stakeholders.

Develop tools for ethical decision making.

Act as honest brokers in policy and public debate.

The 14 members of the FEC are leaders in their relevant fields, and appointed as individuals. They bring a range of expertise to our work, from academic research through to practical knowledge of farming, business and policy.


2. The Food Ethics Council welcomes the government’s commitment to protecting our natural environment, but we are concerned by the white paper’s emphasis on nature’s economic value, and its faith in the compatibility between economic growth and protecting the environment.

Environmental Economics

3. While pricing up “ecosystem services” promises some opportunities to ensure that natural resources are better valued and protected within the economy, the new markets this creates can also bring additional pressures to bear on the environment.

4. Instead of restraining business, biodiversity offsets (or ecosystem services markets) can instead loosen regulatory constraints. For example, one of the perverse effects of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has been to give the biggest polluting corporations enough “free CO2 pollution rights” to cover all—and in some cases more than all—of their current pollution output. We have also seen a proliferation of CO2 reduction “equivalents”, whereby companies in the global North can continue to produce environmentally damaging emissions as long as they purchase equivalent reductions from companies operating in the South.

5. At best, applying economic thinking to the services nature provides gives us pause to think about how important nature is to humanity. But at worst it perpetuates the dangerous conceit that the markets will respect nature because of the value we’ve placed on it. Government policy intended to protect the environment must acknowledge the intrinsic value as well as the “usefulness” of nature.

Is economic growth compatible with protecting the natural environment?

6. The UK government operates within a global economy committed to driving growth on a planet with biophysical limits. The Sustainable Development Commission’s report Prosperity without Growth? points out that “In the last quarter of a century, as the global economy has doubled in size, increases in consumption have caused the degradation of an estimated 60% of the world’s ecosystems.”

7. The Government’s approach is premised on “decoupling” economic growth from the consumption of natural resources. They believe it is possible to continue to achieve growth while simultaneously reducing resource impacts through technological and other innovation.

8. The problem with this approach is that the available evidence suggests it cannot be done. Resource impacts have continued to rise in recent years despite innovation; and positive assessments of the potential for decoupling underestimate the scale of the resource impact reductions that we need to achieve.

20 June 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012