While a desire to make sustainable choices has taken a place at the forefront of consumer decision making in recent years, it’s easy to feel more confused than ever as to what sustainability in our food system really means. With a myriad of often-conflicting advice available, ‘What should I eat to be healthy and sustainable?’ is a question easier asked than answered.
The Sustainable Food Trust released a report in June 2022 to provide thoughtful, informative answers to this question within the context of the UK. The key questions which informed the commissioning of this report, entitled Feeding Britain From the Ground Up, were:
- What would sustainable farming systems look like in the UK?
- How much food and of which proportions would they produce, and what would be the implications for our daily diets?
The challenges at hand
While the industrialisation of the food system has allowed for vastly greater quantities of food to be produced — the importance of which cannot be overstated, in a world with a growing population — the additional consequences have been many, varied and overwhelmingly negative.
As the study elaborates, modern intensive farming practices have “degraded soils, reduced biodiversity, contributed to climate change, polluted our landscapes and produced a huge amount of waste.”
Industrialising the production of food has also rendered many people’s diets far less nutritious, contributing to a global health crisis; in the UK, 63% of adults are overweight or obese. Other common practices employed in intensive food production have further implications for human health, including antibiotic resistance and the increased risk of zoonotic disease.
A significant reliance on technology has also fostered a sense of distance from agriculture; we have lost our connection to the story behind our food.
This new report from the Sustainable Food Trust provides the most detailed assessment to date of how diets would need to change if future farming practices in the UK were to address the challenges of health, climate change, biodiversity restoration and food security.
The report concluded that:
“A UK-wide transition to sustainable and regenerative farming practices, to tackle the climate, nature and public health crises, could produce enough food to maintain and potentially even improve current levels of self-sufficiency, provided we ate differently, ate less and cut food waste.”
Here’s a brief summary of what the sustainable farming system outlined would look like, according to Feeding Britain From the Ground Up:
- The country would produce double the amount of fruits, vegetables and pulses (peas and beans).
- Regenerative agriculture would require a phasing out of intensive, grain-fed livestock production. Without grain being fed to livestock, grain production would halve.
- Once intensive livestock production is phased out, there would be a 75% decline in pork and chicken production.
- In contrast, the report suggests that future sustainable diets could still include similar levels of beef and lamb, reared mainly on grass.
- There would be a general shift to mixed farming, where crops and livestock are grown in rotation to rebuild soil fertility naturally. This would result in the reintroduction of grassland and grazing livestock in arable areas (mainly in the south and east) and cropping in some areas currently dominated by grassland in the north and west of Britain.
- Woodland cover would increase by close to a million hectares, and many more trees would be integrated into the farmed landscape through agroforestry. There would also be more land for nature, complementing the improvements to farmland biodiversity enabled by the shift to biologically based farming.
Patrick Holden, CEO of the Sustainable Food Trust, said,
“With the current cost of living crisis and rising worldwide hunger and food shortages, supercharged by the war in Ukraine, we face a choice in how to ensure national food security while also addressing the urgent issues of climate change, nature loss and human health. We can either double down on industrial farming to produce food that is bad for our health, the environment and food security — or we can turn this crisis into an opportunity to accelerate more sustainable food and farming and, ultimately, ensure everyone has access to healthy, sustainable food. Today, food and farming are part of the problem, but we believe they could be a big part of the solution if we make the right choices in the coming months and years.
“We can all play a big role in driving the change that is urgently needed. If we want to eat sustainably, we should eat the foods that can be grown in harmony with nature across the UK. As consumers and citizens, changing our diets could be one of the most important actions we take to address the threats of climate change, nature loss and damage to public health, and support farmers to transform the way they farm.”
What do food businesses need to consider?
Any successful shift towards a more sustainable food system will need the cooperation of the hospitality and foodservice (HaFS) sector. The global food industry is responsible for a substantial proportion of the climate crisis, making it clear that ‘radical, rapid change’ is required.
- Food businesses in the UK may wish to re-examine their menus through the lens of this report, incorporating more fruits, vegetables and legumes and considering a shift away from intensively reared, grain-fed livestock.
- Choosing to buy from local suppliers is another key component in any sustainable purchasing strategy.
- Identifying and decarbonising scope 3 emissions from industry remains another crucial part of the puzzle that has yet to fall into place, and is of overwhelming urgency within the hospitality sector.
- Food waste is yet another pressing issue; the United Nations Environment Programme's 2021 Food Waste Index reports an estimated 931 million tonnes of food going to waste every year, 26% of which comes from foodservice.
Foodprint by Nutritics: sustainability, made simple
As part of our company's continued innovation focus, Nutritics has developed Foodprint, a fully automated and transparent carbon footprint scoring system for foodservice and hospitality businesses. The technology provides businesses with an innovative solution to understand, manage and report on the carbon footprint of their food purchases, how it is trending over time and how changes are affecting the environment. The system fully supports and automates their non financial scope 3 ESG reporting requirements.
Alongside this, foodservice businesses can use Foodprint technology to add a carbon footprint score to packaging, dishes and promotional materials and communicate this with customers and clients.This can facilitate the design of circular menus, and optimise menus to be tailored towards consumer preferences and to include low environmental impact options.
Foodprint combines the latest academic research with cutting-edge technology to produce accurate and reliable results to support food businesses on their journey towards net zero. Foodprint provides foodservice operators with metrics and insights into the impact of the food they serve, from field to fork, and supports environmentally-conscious decisions related to their dishes.
Nutritics also provides a fully automated stock management and ordering system that can help your business to track and reduce kitchen waste, cutting costs and minimising environmental impact.
If you’re ready for your business to become part of a more sustainable food system, get in touch today at firstname.lastname@example.org.