Friday digest: Veganuary in full swing as farm subsidies and packaging also hit the headlines

Food businesses have a real opportunity to capitalise on Veganuary, the annual 31-day test of one’s ability to eschew meat, dairy, eggs and other animal products which is now in its tenth year and, seemingly, going from strength to strength. Plant-based innovation tends to come to the fore but as Tracey Jones from Compassion in World Farming noted this week it’s also a chance to talk about “better” meat and dairy products.

Campaigners behind Veganuary claim 83% of those who sign up will permanently change their diet to 100% plant-based or halve their intake of animal products. “Consumers expect food companies to make it easier for them to succeed in their meat reduction journey,” said Jones. And this means talking about both less and better meat choices – an opportunity that foodservice companies by and large have missed every January.

There is plenty going on in the better meat space as Footprint’s latest report discovered. Honest Burgers has for example ripped up the foodservice supply model and started again. The chain is buying whole cows rather than just the bits they want. Instead of buying meat from more than 300 farms a week with little power to influence them to shift to regenerative systems, the chain will source from about 25 (when its regenerative beef reaches all outlets in 2024), “which is a completely manageable number of farms to really have traceability, really understand and know the farmer and know the system, ”explained co-founder Tom Barton. “Farmers are now an integral part of our team – as they always should have been,” he added.

Farmers received news this week that the payments they receive for protecting and enhancing nature and delivering sustainable food production under the new environmental land management scheme (ELMs) will be increased. Reports of poor uptake and the economic challenges producers are facing prompted the UK government’s move to offer more money. “[…] we are increasing payment rates to ensure farmers are not out of pocket for doing the right thing by the environment,” said farming minister Mark Spencer. 

The NFU said it was likely to be too little, too late, while green NGOs called for a far bolder vision. “A future without nature is a future without food,” said WWF’s Kate Norgrove. “Yet current plans lack bold vision and detail, including critical measures for restoring wildlife, cleaning up our rivers and hitting net-zero.” 

Around 70% of England’s land is used for agriculture, meaning that the way we farm and use the land is vital for restoring biodiversity, reducing emissions and capturing carbon. New research from the RSPB, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, showed that bird populations increase on farms that devote around a tenth of their land to nature-friendly measures. 

Defra has estimated that up to 6MtCO2e can be saved across ELMs and the wider farming programme by 2037, but WWF reckons agriculture and land use can make a bigger contribution towards achieving net-zero. Last month, WWF brought together organisations from across the food system, including Sodexo, Tesco, Arla and Riverford Organic Farmers to call for the “ambition and delivery” of all parts of ELMs to be raised.

Hospitality and drinks businesses have also been shouting at politicians in Scotland, but for a pause in a packaging policy. The deposit return scheme for drinks packaging, due to go live in August, is causing considerable concerns for industry, MSPs and councils alike. In December, cuts to producer fees for the scheme were announced as well as exemptions for smaller retailers. Fears remain however that the August launch is unachievable.

Scotland’s scheme applies to soft and alcoholic drinks sold in single-use containers between 50ml and 3 litres and made from PET, plastic, glass, aluminium and steel. All producers making or businesses importing these products for sale in Scotland were also this week encouraged to register with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) before March 1st 2023, either directly or via Circularity Scotland, the scheme’s administrator. Those that don’t register risk being unable to sell their products in Scotland, Sepa warned.

And finally, the news that sellers and users of plastic plates and cutlery were dreading but expecting: the UK government has said (via the Daily Mail) that it will be implementing bans on a series of single-use plastic items in England. A full announcement, together with a response to the consultation that ended in February 2022, is expected over the weekend so we will hold further analysis on that until next week.

Comments are closed.