i93: Low Carbon Food Policy and Procurement Mechanism
Globally, food systems account for 21-37% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and are at the heart of many of the world’s major challenges today including biodiversity loss and enduring hunger and malnutrition.
At a national level, food contributes up to 30% of total GHG emissions, we waste 10 million tonnes of food every year and 90% of fisheries are fully exploited or overfished. The Climate Change Committee called for a transformation in land use across the UK alongside a reduction in food waste and consumption of the most carbon-intensive foods to reach Net Zero by 2050. 75% of councils have declared a climate emergency and many have set a carbon neutral target for the area but very few are taking action on food in the context of climate change.
It is important that emissions are seen in the wider context of sustainability rather than as a single goal. Balanced diets, featuring plant-based foods and small amounts of animal products sourced from sustainable systems, present a major opportunity to reduce emissions while generating significant co-benefits for human health and nature. There is the added value of inclusion: plant-based dishes can meet the needs of different religious and cultural practices around food, as well as being suitable to those with dairy or fish and seafood allergies.
We cannot shy away from the fact that despite differences between the type of livestock product and the specifics of the production system, all meat, dairy, eggs and fish production have a high impact in terms of GHG emissions when compared with foods of plant origin. Meat from ruminants, such as beef and lamb, have the highest emissions per kilogram. From the perspective of tackling climate change we need to eat less of all types of meat and animal products. Eliminating the meat generating the highest emissions e.g., beef and lamb could lead to a damaging switch to chicken and pork, without consideration for what these animals are being fed and how they are reared. At present in the UK half all egg-laying hens are still reared in cages, albeit enriched cages. And about 60% of pigs are reared indoors in barren environments.
While we promote eating better meat and animal products for that which is still eaten, this only makes sense in the context of consuming considerably less. This means:
- Eating less meat, of all types
- Eating less cheese, and moderating milk consumption
- Shifting the balance of the diet towards more plant-based foods, including plant-based sources of protein such as beans and pulses
- Minimising food waste
Unless we have direct experience of conditions on a particular farm, the simplest way of doing this is choosing products with a credible animal welfare certification. At the very basic level we are talking about sourcing meat that complies with current UK production standards but wherever possible exceeds it should meet higher welfare certifications such as RSPCA Assured, LEAF marque, organic or Pasture for Life.
This approach recognises and awards those businesses producing better meat and dairy and the need for a transition to more genuinely agroecological and mixed farming, diversifying production, nature restoration and sustainable diets.
Post-farm gate GHG emissions including processing, transport, retail and packaging account for a small percentage of overall emissions. Nevertheless, there are other reasons for choosing local, seasonal and minimally processed food ingredients, both meat and plant-based. Firstly, local supply chains generate community wealth building including local employment. For example, North Ayrshire Council estimates that for every £1 spent through the 'Food For Life Served Here' certification programme (which requires meals to be freshly prepared from seasonal ingredients and sourced locally from higher environmental and animal welfare standards) the programme returns a social, economic and environmental value of £4.41.
Freshly prepared meals from minimally processed ingredients, low in meat and dairy and high in vegetables are also better for our health. Consumption of meat has increased steadily over the last decades and stands above recommended levels. The Eatwell Guide recommends that adults and children should eat no more than 70 gram/day of red and processed meat but consumption, particularly in men, is higher than the recommended. One-third of the meat that children and adults consume is processed and high in fat and salt. On the other hand, it is estimated that diets low in vegetables are causing 18,000 premature deaths a year.
Councils are well placed to influence the local food system and reduce GHG emissions associated with procurement, food waste or land use. As institutions they have a wide range of levers, which may include direct control over school meals, planning decisions, allotments, food waste collection and management, and in some cases even ownership of farmland. They have some degree of influence over local food businesses and frequently reach out to residents via their own comms channels and campaigns. Despite their direct control and influence, few councils are including action on food as part of their climate action strategies and action plans - this needs to change.
Polling commissioned by Sustainable Food Places and carried out by Savanta ComRes in September 2021 found very strong support for public sector food in addressing climate change.
68% of the public either strongly or somewhat agreed that public sector food should provide a healthy and sustainable diet. The results were consistent across socio-economic groups and slightly higher in older people.
The poll also asked about supporting British producers through the public sector, and 79% agreed that public institutions should be made to serve high quality and high animal welfare meat and dairy produce that meets British standards as a minimum. There was very strong support for public sector food to help address climate change specifically, with 80% agreeing that food served in the public sector should help people minimise their impact on the environment and limit climate change.
