A Square Meal

A new paper by WWF and the Food Ethics Council (FEC) was published today. A Square Meal argues that Government has a clear role, and a mandate, to promote sustainable food consumption in the UK.

The report suggests that, despite the inherent complexities, it is possible to achieve the goals of promoting healthier diets, reducing the environmental impacts of food, and supporting British farmers and producers.

It finds that western-style diets are increasingly unsustainable, both because of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of the food we eat, and because of the pressure on land use and production of other commodities associated with a diet high in meat, such as grains or soya.

However, to achieve more sustainable food consumption, the paper argues that it is essential to ensure a fair deal for farmers and consumers, and make sure that British businesses do not face a competitive disadvantage. WWF and FEC therefore make certain recommendations within the report:

• The UK’s strict targets to reduce emissions from production, though crucial, could drive supply chains overseas and simply ‘off-shore’ greenhouse gas emissions. To help address this, WWF and FEC recommend Government adopts consumption-based emissions targets in the UK, and press for international climate change agreements to do likewise.

• The recent Natural Environment White Paper says producers should pay the full environmental costs of production, but few producers have the bargaining power to pass those costs on to retailers and consumers, and so influence their behaviour. The paper recommends rapidly implementing the planned Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), with the powers it needs to stamp out abuses in supply chain power.

• To send the right message to stakeholders and facilitate a collaborative approach between retailers and producers, government should take a lead in defining the key principles of a healthy and sustainable diet.

• Allowing supermarkets to support sustainable supply chains and consumption through ‘choice editing’, would require supermarkets to collaborate with each other in ways that could be challenged by the competition authorities [1]. In creating a new UK Consumer and Markets Authority, merging the OFT and the Competition Commission, sustainability and health considerations should be formally recognised in the implementation of competition policy.

In addition, the groups call on Government to take a lead on sustainable food consumption. That the new Government Buying Standards (GBS) for food procurement are centred on sustainability and nutrition is a welcome step, and the Government has the opportunity to go further by simplifying the advice that it already provides to consumers about food, combining information on healthy eating and sustainability. [2]

The paper also argues that further support for UK farmers is vital and in this respect backs measures such as clarifying country-of-origin labelling and reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

A Square Meal was produced as part of the Livestock Dialogues, a process of engagement, coordinated by the FEC and WWF-UK, between producers, policy makers and environmental groups over the role changing livestock consumption has in tackling climate change.

A summary report of A Square Meal is available here:

The full report is available here: