THE FRIDAY DIGEST: Academics rage against the McDonald’s machine, while Defra is in the dock over its (regenerative) agriculture and food waste policies.

Footprint can reveal that 58 academics will write to MEPs on Monday voicing their concerns regarding a wave of industry-funded anti-reusable packaging research, some of which “directly contradicts” the European Commission’s impact assessment. The letter, coordinated by NGOs the Environmental Paper Network and Fern, will warn how the research, including life cycle assessments (LCAs) is “sowing doubt” concerning the necessity of reducing overall amounts of packaging and associated resource use. Suffice to say: we told you so. 

In March, McDonald’s published a report and built an accompanying website called ‘No silver bullet’ that criticised proposals in the packaging and packaging waste directive (PPWR) to set reuse targets for various packaging formats and ban single-use packaging when people are dining in (as France has already done). The European Paper Packaging Alliance (EPPA) has also released studies claiming that single-use paper packaging is more sustainable than reusable options in quick service settings.

The PPWR proposals have created quite a stir in Brussels, with DeSmog reporting it as “the largest-scale lobbying effort [some insiders] have ever witnessed in the European Parliament”. We predict further riots as the ‘recycling versus reuse’ debate rages on as PPWR is finalised. Debates over the new laws are ongoing and delays are likely.

Talk of delays brings us to Defra, which needs to get its act in gear if farmers are going to shift to regenerative approaches. That’s according to Demos, a cross party think-tank, and McCain Foods, who have together produced a new report. ‘Sowing resilience: A policy framework to expand regenerative farming’, calls for “ambitious new approaches” to help the UK meet its food needs and its environmental commitments. There needs to be a revamp of current policies to incentivise regenerative approaches, the authors said. Food manufacturers, retailers and foodservice should also set a target on procurement of regenerative products.

Polling conducted for the report revealed that 70% of people are not yet familiar with the term regenerative farming. However, there is significant cross-party support for the practice in principle: 69% of Conservative voters and 68% of Labour backers are in favour of its widespread adoption. 

The report said it will also be important to expand market incentives to produce regeneratively and to review advertising and labelling approaches: the lack of agreed standards or definitions for regenerative agriculture present challenges for marketing the products. Campaigners are watching closely for any sign of greenwashing.

Still, McCain has begun advertising its regenerative approaches: a new advert features potato farmer Imogen Stanley driving TV presenter Iain Stirling in a slow-moving tractor, with traffic trailing behind. Well, there’s a little (but not a lot) more to it than that but we wanted to segue into …

… how policymakers at Defra must navigate around certain roadblocks to unlock 
the potential of regenerative farming, seen as key to net-zero and biodiversity protection and restoration targets. In conversations with 1,500 consumers, plus farmers and policy experts, three key barriers to expanding regenerative methods emerged, according to Demos: poor financial incentives to transition; caution about shifting methods; and difficulties in implementation.

A number of policy measures are proposed to help overcome these, including the establishment of a Defra-led regenerative farming taskforce and the development of core standards for food imports so UK producers are not undercut by watered down approaches elsewhere. The government should also “significantly increase” the sustainable farming incentive (SFI) management payments.

Some farmers said the SFI is “not worth the paper it is written on”. This week Defra secretary of state Thérèse Coffey and farming minister Mark Spencer pledged that farmers who have a ‘live’ SFI agreement before the end of the year will receive an advance payment of 25% of their money in ‘the first month of their agreement’. This, the government said, would help with cashflow against a background of high inflation and rising input costs.

The NFU, which celebrated Back British Farming Day on Wednesday, welcomed the move on SFI, as well as confirmation that farmers enrolling in new environmental support schemes will be able to use them to meet public procurement standards. A new £4m fund to help upgrade existing small abattoirs was also announced.

But there’s no hiding the fact that food policy is a pickle. Christian Aid research this week showed that 22% of fruit, vegetables, pulses and meat products in a typical grocery basket would come from high-risk climate change countries. In addition, eight of the UK’s top 25 import trade partners are countries with high climate vulnerability and low climate readiness. Bananas, grapes, avocados, coffee and tea are among the staples of UK shopping baskets now in the firing line as climate impacts bite, the charity warned.

Do check out the other three stories in this week’s bulletin: there is more on that reusable ruckus, as well as worrying divergence between the UK and EU on pesticide controls, plus a food waste fight that could go to court.

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