leaked copy of England’s new food strategy says data transparency, to be adopted across the UK, will incentivise the food sector to “produce healthier and more ethical sustainable food”.
Campaigners have expressed despair at the document’s lack of ambition. Its proposed policies are considered sparse against the many recommendations made in an independent review, led by Henry Dimbleby, called the National Food Strategy.
- The official Food Strategy, published Monday June 13
However, a new Food Data Transparency Partnership is mooted which could be a step toward protecting consumers – and the planet – from greenwashing. Mandatory reporting against some of the metrics could begin by the end of next year.
The proposed data sets would measure environmental, nutritional and animal welfare claims. Labour rights and land tenure are not included in the paper’s definition of “ethical” or “sustainable”, meaning consumers would not be made aware of whether an item was produced in slave-like or forced labour conditions, or on land wrongly repossessed.
A lack of regulation on what constitutes “sustainable” or “ethical” currently leaves it up to companies to decide how they define these terms. This means consumers have little information they can trust about the environmental or social impact of the food they buy.
“This will drive integrity”
It’s expected that a mandatory requirement for transparency would nudge companies into altering their operations and food formulas to make them healthier and less damaging to the environment.
The official Department for Environment, Food and Agriculture (Defra) strategy is expected to be formally launched on Monday.
Dated May this year and called Government Food Strategy Version 19, the leaked copy says, “In England, we will develop a mandatory methodology for eco labels or claims about the sustainability of products.
“This will drive integrity in the food system by preventing ‘green washing’ claims.”
Just this week the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a series of TV, radio, newspaper and social media ads by supermarket chain Tesco for its Plant Chef products, on the grounds that environmental claims were not substantiated.
“Government will explore extending greenhouse gas reporting to Scope 3”
A further ad on the company’s website said, “As a nation, if we swapped beef for a plant-based alternative just 1 out of 5 times, the amount of CO2 emissions we could save would be the equivalent to driving 27 billion fewer miles in a car!”
The ASA said, ‘We concluded the claims regarding their positive benefits to the planet had not been substantiated and were likely to mislead.”
The leaked strategy paper says the government “will explore” extending greenhouse gas reporting to Scope 3 emissions, but makes no further commitment. Scope 3 includes storage and transport emissions which can reflect between 70 and 90 per cent of a company’s greenhouse gas pollution.
It says adds the government will “consider the role of Earned Recognition to acknowledge environmentally sustainable farming and look at how sustainable practices can be communicated to consumers.” But there’s no further information on what this might mean.
The paper acknowledges the UK’s obesity crisis, saying 64 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of children in England are overweight or obese. Children consume as many as 500 calories a day more than they need. And diet related illnesses are costing the NHS £6.1 billion each year. It says 69 per cent of those in the most deprived groups are overweight or obese.
“Collaboration across UK and supply chain is expected”
The government will use the new data transparency scheme for front of pack nutrition labelling, using a traffic light system of green, amber and red to signal how healthy foods are.
Animal welfare metrics will meet or exceed existing standards and will be applied to imports and well as domestic produce, it says.
The paper says, “By the end of 2023, in England, we will streamline for industry all reporting requirements… and begin the implementation of mandatory reporting against some of the metrics.
“These will initially be targeted at large companies across retail, manufacturing, out of home, food to go and online delivery businesses, and we will consult fully on changes prior to implementation.”
The paper commits to the English government working with devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, representatives from across the food supply chain, and civil society, to develop the new scheme.
In collaboration they will, “look at the development of consistent and defined metrics to objectively measure the health, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare impacts of food,” the leaked paper says.
“These metrics will provide the foundation on which activities and future interventions will be built, seeking to minimise burdens on businesses and policy divergence across the UK.”