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Global food security challenge creates food industry opportunities, says UK government

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 13-Sep-2012

The challenges of global food security present real opportunities for the food and farming industries, the UK government has said in its response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Sustainable Food report.

The Parliamentary report, which was published in May, warned that the UK “does not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices”, and said that food waste was the biggest single issue across the supply chain. It recommended incentivising research institutions to train food and agricultural scientists; establishing an independent body to evaluate the impact of genetically modified crops on the environment; and examining the scope for clear and consistent labelling on the sustainability of food products.

“The challenges posed by food security and feeding a growing world population create real opportunities for the farming and food industry, in responding to market challenges and public demand,” the government said on Wednesday in its response to the report . “Government should not be closely supervising the industry or limiting its ability to react to those signals. The challenges are not for government alone and many of the instruments of change do not belong to government, which should be delivering those services that only it can provide.”

The government said its Green Food Project, which brings together stakeholders from across the supply chain, including industry and government, was “a useful starting point” – but it has been criticised by environmental organisations for lacking specific targets.

Sustainability labelling & GM crops

The government also said that it would not introduce an all-encompassing sustainability label for foods at this time, saying that developing such a label would be complex and costly, and the current science is not “sufficiently robust” to develop an environmentally broad, outcome-based system.

“Labelling should be one element alongside government regulations and industry schemes designed to provide the right information,” it said.

Nor did it agree with the report’s recommendation to establish an independent evaluation body for GM crops, saying that there is already a wide evidence base and significant global experience of GM cultivation.

As for the question of food waste, the government said it was working with WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme) to address the issue, among other measures.

‘Not far enough’

UK organic food body, the Soil Association, said in a statement that the response did not go far enough.

“The focus on agricultural innovation is welcome, but does not go far enough in recognising that new approaches will be needed in a new era of resource and climate constrained agriculture, rather than simply more of the same.”

It said it would like to see greater attention paid to organic agriculture, among other farming methods, in conjunction with a shift toward more plant-based diets.

“The government’s response does not take the lead that industry and the public need it to, particularly on the tough but crucial issue of sustainable consumption,” it said.

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