Food industry to go green

A NEW Defra strategy urging the food industry to cut its carbon emissions and water use to limit environmental damage has been welcomed by a Suffolk food campaigner.

By Sarah Chambers

A NEW Defra strategy urging the food industry to cut its carbon emissions and water use to limit environmental damage has been welcomed by a Suffolk food campaigner.

Retailers have a "crucial" role to play in reducing the negative impact of food transport, according to Defra's Food Industry Sustainability Strategy.

They should cut down journey lengths where possible and rebuild the market for locally-sourced goods, the report says.

Lady Caroline Cranbrook, who has campaigned over many years against the domination of major supermarkets and in favour of locally produced food described the report as “a huge opportunity”.

Defra's strategy calls on the food and drink industry to cut carbon emissions by 20% within four years compared to 1990 levels.

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The industry's water use should be reduced by between 10 and 15% over the same period and between 20 to 25% in the south east of England.

And manufacturers should cut the amount of food and other waste they produce by 15 to 20% by 2010.

The feasibility of a 20% reduction in domestic food transport is to be assessed by industry, the report says.

"Crucially, retailers need to demonstrate their commitment to locally-sourced produce by making shelf space available,' it adds.

The food and drink industry accounted for 11% of the UK's energy consumption in 2002, excluding transport.

It is described in the report as a "major contributor' to UK carbon emissions at some 7.9 million tonnes per year within the industry.

Introducing the strategy, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett called on food and drink industry leaders to give it their full support.

"Taking action now will save on what is demanded of us tomorrow, over which we may have less control and for which our children and grandchildren will hold us responsible,' she said.

The food industry is a "major user' of packaging, according to the report.

A large proportion of household waste starts life as food industry products and packaging, it adds.

This puts the food industry in a "unique position' to influence household behaviour for the better by cutting down on packaging and offering recycling points.

The strategy calls on supermarkets to double the volume of food goods covered by ethical trading schemes by 2008.

Defra also wants the food and drink industry to employ more women and people from ethnic minorities in skilled and managerial grades.

Melanie Leech, director general of the Food and Drink Federation which represents manufacturers, said the industry was "ready and willing' to take the strategy forward.

She said: "Long-term sustainability remains the industry's goal. The launch of this strategy marks an important milestone towards a joined-up approach across the food chain.'

Lady Cranbrook welcomed the report and said she would like to see much more identification of local produce in supermarkets.

“They certainly are heading in the right direction,” she said of the report.

“It's an opportunity to really make a difference and it's an opportunity to make a difference not only regarding carbon emissions but also consumer choice.”

She pointed out that there was “a tremendous amount of waste” because shoppers had been trained by the big supermarkets to expect a uniform product and this had to change.

Temperate fruits were being imported here from countries where there was a lack of water, and the precious resource was being used to grow them, she added.

“I think we need to be going back more to seasonality,” she said.

Friends of the Earth welcomed measures to reduce energy and water and to cut food industry waste.

But the green campaign group said Defra's Strategy failed to tackle the problems caused by the global pressures to produce cheap food.

Friends of the Earth senior food campaigner Vicki Hird said: "The Food Industry Sustainability Strategy is a weak response to the very significant environmental, social and health problems caused by the food industry.

"Of course it is important that the food industry reduces its energy use, but it must also address crucial problems such as how supermarkets, processing companies and fast food outlets treat suppliers, both here and overseas.

"Farmers and workers worldwide are forced to use environmentally damaging farming methods because of the pressure for low prices.

"Workers are underpaid and many work in conditions that are simply unacceptable. But the Government has ignored this aspect of the food industry.'