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Food and farming strategy

12 December 2002

Food and farming strategy must be carried through to food we import, say Government advisors

Welcoming the new Government strategy on sustainable agriculture released today,
the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has called on Government to push for better international standards and greater support from consumers for farmers and producers who clean up their act. The challenge now, says the SDC, is to ensure that the proposed tighter controls do not leave UK producers at a disadvantage compared to overseas competitors, who don't always apply the same standards when it comes to environmental impact, quality, and animal welfare.

Said SDC Chair Jonathon Porritt:

'We worked hard with Defra to shape a strategy that offers a better future for UK farmers, for consumers and for the environment. With the support of the general public (both as taxpayers and consumers), it is clearly possible to deliver higher
standards, better environmental protection, and more diversified rural economies. But only if farmers seize hold of this opportunity with enthusiasm, regaining the trust and respect in which they were once held by the rest of society.

'The Government must also practice what it preaches on sustainable agriculture by
applying responsible purchasing criteria. Public sector bodies such as schools, hospitals and departments like the Ministry of Defence spend more than £1.8 billion each year on food: now it's time for them to get behind the Government's own
strategy for sustainable food and farming.'

This concern to buy better should extend to all of us, said SDC Commissioner and Chief Executive of the Countryside Agency, Richard Wakeford:

'Government and other large organisations must apply sustainability principles to the food they purchase, but consumers have a role to play, too. Everything we put in our shopping trolley sends out a clear signal to those who grow or process the food
we eat. If we buy food - even unwittingly - from sources that damage the environment or don't provide decent livelihoods and working conditions, we are endorsing lower standards than we want to apply here in the UK.

'That's why consumers need to apply our sustainable development principles to the
imported food they purchase. If the food meets the principles, that's fair dos. If not, higher standards here will only result in our farmers losing market share, and we will effectively be exporting pollution and poor working standards. Retailers have a
critical role to inform our purchasing decisions.

'If our farmers act more sustainably then they deserve the support of consumers.
Fine words and sustainability strategies are all well and good, but we need to show that there is a growing market for the products of sustainable agriculture, for food that doesn't cost the Earth.'

The SDC's future work programme will help build on the new Sustainable Agriculture Strategy. With the NHS, the SDC is examining food procurement procedures that take environmental impact and human health fully into account. The SDC has also
recently studied the sustainability of one food product, sugar, and is planning another project based around the future of consumer purchasing behaviour. This new project will gauge just how sustainable, or otherwise, an average shopping
trolley really is and will help consumers - and retailers - to improve their environmental and social impact.

Notes to Editors:

1. Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources upon which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future

2. The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the
devolved administration leaders. For more information visit http://www.sdcommission.
org.uk. The SDC's remit is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards sustainability, and build
consensus on the actions needed for further progress. The SDC is currently working in the areas of climate change and energy policy, economic growth, health, food and agriculture, and regeneration.

3. The SDC's work with Defra on the Sustainable Agriculture Strategy led specifically to a set of sustainable development principles that should be
applied to the food chain in future. These were:

Produce safe, healthy products in response to market demands, and ensure that all consumers have access to nutritious food, and to accurate information about food products.

Support the viability and diversity of rural and urban economies and communities.

Enable viable livelihoods to be made from sustainable land management, both through the market and through payments for public benefits.

Respect and operate within the biological limits of natural resources (especially soil, water and biodiversity).

Achieve consistently high standards of environmental performance by reducing
energy consumption, by minimising resource inputs, and use renewable energy wherever possible.

Ensure a safe and hygienic working environment and high social welfare and training for all employees involved in the food chain.

Achieve consistently high standards of animal health and welfare.

Sustain the resource available for growing food and supplying other public benefits over time, except where alternative land uses are essential to meet
other needs of society.

4. Each year, according to the Food and Drink Federation, healthcare, education,
and services and welfare spend £577 million, £1,126 million and £143 million respectively on food, totalling an annual food spend of £1,846 million for these public sector services alone. (Source FDF Report: 'Eating Out of Home', 2002).

SDC website: www.sd-commission.org.uk

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