the environment Sustainability and
Learning objectives To recognise the global challenges for food production. To examine the concept of sustainability and the future of food and farming. To review consumer perceptions to farming and sustainability issues. To describe the impact of farming on the environment in the UK. To explore the commitment from the British dairy industry to meeting the challenge of producing more from less, reducing environmental impact and planning a more sustainable future.
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Main menu (home) Click on the section you wish to explore. Questions are also available for each section. Section 1: Sustainability Questions Section 2: The environment Questions Section 3: The dairy farming road map Questions End
Section 1: Sustainability Click on the section you wish to explore. a) Healthy sustainable diets b) Health and sustainability c) The future of food and farming d) Food security e) Consumer interest f) Action g) Adopt The eatwell plate dietary h) Reduce household waste
Healthy sustainable diets How can we achieve a dietary pattern that provides us with the many nutrients we need for health, in appropriate amounts, but that is also equitable, affordable and sustainable? And, how do we produce more food with fewer resources, such as land, water and fuel, to feed the growing global population?These are some of the key questions that we face in the 21st century and which we need to find answers to, and quickly. Many people from government, farming, food industry, academia and other sectors are working together on this important issue. The aim is to find solutions to these challenges that are evidence-based, realistic and will achieve the required impact both in the UK and globally.
This is an emerging area and we do not have all the answers yet. Though what we do know is that we need to start taking action now to secure a sustainable global food supply for future generations, and that all sectors of society have a role to play. There are currently huge pressures on the global food system. The demand for food is increasing with the growing global population (which is expected to increase from 7 billion today to over 9 billion by 2050) and also with the increase in wealth in emerging economies, as this creates demand for a more varied, high quality diet (i.e. typically more meat and dairy foods).
To simply produce more food using current production methods and technologies to meet this increased demand is unsustainable, as this would require more land, more water and more energy, which are finite resources. At the same time, climate change is occurring and will become increasingly apparent unless we take action now. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), we are already consuming natural resources at a faster rate than the planet’s capacity to replenish them. The WWF calculates that if the world’s population consumed natural resources at the rate of the UK we would need three planets to support us, clearly illustrating that things need to change.
A recent government report by Foresight (2011) titled The Future of Food and Farming: challenges and choices for global sustainability defined sustainable / sustainability as:'A system or state where the needs of the present and local population can be met without diminishing the ability of future generations or populations in other locations to meet their needs and without causing harm to the environment and natural assets.' http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report.pdf
Defining a ‘sustainable diet’ is a complex issue and there are many factors to consider. As well as environmental, social and economic factors, a key factor is that food is a basic need. A healthy, varied diet provides us with the energy and nutrients we need for health, normal body function and physical activity.This emphasises the need for health and sustainability agendas to be considered in tandem, in order to achieve a sustainable and secure food supply for future generations that also supports public health.
Health and sustainability Food not only provides us with the fuel and nutrients to sustain life but is a big part of many cultures and plays a significant role socially.In the UK, most of us are fortunate enough to eat what we like, when we like. In today’s global food market, we have come to expect to buy most foods all year round, such as leeks in summer and strawberries at Christmas time. Most of us eat regularly throughout the day, often without giving much thought to where the food has come from or how it was produced. But looking ahead, we will need to change our food consumption patterns.
The need to change what we chose to eat is further highlighted when we consider the global health challenges that we face, specifically that: Over one billion people worldwide are overweight or obese; One billion others do not have access to adequate food; and An additional one billion have inadequate micronutrient intakes. Ending hunger is one of the key challenges to address at a global level. This goes beyond simply producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed, as this food needs to be accessible and affordable by all.
In the UK, we see evidence of both over- and under-consumption of dietary energy and nutrients – despite more than 60% of adults currently classified as overweight or obese, many people still have inadequate intakes of some micronutrients due to poor dietary choices.Overall, we need diets that are both healthy and sustainable. This creates the opportunity for environmental and other sustainability messages to be tagged onto current messages about healthy eating. But what is a healthy, sustainable diet?
The FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations) defines ‘sustainable diets’ as: 'Those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimising natural and human resources.' For further information about FAO, go to: http://www.fao.org/home/en/
The Future of Food and Farming In January 2011, the Government Office for Science published its Foresight report The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability. Over 400 experts and stakeholders from about 35 countries were involved in the development of the report. It is a comprehensive report of over 200 pages and also provides access to over 100 peer-reviewed evidence papers that were commissioned as part of the project.
The aim of the project was to explore the pressures on the global food system between now and 2050 and identify the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably. Sustainability, as used in the report, implies the use of resources at rates that do not exceed the capacity of the Earth to replace them. The findings of the report emphasise the importance of the public health and food supply sustainability agendas to be considered in tandem, in order to be successful in ensuring food security and supporting public health.
The report identifies the key drivers of change affecting the food system, including changes in values and ethical stances of consumers. It also identifies five key challenges for the global food system: Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable. Ensuring there is adequate stability in food supplies – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger (food security for all). Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.
As part of the challenge to balance future demand and supply sustainably, the report discusses the need to influence consumer demand for foods by changing people’s diets. It recognises that changing diets is difficult and will require concerted and committed actions, possibly over long timescales. It considers that the guiding principles for policy makers if they decide to influence patterns of consumption should be: better decisions are made by an informed consumer; simple, consistent and trusted information on food is important; and Government fiscal and regulatory intervention ideally requires societal consensus.
The report concludes that no single approach can meet all of the complex challenges affecting the food system, and that decisive action is needed across a wide front. The report provides 12 cross-cutting actions as key priorities for policy-makers, including to reduce food waste and to work to change consumption patterns. Source:http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.bis.gov.uk/foresight/our-work/projects/current-projects/global-food-and-farming-futures/reports-and-publications
Food security The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)definition of food security is for all consumers to have access at all times to sufficient, safe and nutritious food for an active and healthy life at affordable prices. Understanding of the term ‘food security’ had little resonance with the general public. In a survey: two thirds of respondents could not provide an answer; 4% of respondents linked the term to the availability of enough food to feed the population and 75% of respondents had no recollection of the food security topic being discussed in the media. Concerns about UK and international food security stem from security of key inputs such as energy and water, potential impact of global climate change and the recent economic crisis and current recession. Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook-2012
Understanding of the term ‘food security’ Chart showing spontaneous understanding to the term ‘food security’.
An increasing global population will require a lot more food to be produced and distributed. The Foresight report emphasised the need for sustainable intensification: simultaneously raising yields, increasing the efficiency with which inputs are used and reducing the negative environmental impacts of food production. Determining how intensive and how sustainable UK food production should be is a challenging and potentially controversial area.
Consumer interest Research undertake by Which? has shown that many people are interested in the origin of their food – particularly meat and dairy products. In most cases, this is because people want to support British producers. The extent to which food travels is an important factor, but not always the most important consideration when determining the environmental impact of food products. Future of food, Which?, April 2013 http://press.which.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Future-of-Food-Report-2013_Final.pdf
While many people may think of buying local and in season as being an important part of action to reduce the environmental impact of what is eaten, the concept of food miles in reality is no longer considered an indicator of the likely environmental impact of food production. The whole life cycle of a product from the source and production methods, inputs such as animal feed or pesticides have through to transport, preparation, consumption and ultimately waste have to be taken into account.
ActionBy changing our diets – the types of foods we eat and how often we eat certain foods – there is potential to ease the pressures on the global food system. However, exactly which changes we should make to ensure that we have a healthy and sustainable diet are not yet known. As yet there is no simple set of principles that we as consumers can apply, in all cases, to identify foods that are more sustainable than others.However, there is enough evidence to support specific actions now in the UK with regards to: following The eatwell plate dietary pattern and reducing food waste in the home.
