Foodservice Footprint UK The Friday Digest: Better labelling tops Barclay’s list of resolutions Out of Home News Analysis  news-story-top news-email-top

The Friday Digest: Better labelling tops Barclay’s list of resolutions

The timing of the Oxford Farming and Oxford Real Farming conferences in the first week of January ensures a steady stream of food and farming news greets each new calendar year. This year has been no exception with Defra secretary of state Steve Barclay using his keynote speech in Oxford to announce an expansion of the government’s environmental land management schemes to reflect a greater focus on food production.

Barclay also pledged to “rapidly consult” on clearer labelling for products with lower welfare standards to tackle the unfairness created by misleading labelling and protect farmers and consumers. “British farmers are rightly proud of producing food that meets and often exceeds our world leading animal welfare and environmental standards. And British consumers want to buy this top-quality food. But too often products produced to lower welfare standards overseas aren’t clearly labelled to differentiate them,” said Barclay.

A consultation will explore how labels can better highlight imports that don’t meet UK welfare standards, improve how origin information is given online and look at how to ensure that promotional activity, such as Union Jack labels on supermarket displays, matches the products on the shelf. Barclay said the latter point would address concerns over how pork reared to lower welfare standards overseas, which is then processed in the UK, can be presented in supermarkets to shoppers as British.

It was not immediately clear whether the new consultation is the same as the 2022 pledge to consult on improving and expanding current mandatory labelling requirements for animal welfare? Or part of the planned consultation on eco-labelling slated for 2024? Or an entirely new consultation distinct from these others? (Defra had not responded to a request for clarity by the time of publication).

Regardless, the RSPCA welcomed the news whilst asking ministers to go further. “We also urge the UK government to not only consult on providing clear labelling for domestic and/or higher welfare products but transparent method of production labelling across the board to give consumers information about how the animals have been cared for,” said David Bowles, head of public affairs at the animal welfare charity.

Sticking with consultations (of which, you may have deduced, the government is a fan), Barclay also promised to update the government buying standards for food and catering “to emphasise the importance of buying food with high environmental and welfare standards”. There has been a significant lag between an initial consultation on updating these standards that closed in November 2022 and the government response, which has yet to materialise (although that hiatus pales in comparison with the three years and counting it has taken for the Department for Health and Social Care to respond to its consultation on front-of-pack nutrition labelling in the UK). Reports also suggest a consultation on a new land use strategy for England, seen as key to tackling greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, has been further postponed until later in the year.

Campaigners warn that there is no time to waste. WWF said the food system in England will continue to fail people and planet without increased funding and urgent government action as it published a new roadmap to support a regenerative agricultural transition in England. The report, in partnership with Natwest, argues that businesses must work together across the food value chain in order to fairly distribute costs and risks associated with the transition to nature-friendly farming, and that government intervention will be crucial to secure this. “Agriculture and land use are at the heart of any action to address climate change and nature loss, but farmers understandably need assurance that they will be fairly rewarded for transitioning to regenerative practices,” said Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF.

Turning to company news, Diageo is testing a new system to sell spirits in reusable glass packaging as part of an ambition to scale circular economy approaches to global distribution. The drinks giant has partnered with technology company Ecospirits to roll out a 4.5L ‘ecoTOTE’ designed to be used up to 150 times. The bottle consists of a glass insert, a plastic external enclosure and an aluminium chassis. Once the ecoTOTE is empty it will be collected and taken to offsite facilities, where it will be cleaned and refilled with the same spirit before being distributed and used again. The collaboration will initially be across Diageo’s Gordon’s gin, Captain Morgan rum and Smirnoff vodka brands and is expected to be trialled in 18 markets over the next three years.

Sodexo, meanwhile, has published its latest net-zero progress report against the caterer’s ambition to achieve net-zero by 2040. The Sodexo UK & Ireland business has achieved a 37% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions across scopes 1, 2 and 3 compared to its baseline year of 2017. Reductions have been delivered across all scopes including a 36% fall in scope 3 emissions which Sodexo attributed to initiatives including a commitment to sustainable food options and food waste prevention. “Today’s announcement is encouraging and will, I am sure, build confidence in our ability to achieve our near and long-term targets to achieve net-zero [by] 2040,” said Sean Haley, CEO of Sodexo UK & Ireland.

Also featured in Footprint News this week is a report from WWF on the levers foodservice operators can pull to support sustainable food choices; a warning from MPs that UK consumption habits are driving deforestation; and new analysis setting out measures to reduce nitrogen pollution.