We urge all councils to sign the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration and to move from declaration to action.
The declaration can be signed online on the Glasgow Food and Climate Declaration webpage. By signing the declaration, the council would commit to:
- Commitment 1, Developing and implementing integrated food policies and strategies;
- Commitment 2, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from urban and regional food systems;
- Commitment 3, Calling on national governments to establish supportive and enabling policy frameworks and multi-level and multi-actor governance mechanisms.
Toolkit for local authorities - Hull Food Partnership is in the process of developing a food strategy for the city, but a climate-focussed approach could look like this:
1) Policy, Strategy and Partnership
Publish a cross-departmental action plan for tackling the climate nature emergency that includes specific actions to reduce GHG emissions arising from the food and farming footprint of your place, including:
- Improving the sustainability of the diets of citizens
- Increasing agro-ecological food production and distribution
- Improving soil health and nature-enhancing food production
- Reducing waste across the food waste hierarchy
- Committing to the creation of an equitable food system that tackles inequality
- Publish and maintain an open data map of the council’s landholdings.
- Provide training and ongoing support for agroecological farming, growing and processing.
- Protect existing food growing spaces - including county farms - in planning policy.
- Increase the amount of land used for agroecological food growing and production. Food growing spaces include allotments, community food growing spaces, smallholdings, small farms, county farms, composting facilities and similar infrastructure.
- Transition farms in your area to whole farm agroecological systems. We recommend starting with county farms and land owned by the council and other anchor institutions like universities, and requiring agroecological management when tenancy agreements come up for renewal. Whole farm agroecological systems can be made part of the business plan requirements for farm tenancies.
- Go ‘Pesticide Free’ for your council land, verges and parks.
- Create a planning designation for assets of value to farming, producing, transporting and selling sustainable food. A specific designation, for example ‘land of food systems value’, can prevent valuable food assets for a low-carbon food system being undermined or marginalised by other land-use decisions.
- Your local design codes should protect and encourage good local food growing, production and retail.
- Ensure sustainable and healthy food is grown and accessible locally as part of ‘20 minute neighbourhood’ designs.
- Publish a council-wide food use strategy to minimise food waste according to the food waste hierarchy.
- Subsidise the cost of compost bins, water butts and kitchen caddies.
- Run food waste awareness-raising and reduction campaigns and events.
- Support community composting.
- Provide a food waste collection service for households. schools and businesses. The waste collected should be redirected from landfill to decentralised, local composting, energy recovery or animal feed.
- Reduce food waste in council-controlled settings through better purchasing, portion control and presentation Council-controlled settings include schools, care services, museums, council offices, civic centres and sometimes leisure centres and other municipal buildings.
- Ensure edible surplus food in the area is collected and redistributed. Food surplus collection and distribution can be managed by the council or independent local organisations like FareShare.
- Surplus food redistribution should not be considered a solution to hunger and food poverty. Actions to tackle food poverty should combat the root causes, including low pay and insecure work, housing costs and lack of access to state welfare.
- Publish a sustainable procurement policy with specific commitments to serve meals that reflect a planet-friendly diet and source sustainable produce.
- Deliver public campaigns to encourage consumers to adopt a planet-friendly diet.
- Serve food that reflects a planet-friendly diet across the local area. Councils should start with the food they control through public procurement, including schools and care services, but you may be able to influence the behaviour of businesses, workplaces and other educational institutions through campaigns or business incentives. Achieving silver or gold Food For Life Served Here accreditation is an excellent way to demonstrate that food is freshly cooked, with some more ethical, environmentally friendly and local ingredients.
- Encourage local businesses and other venues to sell or serve food that reflects a planet friendly diet.
- Ensure routes for independent, local and climate and nature positive food businesses to supply into council procurement contracts
- Adopt a sustainable food policy for festivals and events held on council land.
- Ensure you have a network of publicly accessible drinking water fountains.
- Support programmes that allow those on low incomes to access nutritious, local and sustainably produced food.
- Adopt an economic strategy which includes supporting a local food economy
- Promote local climate and nature friendly food businesses to the public.
- Increase the total amount spent locally in small and independent food businesses. You could do this by supporting SMEs and using your buying power to increase spend.
- Introduce businesses incentives to cut their climate footprint, using the councils’ powers and influence, for example differential business rates, local legislation, financial penalties, and/or licensing restrictions
- Cut the vehicle emissions from food deliveries sourcing using short supply chains and coordinated distribution hubs, and switching to electric or bicycle deliveries.