Adopt the Eatwell plate dietary patternThe eatwell plate is designed to help all those aged over 2 years of age to eat a healthy, balanced diet as it shows how much of what is eaten should come from each food group.The eatwell plate model has been promoted in the UK for many years, though most of us still eat too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, too little fibre, and too few fruits and vegetables.
As well as improving health, there is growing evidence that following the Eatwell dietary pattern will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production. Also, it is generally accepted that sustainable dietary patterns for the future can justifiably include a variety of both plant and animal foods to support health and promote biodiversity. This is particularly important as different foods contain different nutrients, and therefore we need to eat a variety of foods to obtain sufficient amounts of the many nutrients we need for health. Source: http://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/sustainability
The eatwell plate model shows that we should eat some foods from each of the main four food groups every day, with more of some foods than others. Our diets should be based on starchy carbohydrate foods (e.g. bread, potatoes, rice and pasta), as well as plenty of fruits and vegetables. A variety of foods from these two food groups should make up two-thirds of the food we eat. Most of the remaining third of the diet should be made up of milk and dairy foods, meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein. Foods in the fifth group (foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar) (e.g. cakes, chocolate, sweets, biscuits, fizzy drinks, crisps) can also be included sparingly in our diets for palatability. For more information about The eatwell dietary pattern, click here. Source: http://www.nutrition.org.uk/nutritionscience/sustainability
Reduce household food wasteIt is estimated that UK households waste 8.3 million tonnes of food every year, costing them £12 billion and contributing 3% of UK greenhouse gas emissions.The problem with food waste from a sustainability perspective relates to the precious resources that are used in the production of the food (i.e. water, land and energy) and also the carbon emissions associated with its disposal.
We can follow these simple tips to reduce food waste in the home: avoid cooking more food than is required; plan meals before going to the shops and only buy what is needed; use foods before they reach their ‘use-by’ date. Keep an eye on foods with a ‘best-before’ date and try to eat these foods before this date to ensure that the quality is still high (more information on use-by and best-before date labels can be found here ); find creative ways to use leftovers; follow the storage instructions on food labels. Source: Love Food Hate Waste For more details on how to reduce household food waste, visit the Love Food Hate Waste campaign website (www.lovefoodhatewaste.com).
Section 2: The environment Agriculture provides around three-quarters of the food we eat and is the dominant form of land use. Along with other land management practices and activities, agriculture helps to shape the landscape and provide habitats for wildlife. These practices can have a profound impact on soils, water bodies, air quality, biodiversity and ecosystems.
Methane emissions This chart shows agriculture’s contribution to total UK methane emissions. In 2011, the main sources of methane were agriculture (43%) and landfill sites (34%). https://www.gov.uk/uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions#uk-emissions-statistics Defra, observatory monitoring framework, Feb 2013
UK methane emissions, excluding those from natural sources, were 2.2% below 2010 and 58% below 1990 levels. The major agricultural sources of methane are enteric fermentation (digestive processes) and manure management. Since 1990 emissions of all three greenhouse gases from agriculture (Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Carbon Dioxide), have shown a steady decline. By 2011, methane emissions from agriculture had fallen by 20%. Between 2010 and 2011 there was a 0.5% decrease in the level of methane emissions from agriculture. Agri-environment schemes provide payments to farmers who adopt land management and farm practices that are beneficial to the environment. The level of uptake of such schemes provides some indication of the extent of environmentally sensitive farming.
Section 3: The dairy farming road map Since 2008, the British dairy industry has publically published a report detailing its commitment to meeting the challenge of producing more from less, reducing environmental impact and planning a more sustainable future. The annual reports detail progress made to specific measureable targets and introduces new targets, underlining farmers’ commitment to producing more while impacting less. This is known as the Dairy Roadmap. For more information on The dairy farming road map, go to: http://www.dairyroadmap.com/
The Dairy Roadmap taskforce features more than 25 organisations from across Britain’s dairy industry including farming representatives, retailers, dairy manufacturers, government and industry partners. Together, these organisations define targets and produce regular reports on progress that the industry is making on environmental matters. This approach is unique to Britain, focusing on the supply chain, from farmers through to retailers, coming together to agree a broad programme with time-bound and environmental sustainability targets. The Milk Roadmap originally focused solely on the liquid milk sector, yet now it covers total dairy production.
