UK: Food 2030 - The Six "Core Issues"

Last Updated: 23 February 2010
Article by Kathy Mylrea

This is the second Law Now looking at Food 2030, the Government's Strategy for Food. Released last month following extensive consultation and discussion during 2008 and 2009, Food 2030 sets out the priorities of the UK Government for the "big food challenges" of sustainability, security and health. It is a welcome attempt to "join up" the thinking in this area and sets out a vision for a sustainable and secure food system for 2030.

The specific role of the strategy is to provide underpinning for the vision of "a sustainable and secure food system" by 2030 and identify the Government's role in creating it. To do this Food 2030 looks at six "Core" issues, outlines the "Challenges" and then lists a number of "Actions".

  1. Encouraging people to eat a healthy, sustainable diet.
  2. Ensuring a resilient, profitable and competitive food system
  3. Increasing food production sustainably
  4. Reducing the food system's greenhouse gas emissions
  5. Reducing, reusing and reprocessing waste.
  6. Increasing the impact of skills, knowledge, research and technology.

To read The Big Food Challenges - sustainability, security and health Law Now please click here (www.law-now.com/dmemails/thebigfoodchallenges080210.htm).

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Full Article

This is the second Law Now looking at Food 2030, the Government's Strategy for Food. Released last month following extensive consultation and discussion during 2008 and 2009, Food 2030 sets out the priorities of the UK Government for the "big food challenges" of sustainability, security and health. It is a welcome attempt to "join up" the thinking in this area and sets out a vision for a sustainable and secure food system for 2030.

The specific role of the strategy is to provide underpinning for the vision of "a sustainable and secure food system" by 2030 and identify the Government's role in creating it. To do this Food 2030 looks at six "Core" issues, outlines the "Challenges" and then lists a number of "Actions".

1. Encouraging people to eat a healthy, sustainable diet. Emphasising education and supporting consumer choice and values by providing consumers with better environmental and welfare information about their food including where and how it was produced. It is anticipated that customer demand for healthy, sustainable food would send the most effective signal to the food chain to supply it. The discussion highlights the link between poor diet and obesity, with certain types of cancer and type II diabetes. Part of the Strategy is spur action to enable more "fish on plates", reducting salt, fat and sugar, and provision of nutritional information on packaging and menus. Reduction of impact of diet by wasting less food, eating food that is in season (not just the UK's seasons) and buying food shown to be produced sustainably are all suggested approaches. When seeking to define a "sustainable diet", Food 2030 lists issues such as health, nutrition, access, affordability, carbon footprint, production methods, transport, water use and animal welfare as issues that need to go into the balance and notes that current "footprint" measurements tend to focus on one issue rather than presenting the full picture.

2. Ensuring a resilient, profitable and competitive food system. Describing the UK food sector as "big, diverse and innovative" Food 2030 emphasises the links between food production, extensive and complex infrastructure and the need to protect natural ecosystems all of which provide many of the inputs the food chain needs and should be protected and enhanced. It notes that the impact of climate change will have an effect on food production on the UK and globally. Whilst the strategy does not discuss trade barriers in detail, the issue of protectionism is raised. Food 2030 also notes that the UK will continue to press for improved market access through trade liberalisation and reform of the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policies.

3. Increasing food production sustainably. This section discusses three particular challenges that have an impact on the natural environment - global economic growth, climate change and increasing population. The need to feed a growing world population whilst not degrading the natural resources on which farming and food production depend must include making choices for food production that take account of the other services we get from the same resources. This section picks up the issues surrounding converting land for food production to other uses as well as diversion of crops from food to biofuel or biomass. The role of science, innovation and putting research into practice on farms and in the seafood industry are noted as being critical to sustainably improving food production.

The specific goal for 2030 is for UK farming and fishing to produce more and impact less on the natural resources on which food production depend. Improving skills and competitiveness are central aspects of successful and productive UK farming and fishing industries into the future. Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to integrate fisheries management and conservation is noted as support for the fishing and aquaculture industries. In the discussion on improving the sustainability of global food systems, ensuring that biofuel and wider bioenergy production does not compromise food security goals is noted.

4. Reducing the food system's greenhouse gas emissions. Food 2030 quotes Ban Ki Moon saying "there can be no food security without climate security" and this underpins the analysis on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. Noting that developing countries are far more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and food insecurity, this section takes a broad view of the issues and is really at the heart of Food 2030. Cross- referencing the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, Food 2030 emphasises that all parts of the food chain have an important role to play in delivering the targets of the Plan and the emphasis on climate change is not surprising considering that the food sector is a major carbon emitter and a sector with particular vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

The figures on greenhouse gas emissions are compelling - Food 2030 notes that 22% of emissions of greenhouse gases associated with all UK economic activity come from the UK food chain. The 22% is then broken down into the main areas where emissions occur:

  • primary production contributing one third (methane and NOX from agriculture and fuel from fisheries);
  • manufacture, distribution and sales responsible for another third; and
  • the remaining third is down to consumers (the way consumers shop, store and prepare food and emissions embedded in imported products.)

Many of the suggestions for achieving the goal of reducing the food sector's greenhouse gas emissions are not new and action is already being taken by the food and drink industry. For example, minimising the need for refrigeration, heating or transport or using more fuel-efficient equipment are hardly new concepts and considerable progress has already been made in this area. The suggestion that retailers choose to stock only lower carbon products and encourage their suppliers to make them in order to drive consumer behaviour to reduce embedded emissions in products is made. Whilst this may seem to place the onus on food suppliers to deliver change, it dovetails with the need to educate consumers in order for such intervention to be acceptable and kept to a minimum.

In terms of greenhouse gas emissions from the food and drink sector, Food 2030 provides a DECC estimate that the Food and Drink Federation's Climate Change Agreement already covers about 50% of the energy used in the food manufacturing sector. With the advent in 2010 of the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, energy usage in the food manufacturing sector will be well covered and there cannot be any suggestion that the industry is not "pulling its weight" in this area. However, as Food 2030 notes, in relation to agriculture, the choices and trade-offs between climate change mitigation, the wider natural environment and food production need to be identified. The trade-offs can be complex - Food 2030 specifically notes competing demands for land between food and bioenergy or between changes to livestock management for emissions reduction and the role of livestock in habitat management for wildlife.

Food 2030 is clear that "food miles" is "not a helpful measure of food's environmental footprint" without more careful analysis of the factors like seasonality, impact on local businesses and use of water and fertiliser that all need to be taken into account in a truer measurement. The emphasis placed on buying local produce and seasonality appear to have replaced "food miles" although those concepts also involve making choices about sustainability.

On the topic of consumption of meat, Food 2030 acknowledges that livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally. Food 2030 stops short of endorsing eating less meat but sets out some factors in the debate including differentiation between different types of livestock (with chicken noted as emitting fewer greenhouse gases per kg than any red meat) and deforestation associated with the production of grain for feeding livestock. The issue will remain controversial and Food 2030 advises that "Going forwards the livestock sector should work to minimise its emissions and its environmental impact, as far as possible, here and overseas."

December 2009 saw the release of the Sustainable Development Commission report "Setting the Table" which, as various news headlines reported, put forward the somewhat controversial proposition that we should all eat less meat for both environment and health reasons. That it was an over-simplification of a very complex analysis about what a sustainable diet really is, did not take away from the fact that it appears to have started discussion about the issues in a way that the release of another academic or industry paper may not have achieved.

Shortly after the release of Food 2030, WWF-UK and the Food Climate Research Network released their own report, "How Low Can We Go: an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope for reduction by 2050." It places emphasis on the need to change food consumption patterns (i.e. remove some of the nations most popular foods from the shelves, educating consumers to choose different foods and topping up a plant-based diet with supplements.) However, it also welcomes the collaboration approach underpinning Food 2030.

5. Reducing, reusing and reprocessing waste. Food waste itself, along with the packaging associated with it, contributes to emissions of CO2. The figures for food thrown away avoidably are striking - £480 worth of food for the average household every year and fresh fruit, vegetables and salad make up more than a third of a household's wasted food. Internationally, it is noted that post-harvest losses can be very significant in developing countries, as much as 30-40%, and this is something that needs to be improved.

Actions to address the issue include development of infrastructure to process food waste and better food waste collection. Promotional schemes need to be sensitive to the need to reduce food waste and work needs to be done to improve the clarity and consistency of date labelling and storage guidance. Food 2030 cross-refers to the 2009 Packaging Strategy and the second phase on industry's Courtauld Commitment. Development of an Anaerobic Digestion Plan is also advocated as an action for Government and the food industry.

The single most mentioned initiative in Food 2030 is anaerobic digestion for food waste. Taking food waste and producing a fuel or soil improver, it is an excellent technology. It is not necessarily the solution to all food waste issues because it is not suited to all types of food wastes and does not deal with packaging, but it has a very promising role. Composting is also mentioned as part of the solution to food waste issues and there have been developments in this area, in particular dealing with the odour issues inherent in maturation.

6. Increasing the impact of skills, knowledge, research and technology. Food 2030 notes that the vision for a sustainable and secure food system can only be achieved through a strong contribution from research and innovation. Research and innovation will provide the evidence to support "effective, coordinated policies and ensure the development and dissemination of new knowledge, technologies and skills."

Food 2030 identifies translation of research into practice as a major part of Government's support of sustainable farming and fishing, especially in developing collaborative projects with industry. Closer communication between the research community and the food industry is seen as a way for the research community to understand better the challenges and to drive forward innovation in business. The UK Strategy for Food Research and Innovation is highlighted although it is noted that it is centred on the contributions of the public sector.

Making research priorities and outputs of research projects widely available and easy to comprehend is also noted as an action for all along with regulation of the food system in ways that "continue to support and envourage innovation, while minimising the burdens on industry."

Food 2030 also refers to a Foresight project (Foresight is a Department of Business, Innovation and Skills initiative involving bringing together ministers, experts and stakeholders to consider specific issues) started in 2008 called the Global Food and Farming Futures project. It is intended to take a global view of the food system rather than just a UK view and looks at demand, production and supply as well as broader environmental impacts. Making "substantial use" of modelling and economic analysis, the project looks at land use as well as seas and lakes and is due to report on the first phase of the project, Understanding the Nature of the Future Challenge, in October 2010.

It is notable that so many of the initiatives identified in Food 2030 do not involve regulatory intervention, although the need for proportionate and targeted regulatory intervention is raised throughout the document. The emphasis of Food 2030 is slightly more on the environmental aspects of sustainability with the evolution to a low carbon food system which is efficient with resources being a central plank of the Vision for 2030.

This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq

Law-Now information is for general purposes and guidance only. The information and opinions expressed in all Law-Now articles are not necessarily comprehensive and do not purport to give professional or legal advice. All Law-Now information relates to circumstances prevailing at the date of its original publication and may not have been updated to reflect subsequent developments.

The original publication date for this article was 12/02/2010.

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