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Sustainable Food
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Sustainable Food Guide


SFP link
Take a quick bite of our Sustainable Food Awareness Programme

Full Official Proceedings of IPC Seminar "Sustainability in Food & Agriculture"

Compare with the International Plant Protection Congress
Oct 07

Report of IPC Seminar October 07

The issue of sustainability – and in particular climate change, is being taken seriously and comprehensively by all the major players in the food chain. While some tend to see “sustainability” as “carrying on what we are doing”, most see the limits of nature and that we need to do things differently. Quite “how” we do things differently is clearly a matter of debate.

The Problem

There will be the need to produce at least twice as much food over next 40 years – based on population growth and increasing affluence of many in the world from $2 - $10 dollars a day Thompson ppt. This, plus the demands for biofuels is going to put land under pressure. Land in the future will be in demand for the four “f”s - food, feed, fuel and fibre. And there may be a few more – flooding, famine

This will occur at a time when agriculture will have to take its share of both damage and responsibiity regarding global warming. Agriculture uses about 4/5 th of available land and contributes about 1/5th of CO2e emissions. The high calories in/out ratios and the high use of oil-intensive, GHG polluting nitrogen is simply not sustainable. (A point was raised - but not answered, as to whether IPPC had properly considered role of NxOs - 300X more potent than CO2) "

The Players

The Retailers spelt out that “green means business”. There are differences between the Tesco and Asda/WalMart approach. Asda say they are going to make the difficult decisions for the harassed but caring mum at the checkout for them. Like buying a car, where people expect the brakes to work, in future they will expect complex carbon and ethical issues to be sorted. Asda will make sure they will make carbon reductions, wherever possible listing many examples already. Tesco said they would do this, witness what they are doing to measure their carbon footprint. Tesco also showed that their work with Manchester University and Carbon Trust to produce C labels demonstrated that they also want to engage customers to build awareness with them. However it was pointed out their actions on GDA food labelling – when they went against government advice, doesn’t bode well.

The Biotech companies response is clear – to create crops that will generate increased yields, that are drought resistant, use less nitrogen and reduce reliance on pesticides. See FT article: “BASF & Monsanto in output drive”. This “second generation” with a "sustainability package" of GM will go some way to answering the question: “What does GM do for sustainability?”. If these companies can demonstrate carbon efficiencies, according to properly recognised metrics, the debate about GM in Europe will start anew. When we need every tool at our disposal to deal with global warming, why not GM?

Manufacturers are interested in biofuels and their likely role in future – especially in relation to other plant seed/oil use. Presentations from Indonesia and Brazil demonstrated the vast differences between biofuels and the criteria we need to ask in order to see how “sustainable” they are. Is it energy in/energy out, carbon dioxide emissions cf oil based energy, land area used etc? These vary between bioethanols based on cane (Brazil) compared to corn-based ethanol (US), rape-based biodiesel (EU) and palm oil biodiesel (Indonesia). Laan ppt Szwarc ppt

Again the counting depends on “boundaries” and how far back they should go. Should they include loss of forest – even if the losses were not directly due to biofuels, but part of a chain? Should we complain about forests being cut – when we have cut ours already, a few hundred years ago? However, it was the EU figures that provided the biggest shock. For the EU to meet its target of having 10% of transport fuel provided by biofuel, it would take 50% of its agricultural land. Fischler pdf


Prices for food crops will go up as a result of increased demands on land. EU predictions over next ten years, now with even more variety and diversity in the 25+ members states, indicate that prices will maintain themselves. This means prices should stay mostly above intervention levels. Bensted-Smith ppt Does this mean more money for Rural Development Funds perhaps? Because of past market failures, there needs to be an EU policy for food and environmental security – that will put increasing demands of what we want from our land and land managers. Buckwell ppt

This is part of what is going to be a bigger debate about “What are we going to do with our land?” (In UK, that will come out as “What to do with our ‘countryside’?” - which isn’t the same as it is about ‘viewing’ rather than ‘doing’. Missing from the land question at present is: “Why don’t we sequester more carbon in the soil?” Falloux ppt. There is not a UK sustainability indicator (out of over 150) for carbon in the soil. It will require properly recognised measures and metrics and land managers/owners/employees should be properly paid for the invaluable service of maintaining carbon levels. The answer lies in the soil…

Set-Aside has been put aside this year, and most of this will be go to wheat in UK this year. Prices of wheat are high and are likely to remain high. Farmers will switch to wheat when at £200 per tonne What are the consequences? It is sort of underwritten in future food policies, that the food prices should stay low. “That’s obviously what the consumer wants”. Yet to drive production (of a more sustainable kind), higher prices are better. But what happens if prices go up? Is anybody thinking that one through? At the moment controls can be exerted through standards and systems if that is what growers have to do to get subsidies or into supply chain. Talking of which…


What about “Standards/Systems” and “Good Practices”?. Standards and systems can demonstrate results and can set up metrics that all can see. Practices can set good examples for what people can do, but are vague as to what is actually achieved (plug for “Environmental Practice at Work”). The UK has pioneered the way with its Assurance schemes (eg Little Red Tractor Raymond ppt), as well as Retailers (M&Ss “Farm to Fork”, Tesco’s “Nature’s Choice”) setting higher standards. The EU sets standards through cross compliance with Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) (UK portal for “Entry Level” requirements for looking after the land and environment). The EU requires that any imported food should meet similar standards to their own and requires DCs to conform through official entry points. This puts more emphasis on systems to deliver and raises questions about DCs ability to do so, when their own infrastructures – law/extension services etc, are so poor. I have been asked of standards/systems like this (eg ISO 14001): “Are they a (non-tarrif) barrier to trade?”. The answer from WTO is a clear: “No – they are not”.

A big issue is how to better deliver/support/inform suppliers in DCs? Companies can be expected to develop their CSR, which is business' contribution to sustainability, to deal with some of this. The World Bank has developed Standards for Environmental & Social Responsibility for determining investment that many can companies can use. This will require capacity building. Most manufacturers and retailers have made a start of setting up systems (“Systems for Sustainability”). Is there a role for Governments here? EU is making a start with “Training for Safer Food”. More in Magumu ppt This is where education/training/support for dealing with the systems comes in. “Whatever the Rules – we will teach you how to play the Game”. Managers and employees throughout the world will need to learn how to play these games.

The WTO presentation (pdf) examines how specific restrictive actions can be taken for meeting environmental objectives in accordance with trading rules.

Find out the rules and what to do in the Sustainable Food Guide (free)

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