Select an option Explore the targets for dairy farmers. Read the case studies. By 2015 By 2020 David Harding – countryside custodian Steve Edmunds – alternative energy production
2015 Dairy farmer targets Select a target to explore in more detail. 1) 90% of dairy farmers are actively nutrient management planning. 5) 50% of dairy farmers implementing new developments and / or technologies to reduce emissions from agriculture. 2) 65% of dairy managed farmland into Environmental Stewardship Schemes. 6) Declining trend in serious pollution incidents on-farm. 3) 70% uptake of water use efficiency measures. 4) 10 – 15% of dairy farmers investigating and/or implementing at least one form of renewable energy technology. 7) Dairy farmers encouraged to calculate carbon footprints and implement carbon reduction plans.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 1: 90% of dairy farmers are actively nutrient management planning. Good nutrient planning ensures that the nutrients applied, either as artificial fertiliser or organic manures, match requirements for optimal plant growth, and replace the mineral nutrients removed when the crop is harvested. This requires a good understanding of crop nutrition, up to date information on soil nutrient status and manure composition, appropriate application techniques, and careful timing of application to maximise nutrient uptake by the growing plant. Nutrient Management plans help farmers and growers to plan the use of fertilisers and manure, meet regulatory demands and protect the environment. The proportion of dairy holdings with a nutrient management plan has reached 73% . This figure is up from 60% in 2009. At the current rate of progress, the industry is on target to achieve 90% of farmers actively nutrient planning by 2015.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 2: 65% of dairy managed farmland into Environmental Stewardship Schemes. There are 5,170 agreements in place where dairy farmers are currently part of an Environmental Stewardship Scheme (ESS)in England. As a result, the total area of dairy holdings in an ESS is 841,810 hectare (ha), which represents approximately 69% of dairy managed farmland. The majority of English dairy farmers participating in an agri-environment scheme receive payments under the Entry Level Stewardship Scheme to help with environmental management. The most popular environmental options for dairy farmers are: Hedgerow management which is designed to support wildlife habitat whilst improving the local landscape and historic boundaries. Permanent grassland with low inputs, which is designed to support a greater variety of plants and wildlife. Protection of in field trees, which helps provide wildlife habitat.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 3: 70% uptake of water use efficiency measures. Figures of around 1,000 litres have been quoted as a global average for the quantity of water required to produce a litre of milk. However, due to our temperate climate, the UK dairy industry does not need to use irrigated water. Most UK dairy feed comes from rain-fed crops, which means only 7-8 litres of water are needed from mains supply, or are abstracted from rivers or boreholes, to produce a litre of milk. The results of a DairyCo Resources Survey that took place in December 2012 demonstrate an increasing farmer interest in water usage: 78% were implementing efficiency measures, and a third of these were considering taking further steps to improve water efficiency; Of these, 31% collect rain water, 94% re-use water from the plate cooler, while 53% have diversified water supplies using borehole water; 61% of dairy farmers were using metered water, and 96% checked regularly for leaks.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 4: 10 – 15% of dairy farmers investigating and/or implementing at least one form of renewable energy technology. Investigating and/or implementing some form of renewable energy is becoming increasingly popular amongst farmers. Renewable energy is seen as a form of farm diversification and alternative source of income as it can help to reduce energy bills and create revenue. 28.9% of respondents to the DairyCoResources Survey had implemented some form of renewable energy Of these, 71.1% had installed solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, 22.3% had erected wind turbines, and 5.0% had put in Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plants 38.7% of respondents had plans to introduce some form of renewable energy
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 5: 50% of dairy farmers implementing new developments and / or technologies to reduce emissions from agriculture. Dairy farming is a progressive, technologically aware industry. In a recent DairyCo survey, 80.2% of respondents were implementing measures, tools or skills which were new to the farm and which had the potential to improve technical efficiency and reduce GHG emissions. These varied from changes in management practices to the adoption of new and better technologies. More fuel efficient machinery reduces energy consumption, while use of the most up to date technology can increase the accuracy of operations such as manure or slurry application. Better breeding programmes match genetics of the animal to the farming system, and increase production efficiency by allowing the potential of superior animals to be expressed. Improvements in health status ensure good animal welfare while reducing production losses due to disease. Increasing the feed efficiency optimises animal performance, which will reduce environmental impact.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 6: Declining trend in serious pollution incidents on-farm.
