Sustainable food | What is this about?

The consumption of food and the agriculture systems account for between 20 and 30 per cent of climate change (1). At the moment, there is no legal definition of ‘sustainable food,’ although some aspects, such as the terms ‘organic’ or ‘Fairtrade’, are clearly defined. However, the experts agree that sustainable food should be produced, processed and traded in ways that: 

  • Contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods – both in the UK and, in the case of imported products, in producer countries;
  • Protect the diversity of both plants and animals (and the welfare of farmed and wild species), and avoid damaging natural resources and contributing to climate change;
  • Provide social benefits, such as good quality food, safe and healthy products, and educational opportunities (2).

There are certain principles that a person wishing to support a sustainable food system may want to follow (2).

  1. Buy local, seasonally available ingredients as standard, to minimise energy used in food production, transport and storage.
  2. Buy food from farming systems that minimise harm to the environment, such as certified organic produce.
  3. Reduce the amount of foods of animal origin (meat, dairy products and eggs) eaten, as livestock farming is one of the most significant contributors to climate change, and eat meals rich in fruit, vegetables, whole-grains and nuts. Ensure that meat, dairy products and eggs are produced to high environmental and animal welfare standards.
  4. Stop buying fish species identified as most ‘at risk’ by the Marine Conservation Society, and buy fish only from sustainable sources – such as those accredited by the Marine Stewardship Council.
  5. Choose Fairtrade-certified products for foods and drinks imported from poorer countries, to ensure a fair deal for disadvantaged producers.
  6. Avoid bottled water and instead drink plain or filtered tap water, to minimise transport and packaging waste.
  7. Protect your and your family’s health and well-being by making sure your meals are made up of generous portions of vegetables, fruit and starchy staples like whole-grains  cutting down on salt, fats and oils, and cutting out artificial additives.

(1) Foster, C., Green, K., Bleda, M., Dewick, P., Evans, B., Flynn, A., Mylan, J. 2006. Environmental Impacts of Food Production and Consumption: A report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Manchester Business School. Defra, London

(2) Sustain, Eat well and save the planet! A guide for consumers on how to eat greener, healthier and more ethical food

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