The report, Recommendations to improve biodiversity protection in policy and criteria of food standards and sourcing requirements of food companies and retailers, published by the European Business and Biodiversity Campaign (EBBC), calls for industry to make the protection of biodiversity a priority.
Led by the not-for-profit foundation Global Nature Fund (GNF) with the support of EU institutions, the EBBC helps companies integrate biodiversity into their corporate management, and has already worked with Daimler, Rewe and TUI.
"In combination with the agricultural sector, food producers and retailers have a great impact on biodiversity. Unfortunately, biodiversity protection is still not considered with the adequate importance by the sector.
“In general, the interactions between human activities and biodiversity are complex. Due to this complexity, reducing the negative effects on nature in the complete supply chain of a food product - from the field to the shelf - poses a challenge," it says.
"We don't know how many organisms are living on our planet and how many we lose every year; today only about 1,8 million plants and animals are described. But we know that species loss driven by human activities is occurring 1,000 times faster than it would under natural circumstances."
However, the report makes a number of recommendations for food manufacturers, farmers and suppliers which, if implemented, would make “a very relevant contribution" towards protecting biodiversity - an essential component of sustainable food systems.
Companies and certification bodies including Nestlé, Symrise, FairTrade Germany, UTZ and the Union for Ethical Biotrade supported the EBBC project.
The report authors urge food manufacturers and retailers to offer old or traditional crop varieties and livestock breeds as well as old, regional and rare fruit and vegetable varieties.
In order to make this a reality, companies could create better market access for traditional varieties and breeds, for instance by rewarding through a bonus point system farmers or suppliers who cultivate traditional varieties.
Manufacturers should promote traditional breeding techniques over genetic modification by avoiding GM ingredients. “The natural propagation of traditional varieties by applying classical breeding techniques is another alternative that does not alter the natural genome directly and enables farm operators to increase the resilience of their agro-ecological systems,” says the report.
“Food companies and suppliers should recognize the contribution of small-scale farmers to the preservation of biodiversity and promote smallholder production and traditional, biodiversity-friendly farming practices [and] assume an appropriate share of the costs that may incur for producers due to improved environmental and biodiversity protection and social responsibility.”
They should also avoid price dumping at the expense of environmental and social standards, it says.
Motivating other suppliers and relevant parties in the supply chain to contribute towards agro-biodiversity is also important.
The EBBC has also developed a Biodiversity Performance Tool (BPT) to assess the situation and the potential for biodiversity protection on farms and support monitoring.
This will be rolled out on 50 farms across Europe, including a cereal farm in Germany, vegetable and olive production in Spain, on grasslands used for meat production in Portugal and for milk production and dairy products in France. Farmers will rate the measures according to how difficult they are to implement.