2015 Dairy farmer targets Target 7: Dairy farmers encouraged to calculate carbon footprints and implement carbon reduction plans. Sustainable food production and dealing with climate change are global issues that need a global solution and dairy farmers are part of that solution. Our climate, geography and knowledge mean that British dairy farmers are ideally suited to produce dairy products in an efficient and environmentally sustainable way. Carbon footprinting enables a holistic view of farm efficiency to be taken. It provides a detailed review of resource use, and calculates the impact of farm specificparameters such as level of milk output and herd replacement rate, on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Farm carbon footprinting 38% of respondents to the DairyCoresources survey (2012) had undergone a carbon footprint audit on their farms, and 52% of these had used the carbon audit to adjust their management
2020 Dairy farmer targets Select a target to explore in more detail. 1) 20 – 30% reduction in GHG (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) emissions from dairy farms between 1990 and 2020. 2) 70% of non-natural waste is recycled or recovered as standard practice. 3) 90% uptake of water use efficiency measures. 4) 40% of energy used on dairy farms is from renewable sources.
2020 Dairy farmer targets Target 1: 20 – 30% reduction in GHG (including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) emissions from dairy farms between 1990 and 2020. Two perspectives are available on the trends in GHG emission from dairy farming. The first is the national inventory data, used by Government to report on UK international commitments to carbon reduction under the Kyoto protocol. National inventory: Calculated GHG emissions from the UK dairy sector reduced by 26% between 1990 and 2010 Over the same period, the contribution of dairy farming to total UK agriculture emissions reduced from 29% to 27% The second source is carbon footprint information collected on-farm by the dairy industry itself. At this point carbon audits have been completed on over 2000 farms.
2020 Dairy farmer targets Target 2: 70% of non-natural waste is recycled or recovered as standard practice. Typically, non-natural waste is made up of plastics (i.e. silage wrap, containers, fertiliser bags) and also items including paper/cardboard, oil drums, building waste, batteries and tyres. Currently some of the biggest development needs for farmers recycling waste are around the availability of recycling facilities and the high cost of collection schemes. This is a stretching target which will involve encouraging development of infrastructure to allow for the disposal of such material as well as better methods of measuring progress.
2020 Dairy farmer targets Target 3: 90% uptake of water use efficiency measures. This target expands on the 70% target for 2015.
2020 Dairy farmer targets Target 4: 40% of energy used on dairy farms is from renewable sources. This target builds upon the 10 - 15% target for 2015. Government has set a target to deliver 15% of the UK’s energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020. The 40% target for renewables is a challenging one, but reflects the potential and the interest among farmers in generating renewable energy.
David Harding – countryside custodian Sussex dairy farmer, David Harding, shows that dairy farmers can be custodians of the countryside, as well as food producers. For the majority of dairy farmers, producing milk is a family business, their priorities are long-term security, being able to hand the farm onto the next generation and caring for their land and animals. This is the main reason why over 65% of dairy farmers have now entered into recognised countryside stewardship agreements, which ensure that farming operations compliment nature. To see David Harding in action, follow this link: http://www.dairyroadmap.com/portfolio-items/david-harding/?portfolioID=4380