Sustainability

‘Business unusual’ approach needed for food – WRAP

The front page of WRAP's 'Food Futures' report
The UK’s food system will face increasing challenges over the next decade if we don’t embrace a ‘business unusual’ approach to the way we manufacture, sell and consume food, a new Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) report suggests.

Launched at WRAP’s annual conference today (5 November), the ‘Food Futures’ report assesses 15 topics in the UK food system from farm to fork and outlines recommendations for actions by industry and government.

The report concludes that increasing global demand for food and the pressure on the environment created by meeting that demand using traditional methods and ingredients is unsustainable. Subsequently, one of the main challenges the UK faces is ensuring it has a diversified, sustainable supply of protein.

External risks and opportunities that could affect the whole food industry are identified in the report, including climate risks and deep environmental and societal challenges such as reducing food waste or tackling diet-related ill health.

Key trends and recommendations

Three key trends are identified through the report’s research, with each coming with a recommendation.

The first trend outlines the increasing challenges to food system resilience. Events such as the 2007/08 world food price crisis and the horsemeat scandal highlighted the fragility of the food system to external ‘stressors’, WRAP says. Financial risks and production shocks created by issues like water scarcity mean business models will have to be redesigned. The report recommends that we must therefore ‘create supply chains FIT (flexible, intelligent and transparent) for the future’.

Another trend is that of the ‘explosion in data-enabled technology’, creating opportunities for increasing productivity and resilience in the food system. Investment in food chain data capabilities, the report’s second key recommendation, would support the delivery of ‘a smarter, more flexible food system that can optimise the way land is used and food is grown, harvested and eaten’.

The final trend relates to the alignment of health and sustainability agendas, with WRAP’s ‘Grocery Futures’ report in 2006 highlighting the link between food sustainability and public health and its interest to business leaders, policymakers and civil society. Therefore innovation and consumer engagement on the two topics should be promoted, the report suggests, to ensure that the two continue to be linked,

By capitalising on the three trends and embedding the recommendations from the ‘Food Futures’ report, WRAP says the industry can take a ‘business unusual’ approach to the challenges and become more flexible, intelligent and transparent to meet the 21st-century demands. The biggest of which, according to the report, is to feed the growing population, which is why one of the recommendations is to drive down farm-to-fork food waste.  

The future of the food supply chain

The next 10 years, the report states, could see changes in farming such as a growing appreciation of the benefits of adopting precision agriculture and other data-enabled technologies. Controlled traffic farming, for example, will use water, energy and fertilisers only when needed, optimising yield, production efficiencies and nutritional outcomes, whilst reducing machinery and input costs by up to 75 per cent.

Indeed, technology will play a key role in the supply chain. Businesses will be able to regulate temperature during transportation to improve freshness and product life. Technology will also accommodate more transparent and accessible data for businesses and consumers alike, giving accurate information on food and how to get the most from it.

Lifestyle choices, as well as embracing technology, will also affect how food security develops over the next decade. The report suggests that nutritional and taste requirements will lead to a demand for more sustainably-created food.

‘Embracing growth in data will help nourish individual and the planet’

Dr Liz Goodwin, CEO at WRAP, said: “In the next 10 years we will be faced with challenges around feeding a growing population and nutritional security.

“Our ‘Food Futures’ report highlights how governments, businesses and we, as consumers, can turn these challenges into opportunities. We need to be 21st-century ‘FIT’ to meet this challenge. By embracing the growth in data-enabled technology and aligning healthy and environmentally sustainable diets, we can nourish both the individual and the planet.”

WWF report on food security

The issue of food security has also recently been covered by environmental charity WWF-UK. In its ‘From individual to collective action: exploring the business case for addressing sustainable food security’ report, published in September, the charity called for bold governmental actions to facilitate collaboration between stakeholders in the food supply chain.

You can read the full WRAP ‘Food Futures’ report here.