What does sustainability mean? Martin Paterson ­ We're trying to identify what sustainability means to us as a sector and to pull together a starting point for the discussion. We have a definition which states: Meeting the needs of consumers today and in the future while minimising the use of non-renewable resources and the impact on the environment.' We will share our report with organisations to start a dialogue with the industry. Vicky Hird ­ It's no one simple thing. It's a big, complex area with many variables. Companies are trying to set indicators of sustainability, which we welcome, otherwise it's difficult to get a handle on it. Alison Austin ­ Sustainability needs to take in the economic issues, the environmental resources and the social issues to do with food production; the conditions in primary production and selling of the food, and the issues to do with accessibility of information and having the choice between different oulets and types of food. Does being sustainable only mean going organic? Lizzie Vann ­ The only way you can grow food sustainably is by growing food that is naturally fertile, namely an organic system. There is no conventional farming system that produces sustainable fertility. Anne Winterbone ­ Although we're not in organic it is not being ruled out, but we aim to minimise inputs to make sure our process for growing crops moves towards sustainability but allows us to grow the volumes we need. The environmental strategy has to sit beside the business strategy ­ we need to make sure there's a future for the business through sustainability. How important is the role of farmers? Martin Paterson ­ You cannot cut off the agricultural society from the rest of society, it's a cog in a complex machine. The objectives of sustainable development are: social progress, protection of the environment, prudent use of natural resources and maintenance of levels of economic growth and employment. The heart and soul of sustainability has to be the green economy. Lizzie Vann ­ We would like retailers to support organic farmers and give them long-term contracts to cover the conversion period. Sandra Bell ­ We need a level playing field in terms of financial support and a commitment from companies about long-term contracts. Government support for organics is at a totally unacceptably low level and we're hearing more stories from farmers that they're having contracts for organic food dropped from major supermarkets which is putting others off. Local economies should be strengthened so they keep money circulating. We can't expect farmers to farm sustainably if they are not getting an adequate income. Vicky Hird ­ We need to maintain the farming structure in all its diversity. Otherwise we could end up having a very few, large farmers ­ going down the US route. We see farming as an integral part of the rural community. The diversity contributes to environmental diversity. Do consumers need educating about sustainability? Anne Winterbone ­ There has to be education. Consumers are concerned because they've seen very little happening in the marketplace.In fish, they've heard about depleted stocks but they've not seen prices go up so they don't believe there's a problem. They want you to communicate the problems and benefits. What is motivating is information concerning their children, for instance if certain things won't be around in the future. The whole industry needs to come together to get the issues across in the marketplace. Consumers want the facts so they can make their own decisions. If, as manufacturers and producers, we all believe education is important we should make room on the pack to communicate it. We already do this ­ if we're using an alternative source to protect the environment we tell consumers why we're doing it, for example why we're using hoki instead of cod. Jan Fullwood ­ We're trying to do more features about seasonality and hope to educate the readers of Good Housekeeping about what to buy and where to buy it ­ for example in farmers' markets. And we're trying to educate children to cook. Nine out of 10 readers distrust intensive farming methods but a lot of people haven't been educated properly about food and don't cook from scratch very much. They don't have to think about food as so many are dependent on ready meals. Marion Lyons ­ One of the problems with the supermarkets' price war is that consumers think that they should be shopping for the cheapest food possible and are not thinking about what they're getting for their money. Sandra Bell ­ People are concerned about GMOs and pesticides, but in the supermarket they're not given that information ­ about why organic apples are more expensive. Industry has a responsibility to raise this awareness. Martin Paterson ­ It would be to everyone's benefit if consumers knew more about food production so they could make choices from a better understanding, although the industry must agree on what sustainability means. Lizzie Vann ­ There is confusion about the level of standards at the moment, which is why consumers feel confident in organic. They know standards are higher than the legal minimum. If education is the key to consumers' understanding of food quality, then food manufacturers ought to make themselves open to public visits. Organic farming has nothing to hide and is very open to visits, yet if a journalist wants to see a chicken production unit on a conventional farm, the shutters come down. The FDF must lead its members to be more open. Alison Austin ­ We are increasingly telling people why we're offering great deals at certain times of the year on certain produce, such as oranges. What can companies do to behave sustainably? Alison Austin - We do our own surveillance programme and we don't give out the results of our pesticide testing to customers, but I know there are a couple of products we've recently stopped stocking because we've not