Earlier this year a study commissioned by the government came to some startling conclusions about our food system.
The Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming, led by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, found that a series of drivers are threatening the current system. The report concluded that the food system is unsustainable and we are failing to end hunger.
We’ve undertaken a number of pieces of work at WWF-UK, including our How Low report, looking specifically at greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the food system, which draw similar conclusions. The need to work on improving production efficiencies while reducing environmental impacts and to tackle some of the consumption divers has never been more compelling.
There are some clear win-wins. The LiveWell report combined the government’s own nutritional guidelines with the environmental impact of food GHG emissions to produce recommendations for a healthy, sustainable diet. These aren’t radical ideas, but many are still reluctant to tackle them.
Other issues are, however, thornier. Livestock is a hotspot and we know we need to reduce its impacts but how? WWF believes we have to take a holistic approach to tackling both production and consumption drivers. This is why we, in partnership with the Food Ethics Council (FEC), have been holding a series of ‘livestock dialogues’, which aim to look at ways of reducing GHG emissions from consumption changes without penalising producers, harming diets or otherwise causing more problems (such as exporting our emissions overseas) than are solved. To do so we have been speaking to groups such as Eblex and the NFU to explore a number of policy interventions.
Which brings us to WWF and the FEC’s latest report on the livestock dialogues A Square Meal. Producers, processors and retailers are already making progress in terms of reducing emissions. However, until now they have had little guidance on the possibilities of making further reductions through changes in consumer behaviour.
We believe government needs to give some direction and this report explores what it can do. It explores recommendations including the need to define the key principles of a sustainable diet, implementation of the planned Groceries Code Adjudicator, and letting supermarkets collaborate to support sustainable supply chains.
So far, the report’s been well received. Eblex has welcomed the recognition that farmers will play a pivotal role in providing sustainable food, and that to do this they will need support. The NFU has backed the view that everyone within the food system has to do their bit to address climate change.
We know reforming our food system is a massive challenge, but there are some potential big prizes: being able to feed a growing global population; protecting our natural environment and avoiding dangerous climate change; helping people eat more healthily; and helping British farmers and businesses thrive.
We think these are things worth working towards because, in the end, our food system will have to change. So can we work more collaboratively to make it a more sustainable and equitable system?