Mark Driscoll, head of WWF UK’s food programme, told FoodNavigator that threats to UK food chain sustainability embraced covered how to stop consumption patterns hitting the economy as well as the environment.
He was addressing today’s publication of the conclusions of DEFRA’s Green Food Project, which seeks to address how the UK can grow more food and protect the environment.
Referring to reformulation, Driscoll said consumers were responsible for pursuing healthy diets, but redesigning products to be healthier would help cut the cost of diet-related ill health to the UK’s National Health Service. “Healthy eating will be a win-win in terms of sustainability. There are lots of issues around reformulating and choice editing.”
Driscoll said the government could introduce more regulatory and fiscal incentives to encourage sustainability. But he challenged the idea of a ‘fat tax’ on products high in fat, salt and sugar as “a brutal instrument”. “A fiscal incentive is linked to profitability for the farming industry.” He also questioned if it would change consumer behavior.
Food and drink manufacturers could also support the Green Food Project’s findings by sustainably sourcing commodities such as palm oil, fish and fish-based ingredients, soy and sugar, said Driscoll. Companies such as Unilever were making substantial strides in this area, he said.
“WWF is keen to work with food businesses to look at best practice and innovation,” he added.
WWF criticised some of the Green Food Project committee’s recommendations for being “wooly” and lacking specific targets and milestones. It claimed simply trying to ramp up food production was a “fool’s errand”. The UK government needed to address underlying problems such as waste, access and diets.
Referring to DEFRA’s proposal to form a consumption forum, Driscoll supported the idea, but said it must be “more than just a talking shop”.
Among the more controversial conclusions of the Green Food Project is the proposal to introduce an industry-wide debate on genetically modified foods as part of its exhortation to explore how technologies could support sustainability in the food chain.
The Food Ethics Council said the Green Food Project report focused too much on sustainable intensification. “What’s clear is that a focus on food production alone isn’t enough” said executive director Sue Dibb. “What we’re eating, how much we waste, how we feed people fairly and treat animals humanely all need to be part of the picture.”
Tom MacMillan, director of innovation for organic food body the Soil Association, said the report failed to tackle how to encourage healthy diets: “This report is weak when it comes to the key challenge of making it easy to eat a diet that doesn’t seriously damage our own health and that of the planet.” However, he particularly welcomed the report’s proposal for two-way flows of knowledge, ideas and innovation between the lab and the field.
The Green Food Project examined how production and consumption could change in five different areas: wheat, dairy, bread, curry and geographical areas.