Sustainable food systems: How does the UK measure up?

Working out how the UK ‘measures up’ on sustainable food and farming depends on all sorts of factors, including who’s answering the question; what criteria we’re using to judge success; what aspects of the food system we’re looking at; and how comparable and robust the data sources are.

One way of measuring the sustainability of a country’s food system is through an index, against which the performance of nations can be measured against a set of criteria. Some indexes have been powerful levers of change at national and international policy levels – the PISA worldwide education index and UNICEF’s child poverty index are two good examples.

In terms of food sustainability, the Economist Intelligence Unit and Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation recently published the Food Sustainability Index (FSI). This index assesses the UK against 19 other countries in three areas of food sustainability; sustainable agriculture, nutrition and food waste and loss.

The FSI isn’t perfect, with some indicators that could be strengthened, and some areas where more or different indicators are needed. But in our opinion, it’s the best attempt by an index to assess national food systems, bringing together multiple aspects of sustainability.

The Food Ethics Council believes that our withdrawal from the European Union will affect our food system more dramatically than at any time since World War Two. Refined and repeated year on year, the FSI can provide a valuable evidence base for NGOs and progressive businesses to make the case for polices that create a more sustainable food system and help drive a ‘race to the top’ in food, farming, environment, animal welfare and social justice policies.

We asked experts to look at the results of the first FSI, published in December 2016, assess why – in their view – the UK is doing badly in certain areas, and give us their thoughts on potential policy solutions that would help drive the UK up the index.

Contributors include José Graziano da Silva, DirectorGeneral of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), Philip Lymbery (Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming), Martin Harper (Global Conservation Director, RSPB), Minette Batters (Deputy President, National Farmers Union), Catherine Howarth (Executive Director of ShareAction), and Elizabeth Dowler (Emeritus Professor of food and social policy, Warwick University).

We published their opinions in Sustainable food systems: How does the UK measure up? The articles reflect the views of the authors rather than the Food Ethics Council, and are a ‘starter for 10’ in discussions about how to make a robust index that will encourage the UK to take meaningful steps towards a sustainable food system.

Why not take a look at the articles in Sustainable food systems: How does the UK measure up and see if you agree. We’d love to know your thoughts.

Our work on unleashing the power of indexes is kindly funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We are working to further strengthen the metrics in existing food indexes, and shine a spotlight on the results to put pressure on the UK Government and Devolved Administrations for the policy changes that are so urgently needed. Keep in touch for news on our in-depth analysis of the 2nd Food Sustainability Index, which is due out in December 2017.