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The UK’s Committee on Climate Change has released its 2018 Progress Report to Parliament on Reducing UK Emissions. Chapter 6 focuses on agriculture and land use, land-use change and forestry. The report finds the UK agricultural emissions were unchanged between 2008 and 2016. In 2017, half of farmers did not think it was important to consider emissions when making decisions about farming practices. The forestry sector’s ability to sequester carbon has levelled off due to the average age of trees increasing relative to the past. Chapter 6 makes only passing reference to demand-side measures for agricultural emissions reductions (see Figure 6.9).
The UK’s Food Research Collaboration initiative has released a briefing paper on the differences in animal welfare standards between the UK and its likely post-Brexit trading partners, such as the fact that antibiotic use in cattle is nine to sixteen times higher in the US than the UK, by weight of cattle. The report points out that welfare standards risk being weakened to help obtain trade deals, and recommends several measures to protect animal welfare after Brexit, including farmer subsidies for higher welfare standards, mandatory labelling to help consumers choose better welfare standards, and using public procurement policies to promote higher welfare.
The UK’s Eating Better alliance has published a survey of ready meals in the main UK supermarkets. The briefing reports that only 3% of the 1350 ready meals surveyed were entirely plant-based; vegetarian, plant-based and meat substitute meals altogether made up 14% of the meals surveyed; 77% of the meals contained meat; and 10% contained fish or seafood. Some retailers sell vegan and vegetarian ready meals at a higher price than other meals, most notably Tesco’s Wicked Kitchen vegan range, which is 67% more expensive than Tesco’s regular range. Nearly one third of meat-based meals did not specify the country of origin of the meat, while only three retailers included the meat in their own-brand ready meals under their farm animal welfare policies.
Trase - a partnership between the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy - has released the Trase Yearbook 2018, which presents the latest insights on the sustainability of global agricultural commodity supply chains associated with tropical deforestation: the focus this year is on soy. The Trase Yearbook highlights how just six companies account for 57% of Brazilian soy exports. Taken together, the supply chains of these six traders are associated with two-thirds of the total deforestation risk directly linked to soy expansion, the majority of it in the Cerrado, one of the world’s most biodiverse savannahs.
The Better Buying Lab at the World Resources Institute has published a summary of two workshops. The workshops, which brought together over 50 people from the academic community and the food industry, identified research questions on how to increase consumption of plant-based foods by changing the language used to describe it.
The Hoffmann Centre at UK think tank Chatham House has produced a summary of a workshop held in January 2018 on policy implications of widespread deployment of negative emissions technologies. The workshop concluded that bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) cannot be used at the scale assumed in emissions pathways compliant with the Paris agreement, because it would cause large land use change in regions of high biodiversity and compete with food production for land. Nevertheless, some BECCS may be needed. Direct air capture would use less land than BECCS, but there are economic and technical barriers.
The Nordic Food Policy Lab has produced a report outlining 24 policies from the Nordic region that aim to change food consumption and tackle the social and environmental challenges caused by the current food system. Policies are organised into five themes - nutrition, culture, meals, waste and sustainability - and include salt labelling, building regional food identity, improving hospital meals and developing networks to reduce food waste. The authors include Marie Persson, former staff member of the FCRN.
TEEBAgriFood, part of the UN Environment initiative The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, has released a report on the environmental, health and social costs and benefits of the agriculture and food system. It finds that the food system does not keep everyone healthy or protect the environment. It calls for a reform in how we measure food system performance, because relying on yield per hectare and market prices neglects other costs such as food-borne disease and environmental degradation.
Sixty suppliers of meat and fish have been ranked according to their management of nine sustainability categories, in an index prepared by Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR), a London-based investor initiative focused on the environmental, social and ethical issues of factory farming. 60% of the companies assessed are deemed “high-risk” on their overall sustainability strategy (or lack of it). Antibiotics are the most poorly managed risk, while waste and pollution are the best-managed risks.
The FCRN was a collaborator in the workshop “Supporting Healthy and Sustainable Diets: how do we get there?”, held in September 2017 as part of Land Economy for Sustainability Strategic Dialogue Series hosted by the Hoffmann Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy at Chatham House and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. This summary of the workshop outlines the actions that governments, businesses and civil society can take to make diets more sustainable and healthy.
FCRN member Seth Cook of the International Institute for Environment and Development has written a discussion paper on the importance of agricultural biodiversity. The report notes that crop diversity is declining: today, just 30 crops supply 95% of food calories, with maize, rice, wheat and potatoes providing over 60%. For comparison, humans have domesticated or collected around 7000 species of food plants.
A report by Friends of the Earth Europe finds that plastic food packaging is not a solution to growing levels of food waste in Europe, contrary to some claims that packaging can reduce food waste by extending the shelf life of foods. For example, using packaging to group food together in larger packs could encourage customers to buy more food than necessary. Another example is that green beans are often cut to fit into the packaging, causing losses of 30 to 40%.
Over two billion people in developing countries are smallholder farmers and often depend on pollinators, according to this report by the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences. The report finds that insufficient pollination has already been found across many crops in the developing world, which could negatively affect cash crops (such as coffee and cocoa) and intake of nutritious foods such as fruit and nuts. The report points to a lack of data on pollinators in developing countries, and calls for further research, education programmes and sustainable development projects incorporating bee-keeping.
The European Public Health Alliance have published a study of ten EU policies on sustainable food and farming. The report finds that the policies lack a systemic perspective and are particularly weak on the health, governance and resilience aspects of sustainability. The report recommends a mix of supply- and demand-side interventions and points out the importance of considering the “food environment” when devising policies.
The report “Brexit: food prices and availability” from the EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee of the UK House of Lords examines the potential impacts of Brexit on the UK food supply. 30% of the UK food supply is currently imported from the EU and a further 11% from non-EU countries under terms set by EU trade deals.
Shoppers do not notice sustainability rating logos on packaging, according to a report by QuadPackaging and Package Insight. In the study, 60 participants had their eye movements tracked while “shopping” in a retail laboratory. The products they were presented with were fictional brands with logos claiming different levels of sustainability. The logos did not represent a real sustainability standard. While 40% of the participants said that sustainability affects their purchasing decisions, the eye-tracking technology showed that 92% of the participants did not notice the sustainability logos.
US grocers focus more on donating and recycling food waste than on preventing it, reports the Centre for Biological Diversity. The report scored 10 US grocery chains and the UK supermarket Tesco on food waste reduction commitments, policies and actions.