Bold steps needed by government for long-term food security

22 September 2015

The government must take bold steps to help businesses deliver long-term food security, according to a report.

A study from WWF UK, produced with the Food Ethics Council, said businesses want to see government helping to create a food system that serves citizens, the economy and the planet.

The report, From individual to collective action: exploring the business case for addressing sustainable food security, looked at moving “from individual to collective action” and concluded sustainable food security delivers long-term business security.

Businesses must also actively seek opportunities to work together for sustainable food security, the report said. The government must create the conditions to make it easier for businesses to do this.

The report also highlighted the risks of not securing a long-term sustainable food supply. It said 85 per cent of global fisheries may be over their maximum capacity or over exploited, and that 70 per cent of all extracted water relates to food production. This is against the background of increasing world population, inequality and calorific intake. The perception of food security is still limited to "needing more food", rather than including access to food and its environmental impact, the study said.

The risk to food security is also increased by businesses’ limited knowledge of issues such as growing demand, climate change, deforestation, water management, fossil fuel dependence, soil fertility and biodiversity loss.

Sustainability must be at the core of food and the report outlined steps businesses should take to accelerate their contribution to this. These included understanding local food security issues in a global context, looking at where they source from and sell to, exploring actions for the benefit of a wider society, consider social benefits alongside commercial benefits, and
lobby for a step-change in the wider business environment to support food security goals.

The report concluded that businesses must collaborate to safeguard the future of the sector. “It’s heartening to see that more companies are grappling with the issues of sustainable food systems, but if we’re all to reap the benefits, they need to act boldly, and quickly,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF UK expert on sustainable food security.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council said that it was clear some food businesses had a narrow understanding of food security. “We’d urge them to join forces to tackle the issues head on, to safeguard their own futures, and at the same time the long-term well-being of their customers, workforce, producer communities and the planet,” he said.

Meanwhile another report into how household brands are managing climate change concluded many of the world’s biggest food, beverage and tobacco brands were missing their biggest opportunity to mitigate climate risks.

Analysis by global non-profit CDP, The forgotten 10 per cent: Climate mitigation in agricultural supply chains, draws on data collected by 97 food, beverage and tobacco companies.

It said the biggest source of food-related greenhouse gas occurred in producers’ supply chains. With emissions from agricultural production responsible for 10-14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the lack of data from companies in this area suggested at least 10 per cent of global emissions are being unaccounted for, CDP estimated.

The study said companies must realise the significant opportunities from working with suppliers to cut emissions and there was a clear business case to act. More than a third of the 97 brands disclosing to CDP, reported lower costs from implementing climate change-related agricultural management practices. More than 90 per cent of companies told CDP their business was vulnerable to physical climate change impacts.

“Collaboration with stakeholders holds the key for brands seeking to unlock opportunities to become resilient to climate change,” said Frances Way, co-chief operating officer, CDP. “Our data shows that companies who engage with one or more of their stakeholders are more than twice as likely to see returns from emissions reduction investments as companies that don’t.”

The analysis said companies were heading in the right direction, with most of the major brands that CDP spoke to saying they were engaging suppliers on managing climate change.

CDP identified Coca-Cola HBC, Dairy Crest, Danone, Kellogg's, Nestlé and Unilever as being “ahead of the pack” for their approach to climate mitigation in their agricultural supply chains.

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