Sustainability - industry driver

Sustainability does not just include reductions in waste and carbon footprint. Sustainability encompasses the whole of a business to ensure that they, their suppliers and their customers can work together to maintain a resilient food production system. This will include increased use of concepts such as circular economy, as well as appreciation of the impact of external forces beyond the control of one company.

Fundamental needs

  • As legal limits for contaminants (e.g. allergens, toxins or pathogens) trend lower, there is a need for fast, accurate tests for these substances. Modern production practices alo demand that these tests be performed on-line. There is also a need for communication between legislators and industry to agree on practical limits which do not result in unnecessary waste of food. Consideration also needs to be given to the detection of genuine food fraud (as opposed to contamination) and the consequences of a positive result.
  • Reduction of carbon footprint relies on accurate measurement of the effect of changes. What is appropriate for one facet of the industry (e.g. local sourcing of ingredients) may not have the same impact in a different product area. Guidance on the principles of carbon footprint reduction and advice on practical steps to take is required by industry.
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental effects of their food choices. Better communication between consumers and industry will help inform consumers regarding the steps taken by industry to make more sustainable products, and it will inform industry of the drivers behind consumer choices.
  • Packaging material and its end of life journey are fundamental to improving the sustainability of food products. Novel, more sustainable, packaging materials must provide the same functionality as those they replace. There is a need to accurately test the properties of novel materials as well as standards against which to test. These standards must include sustainability measures such as recyclability.
  • There is always a need for better ways of detecting and mitigating against pests, disease and poor yield. This is ever more pressing in response to the changing climate, which is introducing new pressures to productive agricultural areas. Limited resources, such as phosphorous, need to be conserved whilst seeking new sources. These pressures will result in changing agronomic and agricultural practices, the impact of which must be understood by manufacturers, retailers and consumers.
  • Better traceability of ingredients, packaging and products are essential to improve sustainability. Standards need to be developed for innovations such as Blockchain.
  • Systems to aid sustainability are needed. These include: Recovery and recycling packaging; Health and Safety of the workforce; Novel production practices with sustainability at as a core driver; Crisis management; Management of supply and demand.
  • The increasing use of connected devices and systems in the food industry has increased the potential for cyber attack. There is a need for robust protection of data and devices.
  • The food industry has a need for better waste management. Valorisation of waste streams as part of a circular economy is needed. Packaging forms a significant portion of food industry waste, and there is a need to increase the recyclability of food packaging. Consumers are also key to waste reduction through better education regarding re-use and recycling of packaging as well as ways to reduce food waste. The industry is also always in need of shelf life extension for perishable products as a waste reduction measure.

Emerging needs

  • The recent Avian Flu outbreak has put further pressure on the poultry industry at a time of high feed costs. There is a need to reduce the impact of outbreaks of Avian Flu.
  • Brexit continues to pose challenges to supply chains, particularly at the UK/EU border and in Northern Ireland. There is a need to make the transfer of goods and services across borders easier and less bureaucratic.
  • Recent increases in natural gas prices have led to fears that there will be another shortage of carbon dioxide packaging gas. There is a need to investigate alternatives and the effect on shelf life of reducing or replacing this gas. Campden BRI are actively seeking participants in 'Club' projects to investigate this.
  • Carbon footprint and reducing energy usage are becoming key performance indicators for the industry, as well as increasing in importance due to recent rises in fossil fuel prices. There is a need to standardise the measurement of such indicators to allow industry to accurately measure their progress.
  • Fertiliser is becoming more expensive as sources of phosphate become more scarce and energy prices increase. Alternative sources of phosphates and energy are needed, and a coherent strategy from government to explore the use of novel slurries and digestates would be welcome.
  • As commodity prices increase, there is more pressure to include GM wheat in the UK diet as sources of non-GM wheat become more expensive. There is an urgent need to assess whether this can be legally achieved, or change legislation to allow these alternate sources to be used.
  • Inflationary pressures are making ingredients and raw materials more expenisve. There is little more the industry can do to keep prices at their current levels, and some retailers have started to increase prices on some products. Wages are also subject to inflation. There is an urgent need to reduce costs and increase productivity as a result.
  • Taxation of packaging containing less than 30% recycled content is now in place. Demand for recycled raw packaging material has increased as has the price. It is sometimes cheaper to pay the tax than to use recycled material. There is an urgent need to improve collection and processing of recyclable material.
  • Supply chains are under unprecedented pressure from rising costs, war and the pandemic. There is an urgent need to identify alternative sources of raw materials more local to production sites wherever possible.
  • There has been a loss of agricultural products from Ukraine due to the war. Also, there are large reductions in energy and other products purchased from Russia. This has resulted in higher energy prices and higher prices for commodities such as cooking oils, wheat, malted barley, fertiliser and aluminium. There is an urgent need to find alternative sources of these commodities whilst the war and accompanying political environment continues.

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Campden BRI but are a summary of industrial feedback obtained from Campden BRI’s Member Interest Groups and interactions with government bodies and wider industry.

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