Only government can fill food data gaps

A lack of basic, transparent data within the food industry is hindering progress towards a sustainable food system, according to new Food Foundation research.

In its latest Plating Up Progress report, the charity called for the government to establish clear metrics that businesses are required to report against on indicators such as sustainable food production and encouraging healthy diets. It said transparent and public reporting would drive faster progress than we are currently seeing through voluntary initiatives.

The Food Foundation assessed the performance of 26 UK-operating major retailers, caterers, quick service and casual dining restaurants against metrics in 10 topic areas used to assess progress towards healthy, just, and sustainable food systems.

It found businesses were making most progress in areas where there are existing government mandatory reporting requirements such as on scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions, or where the government has committed to introduce new reporting requirements, for example on reducing operational food waste.

Progress has also been seen on issues that have been the subject of major campaigns with high levels of public attention and scrutiny such as sustainable fish and palm oil.

There has been less progress, however, in areas where there are no mandatory reporting requirements; less significant public pressure; technical challenges relating to lack of data; or lack of agreed approaches to measurement. These include reporting against scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions; engaging with suppliers to reduce food waste in their supply chains; reporting on sales of healthy versus unhealthy foods; and taking action on metrics relating to encouraging healthy diets.

The report said that standardising reporting requirements and requiring them of businesses across the board would ensure that industry leaders are not penalised for the efforts that they are putting in. It would also allow investors to understand company progress and compare businesses across a range of issues.

The Food Foundation called on the government to strengthen existing mandatory reporting requirements on greenhouse gas emissions and modern slavery and to maximise the impact of newly announced reporting requirements on forest-risk commodities and food waste.

It also urged policy makers to work towards the introduction of new sales-based reporting requirements for healthy versus unhealthy foods and plant-based proteins, and to work towards the introduction of new supply chain reporting requirements on sustainable production and water.

The aim of the Plating up Progress project is to build consensus on metrics and reporting mechanisms, and to engage stakeholders to advance the uptake of those metrics and track progress in the industry.

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