3 stories demonstrating why the food industry must do more on sustainability

04 October 2023, 12:30 PM
  • With food systems being responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the industry plays an important role in reversing the tide on climate breakdown. But these news stories show the sector must do more
3 stories demonstrating why the food industry must do more on sustainability

1. More than 90% of food and agriculture companies don’t do enough to farm sustainably, research finds

Big food and farming businesses are failing to protect nature and mitigate climate impact, according to new research.

The World Benchmarking Alliance analysed the 350 most influential food and agriculture companies around the world, including Bayer, Unilever and Walmart, and it found only 2% of companies understood their wider impact on nature. 

The group highlighted that while there has been some small progress across the sector over the last two years, with almost 50% of companies having a form of climate commitment, there are still major hurdles for the industry. 

For example, just 6% of companies had a time-bound commitment to eliminate deforestation. “To reach net zero by 2050, we know we must end deforestation by 2025,” said Jenni Black, WBA’s nature transformation lead. “Food and agriculture companies have a huge opportunity to simultaneously tackle climate change and biodiversity loss by eliminating deforestation. But despite some leading companies committing to end deforestation, our benchmark results show there is still a long way to go.”

The group also found that water use and soil pollution were among the top issues that companies need to respond do, and it called for clearer outcome-based strategies for food and agriculture businesses.

2. In the UK, intense farming and climate change are having detrimental impacts on wildlife

One in six species are at risk of extinction, according to the State of Nature report, produced by UK conservation charities, academics and government agencies. Since the 1970s, the number of plants and animals monitored have decreased by an average of 19%.

The way we manage our land for farming and climate change were the biggest cause of wildlife decline on the UK’s land, rivers and lakes, the groups found, and a shift to more wildlife-friendly farming and fishing are urgently needed.

“For Britain’s farmers and growers, the environments we work in are our homes and often have been for generations. That’s why we care passionately about protecting the great British countryside and huge amounts of work have been carried out through agri-environment schemes and industry-led initiatives to boost nature, create habitats for wildlife, and benefit soil health and water quality,” NFU president Minette Batters said in response to the report.

As part of the NFU’s ambition to reach net zero by 2040, it is working on a variety of ways to reduce emissions through improved productivity on farms and changing the way land is used to capture more carbon as well as plant more trees and hedges. 

“What we ask is that proposals to boost nature recovery simply sit alongside equally ambitious plans for food production,” she continued. “It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure climate-friendly British farming in the future, with a domestic agriculture policy that enables our farmers and growers to embrace accessible schemes that are fit for purpose. These schemes must offer fair rewards and strong incentives for participation, so farm businesses can continue to be productive and profitable while continuing to deliver the environmental benefits we all want to see.”

3. More than a fifth of our grocery items are at risk from climate breakdown

As the NFU points out, the UK has seen over the past 18 months just how fragile food supply chains are, and there is a desire to produce more here in the UK to reduce our reliance on imports.

This comes as research by the charity Christian Aid found that almost a quarter of UK grocery items are at risk of climate breakdown and could disappear from shelves in the coming years.

The group found that 22% of fruit, vegetables, pulses and meat products in the UK are imported from countries with high climate change vulnerability and low climate readiness levels, including Brazil, South Africa, India, Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, the Ivory Coast and Kenya.

“The UK may be an island but in an ever more interconnected world we cannot escape the damage caused by climate change,” Christian Aid CEO Patrick Watt said. 

“The climate crisis is increasingly disrupting the supply chains of the food in British shopping baskets and risks adding to the cost-of-living crisis. The UK government must work with others to provide the financial support needed to help vulnerable communities adapt to a fast-changing climate.”

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