been happy with the residue. We do a huge amount in local sourcing which has proved extremely successful. We also try to grow and buy and sell more product from the UK without importing it, like strawberries. Nowadays food retailers generally look to use their expertise in reducing pesticides and improving biodiversity and use that experience abroad. So we now have much greater confidence that growers abroad come under the umbrella of those expectations within the chain of complete traceability. Martin Paterson ­ We're starting to get the processes more transparent but it's up to individual companies. For some it's a sensitive area and there will be reasons why people won't wish to invite people round. Anne Winterbone ­ Most big and responsible companies do everything in their power to make sure animal welfare is taken into account, that hygiene practices are there and they're being responsible for the environment so that they'll be open about work in progress even if they've not gone the full route to organic. Lizzie Vann ­ My company is making a seven-year forward commitment to organic apple growers because that's the only way we can get enough grown in this country. It would be great to see that level of commitment from other manufacturers and retailers. I like the fact food magazines are starting to celebrate seasonality and introduce the fact that strawberries in June taste much better than those that are imported in December. Vicky Hird ­ Maybe retailers should stop stocking products like strawberries in December or think of alternative products, or do more about processing and conserving. We should embrace variability and seasonality and tell customers they can't have this all year round and to try something else. We should also try to end our reliance on fuel for our food supply. Do on-pack logos help or hinder consumers? Vicky Hird ­ Organic foods provide standards which are legally binding so they are a fantastic way of communicating assurance. Other schemes like the little red tractor are still only embryonic. You could have a fantastic regional label that means something to people, and includes information such as what the animal looked like. Alternatively, if you had one overall logo, it might just add to the homogeneity of our food system, although it would make life easier for retailers, and would be less able to contribute to consumer awareness. Sandra Bell ­ We would support a better version of the little red tractor if it delivered something that wasn't organic but gave certain guarantees about the most risky pesticides not being used and had the highest current standards for animal welfare. At the moment it doesn't go as far as some retailers are going on pesticides, such as the Co-op. Freedom Foods and the MSC labelling scheme have something clear behind them. The tractor doesn't give you any benefit over other products. It enforces baseline legal standards, whereas the Soil Association enforces legal standards way above the minimum. We would welcome a green tractor' that had these higher levels, taking more action on pesticides. Anne Winterbone - Unilever has pledged that by 2005 we'll use fish only from sustainable sources, which means we have to act quickly. Our product won't sell if people are unware of the issues around it, so we're developing point of sale to communicate the facts about hoki as well as flashes on pack. The instore environment is a critical point at which to communicate. We know that if we don't reduce the demand for cod in some areas of the market there will never be a sustainable cod fishery. We use an ocean friendly logo because people understand that and we explain exactly what it means on the back of the pack. But maybe we'll reach the situation where there are so many different logos on food that people will be confused and make their own decisions. What will the situation be in five years? Jan Fullwood ­ It's hard to predict what will happen ­ years ago people thought that high grain crop yields were the answer to production, but now we can see it has not worked and food issues have hit consumers hard. They want some kind of change. Lizzie Vann ­ Babyfood has grown so much that now one in two children eat organic food in their first year. Once parents are familiar with the concept, they won't turn away when the children are 12 months old. All babyfood on sale will be organic and, as a result, there'll be a lot more organic food sold to younger groups of people. Alison Austin ­ Some issues are longer burn and will not be solved overnight. We've been involved in reducing pesticide usage in certain areas since 1991 and there's a long way to go. We're in responsible sourcing for the next 20 years. It takes more expertise and knowledge to be an organic farmer. We have an organic producers club where we share that knowledge and that's important to get sectors of the industry moving forward. Sandra Bell ­ If we're being pessimistic we'd say a lot of farmers would give up the industry, leaving a few intensive farms and a lot more global trading, although we hope that's not going to happen. Hopefully, instead, farmers will be rewarded for farming sustainably by a decent price, and there will be a lot more organic farming. Anne Winterbone ­ The fishing industry will change and people will have been forced to open their eyes to different species. Big companies will focus on ensuring they're manufacturing sustainably and that new products are only from more sustainable sources. Marion Lyons ­ I think we'll see increased consumer awareness and knowledge so they know what they're choosing, which will increase demand and which will affect a lot of parties in the chain. Martin Paterson ­ Something to work towards would be a production and retailing chain that's more transparent, sustainable and competitive, servicing a consumer that's more confident about sustainability as an issue. {{COVER FEATURE }}