Foodservice Footprint tractor-1 THE EASTER DIGEST: We can but dream of harmony  Foodservice News and Information  news-story-top news-email-top

THE EASTER DIGEST: We can but dream of harmony 

Sustainability data at a farm level will soon be provided to schools and hospitals in a first for UK public procurement. Soil Association Exchange is set to deliver the environmental measures for farms in public sector purchasing as part of the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) buying better food and drink agreement (Entegra, a Sodexo company, and technology provider Equilibrium Markets are also involved)

Exchange measures the environmental impact of farm operations by assessing six key areas – soil, water, carbon, animal welfare, social impacts, and biodiversity. The data comes via on the ground farm surveys, satellite imagery and other datasets on metrics like soil carbon and bird counts, alongside considering the food production and community benefits a farm provides.

“These measurements consider the full picture and can help to show schools and hospitals all of the brilliant things that farmers are doing to support nature while producing good quality food,” said Exchange chief executive Joseph Gridley. He also hopes to soon see a much wider variety of producers accessing this market. “It is hugely important for our public institutions to serve food that supports sustainable, British farm businesses and we are excited to start delivering data that will help to make this easier,” he added. 

Quite right too. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened for a variety of reasons. We have lost count of the number of reviews that have taken place to ensure the 1.9 billion meals served in the public sector each year are sustainable. But another one has just been announced – with Conservative MP Will Quince set to offer his two pennies’ worth.

There is actually over a billion pounds being spent by public sector kitchens that can be used to compensate farmers for efficient, lower carbon food production in harmony with nature, said Equilibrium chief executive Rich Osborn. Imagine that? 

Instead, farmers have continued their protests – this week in London’s Parliament Square. Organisers demanded a ban on what they see as “dishonest” labelling where food imported and processed in Britain can be labelled as British. They also want the UK to withdraw from the Australian and New Zealand trade deals, and for the government to produce a clear plan for food security.

The debate has once again separated nature and conservation with food production, leaving some experts clearly frustrated. Speaking at a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum last week, professor Tim Lang from City University, London, said this came down to a “failure of politics”. Ruth Westcott, from Sustain, said there “simply isn’t enough incentive for farmers to change. We see environmental policy being discussed in farming protests as a threat to farming and it should be the exact opposite,” she explained. “And if we’re not careful, we risk losing that enthusiasm amongst farmers to far right protesters.”

Indeed, as Guy Singh-Watson from Riverford Farm wrote in a blog this week: “We all do our best work when we feel appreciated, supported, and purposeful. I dream of an accessible, biodiverse, and inclusive countryside – where farmers are valued for their stewardship of nature, as well as for the food they produce,” he added.

Adele Jones, executive director at the Sustainable Food Trust, remains frustrated by the narrative that is playing out. “When the post-Brexit reforms were being discussed, it was very much ‘how do we do both [protect the environment and produce food]?’,” she told Footprint. “And whilst the [new] schemes are trying to do both, they are doing so in quite a siloed way.”

On Monday, the government introduced new measures to limit the amount of land farmers can take out of “productive actions” under the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI). Applicants to the scheme will only be able to put 25% of their land into six SFI actions that take land out of direct food production. “The changes will ensure the scheme continues to support farmers to produce food sustainably alongside improving the environment,” the government said in a statement, which was clearly designed to allay fears over food security. “Food production is the primary purpose of farming and today we are taking action to clarify this principle,” added farming minister Mark Spencer.

The nuance, as ever, is being lost. So we will leave you with these thoughts, from Jyoti Fernandes, policy and campaigners coordinator at the Landworkers’ Alliance. “While I fundamentally and unequivocally believe that a global transition to agroecology is needed, I can also sympathise with farmers who feel they are being left behind by the implementation of policies that have no regard for the need for a just transition; one which supports both nature and farmers. Many governments, the UK government included, are implementing environmental legislation without the necessary budgets, advice and logistical support that farmers require to embark on the transition.” 

Our other stories this week are: another delay to the DRS; the reporting rollercoaster giving sustainability executives sleepless nights; and the search for sustainable ‘super-hops’.

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