With great power comes great responsibility


Developing a sustainable food industry. Now, there’s a phrase that is bound to send many of you to sleep, unless you happen to be one of the worthy folk who have been banging on about this for the past few years. But, as we explore in some depth in our feature on page 32, it is time you all woke up to the fact that sustainability looks set to be the really hot topic of 2006.

Recent shocks to the system, such as energy shortages and price hikes, combined with the health debate and a raft of food scares, have helped to focus minds on many of the issues now facing our industry.

All these things fit together very loosely under the banner of sustainability, and that means they pose very different challenges to the industry. Sometimes, the potential solutions lead to yet more conflict. Elsewhere in this issue, for instance, you will see that environmental campaigners are claiming an important victory in the battle against polytunnels. But it’s developments such as polytunnels that have helped UK produce suppliers grow their businesses. So if this is a victory, it’s something of a Phyrric one in the great sustainability war.

Nevertheless, if this year does prove to be something of a tipping point in the whole sustainability debate, I want to lay down one challenge for the whole industry. And it’s this: what are you doing to promote a sustainable future for the British grocery industry?

I ask that question because I have found the last couple of years pretty gloomy, as we have reported on the relentless rise of imports, the deep unrest in most parts of farming, endless factory closures and business failures, and the shift of food manufacturing overseas.

So what’s to be done? If I knew the answer, I would not be sitting here writing this! But in a pretty tough economic climate, where the fight for customers will be as intense as ever, I still think retailers and manufacturers need to spend more time thinking about the impact their actions have on those working across the entire food chain - whether it’s the factory worker in Hull or the beef farmer in the north east wondering whether he should bother rearing any more.

This is a great industry that has real power to shape the way we all live our lives. But with great power comes great responsibility. And you need to ensure you start wielding that power in a more sustainable fashion in 2006.
Sustaining our future