1 July, 2022
Food… the beating heart of local culture, communities and social occasions around the world. But at what cost?
Studies estimate that food production is responsible for 25 to 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The public is increasingly aware of the environmental benefits of opting for less meat intensive diets, but our understanding of the carbon impact of a product we pick up from the shelves is limited at best.
A recent article from our friends at Tortoise highlighted that ten out of Britain’s 30 largest food companies do not report any scope 3 carbon emissions i.e. the carbon associated with their value chain, as distinct from those they are directly responsible for. And those that do report this information, often use generic assumptions. This is obviously a gaping hole in our understanding of the carbon intensity of the food we eat and the ability of retailers and restaurants to understand and reduce their carbon.
It’s clear that more carbon information is required at all levels of food production: from producers, retailers, wholesalers, restaurants to customers.
There have been growing demands for more specific reporting of non-financial data, particularly from large food retailers for years; back in 2007 Tesco pledged to determine a carbon ‘label’ for each of its products, before realising the size of the undertaking it had embarked on and soon after deciding to put this on the backburner.
Foodsteps have been making excellent headway in enabling retailers and restaurants to track and reduce the footprint of food from farm to fork, and there are an increasing number of brands stepping up and taking ownership of this calculation themselves., Quorn and Oatly, for example, display the carbon associated with each of their products on their packaging.
Consumers need to be able to make informed decisions about the food they are eating. Unfortunately, the vague ambition to halt climate change set out in the recently published UK Food Strategy does not do enough to address this. Just as we expect nutritional information on the back of a box of cereal, we should hold the same expectations for environmental metrics. Until disclosures throughout the food system become a mandatory requirement, progress will be slow.
By Budd Nicholson