Knowledge for better food systems

UK's Environmental Audit Committee report on Sustainable Food

The UK’s Environmental Audit Committee has published its report on Sustainable Food.  Its member MPs conclude that “Government must develop a joined-up strategy to change the UK's unhealthy and environmentally damaging food system, as fears mount about global food security.”

The report’s summary is as follows:

The world needs to feed a growing global population in a less damaging and more sustainable way. That applies in a UK context as well as globally. The Government's approach appears to be focussed on the concept of 'sustainable intensification'. Intensifying production risks damaging the environment and society. The Government needs to make sure this does not happen.

The Government does not yet have a strategy that unifies policy areas that impact on food production, supply and demand in a way that drives the system as a whole towards greater sustainability. The Government's Green Food Project could provide part of the answer, but is not covering all aspects of sustainability and risks delivering a food policy which focuses too much on increasing yields at the expense of delivering a more fair and a more equitable food system. 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 co-ordinated 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.

In particular, that food strategy must:

  • Provide producers (including local and small producers) with fair access to markets, and customers with access to healthy and less environmentally impacting foods (including local food networks);
  • Provide consumers with the knowledge and information they need to make informed choices about food that is better for their health and the environment and reduces waste; and
  • Deliver research in the priority areas which we have identified, to improve and develop existing agricultural, food processing and distribution practices with fewer environmental impacts.

The EAC’s key recommendations are that:

  • stricter advertising limits protect children from junk food marketing on all media including the internet
  • food skills, such as cooking and gardening, should be part of the curriculum in all schools
  • new national planning policy guidance for Local Authorities should ensure communities have access to healthy food and land to grow their own produce
  • Government Buying Standards for food must be improved on meat and dairy and extended to cover hospitals, prisons and schools
  • the Office of Fair Trading's remit should be amended so supermarkets are not blocked from cooperating on sustainability initiatives;
  • Government should examine the scope for simple and consistent labelling on the sustainability of food products
     

You can download the report here.

As regards sustainable intensification – just to let you know that the FCRN and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food will be jointly publishing a report on the subject later on in June.  The report is based on discussions held at a two-day workshop held on the subject back in January – I will circulate the report when it is out.

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