Footprint Forum: Foodservice and Agriculture, What the Panel Thinks…

Foodservice Footprint Forum-small Footprint Forum: Foodservice and Agriculture, What the Panel Thinks… Food service industry event reports

The Footprint Forum Panel of foodservice experts was asked whether action on sustainable agriculture should be demand driven or would restrictions in supply shape the future? Tim Innocent was first to answer saying: “ What Nestlé is trying to look at is that if demand is increased, the way to get security is to work with farmers and producers in a sustainable way. For example, with the launch of Kit Kat as Fairtrade, the demand from consumers was there. Both will be drivers. There is political influence. Under the quota restraint system, if we go out and buy lots of sugar, the quota wouldn’t give us enough. It’s complex in terms of politics.”

 

The panel was asked for their reaction to a recent IGD report that says 49 per cent of shoppers across European countries expect to be buying more products with ethical credentials. Val Carter said what fascinates her are the different priorities. “With our university contracts, ethical products are top of the university college students’ list, but ask them whether having British products is important, they’re not sure. They’re not asking where the beef comes from. They hook onto Fairtrade and the Rainforest Alliance. Ethnic and British go well together – they sit nicely alongside each other. Ethical can dovetail with British and local. Fairtrade is growing. It’s fantastic that companies like Cadbury and Nestle are supporting this.

 

“But it’s surprising that students haven’t got the British bit, but it’s where they are in their lives. We have a responsibility to educate them otherwise there will be a problem in the future,” she said. Kevin Pearce wondered how many people really know what ethical means, saying: “We’ve been through fads. Consumers want to know where their food comes from. For some people there’s an issue about cloning which gets into ethics and is difficult to answer.”

 

With the increased enthusiasm for buying British, the panel was asked are we any nearer to putting clear country of origin labelling on products? Pearce thinks we are. “Consumers are driving it to the extent that every bit of food is being labeled from every part of the country. It’s a basic requirement from the British consumer for provenance and they deserve to have it. I think we’re getting there. The consumer is clearly asking for this information.”

 

Innocent remarked: “It can be difficult for some manufacturers with complex ingredients – in the end there are only so many things you can get on a label.” Pearce added: “What we don’t want is misinformation.”

 

According to Tony Goodger, the pig industry has produced an isotopic map of the pig production areas in Europe. “Take any pork sample and you will be given the origin so everyone, not just retailers, can be confident in labelling,” he said.

 

The panel was asked what the foodservice industry’s position is on GMO products in the supply chain? “The technology exists – 10 per cent of the world’s farmed land is GMO. We should understand that GM can help us with pesticides, nutrients, dense foods. We should be able to have the science to understand it and access the GM seeds. Industrial countries like Canada – and Brazil, and India – are emerging with GM. Countries that are very wealthy have the new technology. GM should be the solution to improve yield – if we want it to be maintained. In reality, the global market is using GM. The amount of soya which is non GM is small – soya is the classic GM example,” said Pearce.

 

Rebecca Hawkins, Oxford Brookes University, from the floor, said: “There’s a role for technology. Can more be done to change consumers’ attitudes to GMOs? If consumers don’t want it, they won’t take it up.”

 

Tony Goodger said: “We need to improve yield by 2030 and have 50 per cent more food.” He pointed out that cotton is GM and people don’t baulk at wearing that. “We can bring more food to the world if we allow GM to grow in this country. If some people don’t want it, it should be available to others.”

 

According to Mark Tinsley: “There is an irony – GM has the greatest capacity to achieve all this and yet we have an organisation seen to be sustainable, the Soil Association, which is opposed to it. We have to get through this barrier.”

 

In the face of a potential food shortage, yields will be at a premium. With this in mind, what is the future for organic farming, according to the panel? “Organic is a subject that periodically comes up with consumers, then disappears. No clients are pushing us to produce organic. We can get organic – we have tried putting organic apples into schools, but children didn’t want them,” said Carter.

 

Since the General Election, did the panel see any evidence of a change in Government attitudes towards the farming and food producing community? Mark Tinsley believes the Government needs to get out into the industry. “The litmus test is what it is going to do on research and CAP reform. There has to be a balance between commerce and environmental issues.”

 

Alastair Storey said he would like to see the Government make the right decision and actively promote innovation in agriculture. However, Lord Carter of Coles said that money is going to be tight for at least three years if the promised cuts have the right effect, saying that investment in research will be difficult to fund even at current levels. “It might be even longer than three years,” he warned.

 

Panellists were asked to what extent should for profit businesses be involved in creating and maintaining sustainable agricultural communities. Defra’s Roy Norton said: “Business has a responsibility to do this – and so it should.” Storey agreed, saying: “There has to be total involvement. Businesses should be keen to support the agricultural cause in a challenging economy. We have to give that support and help job creation but we have got to be careful. Competitive pricing but be given the opportunity and headroom to invest. It cannot all come from Government.”

 

Regarding the ongoing debate on British provenance, the panel was asked whether the foodservice industry is confusing ‘sustainability’ with ‘origin’? Tinsley said: “NGOs are driving policy when the Government needs to drive policy.” Norton told delegates: “Consumers are attracted to ‘local’. There is FSA data on that.

 

And central Government is doing its bit having issued guidance for Government departments to buy British.They have to buy to a standard. Look at pigs, for example.” Penny Beauchamp, of Assured Food Standards, from the floor, said: “Anything British is local in an island this size but until we have a proper definition on what is local this we cannot take the debate further.”

CH & Co’s Caroline Fry (from the floor) said there is a disconnect between home and workplace. The client may be into CSR but a worker has to feed her family. She may have £3 to feed herself when at work, so she doesn’t care where her food comes from, she just needs to eat on that money.”

 

How much awareness exists in both the growing community and the foodservice sector of the bigger picture of food security and the need for more sustainable supply was another question thrown out to the panel for discussion. “Are consumers aware of this?” wondered Lord Coles. “The Man from the Ministry is aware but the public are not. This must be remedied. Now is the time to prepare.”

 

Tinsley said: “in 2007-8 food security suddenly came back on the agenda. Issues like water need to be channeled around It.”

 

The panel was asked to consider how can the supply chain feel that it is making a difference? Andrew Lane of Rawlingson Lane PR from the floor said: “Foodservice is not one entity. I see the large groups are well represented in this room. What are they doing to bring independents along with them?” Storey replied that the British Hospitality Society was doing its bit to help by spreading knowledge and advising Government committees. Caroline Fry was convinced smaller operators are in fact doing a lot. “Being local, it may actually may be easier for them than us,” she said.

 

How much scope is there for further cooperation between farmers and foodservice operators? Storey said: “It is vitally important that we work with farmers. We have a responsibility to find a price point that growers, distributors and our customers are happy with.”

 

Norton concluded the debate by saying that foodservice is a very important market for farmers and growers as 45 per cent of consumption is in foodservice.

 

 

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