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Sustainable food blocked by ‘pass the buck’ attitude

By Gary Scattergood , 31-Jan-2013

Food businesses need more government support to create a sustainable food system, according to a new report.

Dan Crossley warned the ‘pass the buck’ mentality to food sustainability was harming consumers and the environment

Dan Crossley warned the ‘pass the buck’ mentality to food sustainability was harming consumers and the environment

The Food Ethics Council’s report, Beyond Business As Usual, found that food businesses knew they needed to change the way they operate, but most did not know how to make those changes.

While businesses are urgently seeking government support, the report stated that ministerial drives to ‘free up’ businesses from regulation is passing responsibility back to business.

It said this ‘pass the buck’ mentality was harming consumers and the environment.

Adapting to the profound effects of climate change, lifting 1bn starving people out of hunger and addressing the escalating obesity crisis were just a few issues facing the food system, and businesses’ bottom line, stated the report.

Beyond business as usual

It goes on to show how the industry can go beyond ‘business as usual’ to create a sustainable and resilient food system.

Suggestions include:

  • Retailers providing a ‘better set of choices’ in products, such as some supermarkets stocking only fairly-traded own-label tea and bananas
  • Businesses providing sustainable meals to their workforce
  • Employees lobbying for sustainably sourced food and drinks and for responsible pensions
  • Government leading the way in public sector food procurement, and introducing ‘sustainability’ taxes on unsustainably sourced food. The revenue should go to prevent further damage.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council, said: “These recommendations, based on what we were told by senior food business executives and other key stakeholders, go some way to helping create a sustainable food system. But we also need transformative change to underpin and encourage these smaller steps.

“Government must show leadership by developing a joined-up food policy that connects all the dots, from local planning to health, from environmental protection to business conditions.”

Infinite economic growth

“Most fundamentally, government must reconsider its faith in an economic model premised on continued economic growth above all else. Infinite economic growth in a finite world is – quite simply – impossible. It’s a challenge that must be urgently faced.”

The report was welcomed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which pledged to play its part in improving sustainability.

Andrew Kuyk, FDF director of sustainability, said: “Improving the sustainability of our food system is a key challenge for everyone involved, from farmers and manufacturers through to retailers and consumers, as well as for the governments and authorities responsible for the frameworks within which the industry operates, both here and in our international supply chains.

“This report brings out very clearly the issues that need to be addressed, individually and collectively, to make a real and positive difference to safeguarding future access to safe, nutritious and affordable food for all."

Meanwhile, the likelihood of extreme weather events "wiping out" agricultural production and food systems is increasing rapidly, a Leeds University ecology professor has warned.

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