Why can't the UK solve food insecurity? Episode six

By Bethan Grylls

- Last updated on GMT

Left to right: Emma Piercy of the FDF with Bethan Grylls of Food Manufacture
Left to right: Emma Piercy of the FDF with Bethan Grylls of Food Manufacture

Related tags Food security Sustainability Net zero Climate change reformulation

In this penultimate instalment of our documentary around food insecurity sponsored by RSSL, Bethan visits the Food and Drink Federation's headquarters to chat to its head of climate and energy policy, Emma Piercy.

The Food and Drink Federation's (FDF) head of climate and energy policy, Emma Piercy invites Bethan Grylls to its London headquarters where she offers her insight into how sustainability links with food security, what the FDF's role is in supporting industry and the changes she'd put forward if she were leader. Watch her interview below.

Commenting on how producers can look to avoid the disruptions we've been witnessing in recent years or indeed work with in conjunction with them, Piercy said a good starting point is "to assess where your risks are in the supplychain" . ​She pointed to the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures as a useful framework that has helps organisations undertake this assessment on where there may be vulnerabilities within their supply chain. 

"The UK imports a lot of its fruit and vegetables from areas like Spain, and I believe Southern Spain is one of the 10 areas most at risk of water scarcity. That itself should start ringing alarm bells, not least what is happening at the moment. These are signals for us to really start looking at where the risks are and begin to mitigate them.

Could we also take lessons from the war in Ukraine? Piercy suggested, such as looking at energy supply and prices, as well as certain agricultural commodities. "When we look at how companies have responded to those challenges - for example availability challenges around sunflower oil - they've now started to diversify into other oils."

Piercy questions whether manufacturers could look at reformulation as an alternative, whether it's replacing ingredients or even looking at the volumes of certain commodities that are vulnerable. 

It's about having "plan Bs and Cs I suppose," ​she mused.

"When you look at the food and drink manufacturing sector in the UK - we're huge, we've one of the largest industries. But the majority of our sector is made up of small to medium businesses (SMEs). The resources that they have is very different to larger scale companies," ​she continued. As such the FDF are trying to offer support to the SMEs by publishing guidance such as its Net Zero handbook. This looks at the actions and influences which manufacturers bring, whether that's through transport, packaging or on-site emissions, to name a few.  

But although the guidance and frameworks are getting better, the financial implications are holding us back. "You have a lot of actions companies can take, but the biggest issue - large or small company - is cost. That is a major area where support is needed."

Adding her thoughts on what is needed from government, Piercy said if she were to lead for a day, it would be about integrating a systems approach that addresses the sustainability challenges in the food system and incorporates consumers in the process. "I'm hoping this new department for energy and Net Zero could have this convening effect of pulling these different parts of the sector together,"​ she added hopefully.   

Watch episode one here​​​, with Anna Taylor of the Food Foundation as she talks cost-of-living.

Watch episode two here​​​, with Nick Allen of the British Meat Processors Association as he discusses regulation and red tape.

Watch episode three here​​​, as Mike Wijnberg of Pilgrim's UK highlights the ways in which the company has been addressing sustainability and food security. 

Watch episode four here,​​​ which includes insight from Kim Kettle and Paul Eggleston of Long Clawson Dairy and Bridge Farm, respectively.

Watch episode five here,​ as Charles Baughan of Westaway Sausages discusses the importance of soil health with our editor.

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