Food industry strategy targets transport, waste and energy

A draft sustainable development strategy for the food industry was published for consultation in April. It proposes voluntary measures and targets to reduce the sector’s impacts - including food miles, carbon emissions and waste generation.1

Spearheaded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the strategy was developed in discussion with an industry stakeholder group. The aim is to secure widespread buy-in from all sectors beyond the farm gate.

The Food and Drink Federation took a first stab at a sustainability strategy in 2002 - an exercise which did not impress Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett who challenged the industry to draw up some targets (ENDS Report 326, pp 7-8 ). A related strategy, by the British Retail Consortium, was published in 2001 (ENDS Report 322, pp 5-6 ).

DEFRA’s draft strategy starts by noting that the economic scale and benefits of the food sector are "huge" - and "so too are its environmental and social impacts, both here and overseas."

The industry is a major energy user, accounting for about 14% of consumption by UK businesses. It also accounts for 10% of industrial water use and 10% of industrial and commercial waste.

On waste, the strategy notes that, as well as generating wastes of its own, the sector contributes to waste in consumers’ homes. "Much of the waste arising in the home starts as food industry products and packaging purchased from major supermarkets," it says.

The document says the industry must reduce its own wastes by 15-20% by 2010, and "contribute effectively" to the work by the Waste and Resources Action Programme and others in relation to supermarket recycling and consumer information and behaviour.

Key performance indicators include levels of waste arising in the sector, progress against recycling targets and take-up of Envirowise consultancy advice.

A section on food miles draws the conclusion that there should be a reduction of 20% by 2012. "The logistical improvements of the last decade need to be built on and this is essentially a responsibility of the manufacturing and distribution sectors." The sector trade bodies are to set up a process and report back by January 2006.

Four indicators on transport are to be developed, covering urban vehicle mileage, CO2 emissions from traffic, air transport of food and heavy goods vehicle kilometres.

Rather limply, the draft includes a commitment to "discuss" the feasibility of meeting a target to cut the sector’s CO2 emissions by 20% between 1990 and 2010. Reductions in fossil fuel use have been partly offset by growth in industry output.

Progress on energy use will be measured per unit of output as well as in absolute terms, and total CO2 savings will also be measured.

On water, the industry must reduce usage by 10-15% by 2020 and by 20-25% in the south-east. "This requires long-term change in production methods whilst preserving essential food hygiene and safety."

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