The UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced yesterday (26 April) a plan to improve the food industry’s environmental, social and economic performance “from the farm gate to the consumer’s plate” by developing a strong partnership between industry and government.

The Food Industry Sustainability Strategy aims to tackle the impact that the food industry has on resources, such as energy and water, and its relationship to climate change.

Defra hopes that the initiative will help the industry reduce its carbon emissions by 20% by 2010 against a 1990 baseline; reduce water use in the South East by between 20% and 25% and in the rest of the UK by 10% to 15% by 2019; reduce food waste by between 15% and 20% by 2010. The governmental agency also wants to see significantly reduced environmental and social costs of  domestic food transportation.

Announcing the launch of the initiative, Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commented: “As an industry the food sector has a significant role to play in achieving a sustainable future for this country.

“There are many ways this can be done – whether it is by minimising packaging, making food transportation more efficient or reducing the amount of water the industry uses in its processes.

“Rising energy and water prices, not to mention the increasingly self-evident consequences of climate change, are timely reminders of the need for action.

“Sustainability requires behavioural changes, in particular the widespread adoption of best practice.  We all have a role to play in meeting the challenge of sustainability.

“The Strategy will provide a framework for the food and drink sector to play its part by making sustainability its goal.  It must be viewed as the beginning of a process – not the end.”

The strategy has a very broad remit, and aims to improve the industry’s performance in ethical trading, health and safety, equal opportunities, science and innovation, workforce skills and the sectors efforts to reduce retail crime.

The Government hopes that these objectives will be met through increased cooperation between the food industry and various government-funded organisations and newly created Champions’ Groups. A food industry better regulation group will act as a forum through which the Government and industry can improve the quality of regulation and enforcement impacting the food industry.

Industry body the Food and Drink Federation has welcomed the move to strengthen links between the industry and Government. Sustainability, an FDF spokesperson told just-food, is an essential goal shared by food manufacturers represented by the FDF and it is widely believed among the food industry that greater cooperation between the Government and manufacturers will work to benefit everyone.

FDF Director General Melanie Leech said: “UK food and drink manufacturers have long recognised the importance of progress towards sustainable development.  We welcome Defra’s recognition of the industry’s work to date.
“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.  Food and drink manufacturers are ready and willing to play their part in helping to take FISS forward, in particular to working with Defra and industry partners in the new Champions’ Groups.”