Indicator 5.2

Issue: Environmental issues within the supply chain

Indicator: Producer suppliers[1] with retailer-supported farm environment audits and/or plans

Why is this issue important?

The impact of food production on the environment in general, and on biodiversity and landscapes in particular, is highly significant. Over a third of the world's land area (FAO, 2002) and three quarters of land in the UK (MAFF et al, 2001) is used for agricultural purposes. It follows that how this agricultural production is managed can make a huge difference to biodiversity and landscapes. Although farming practices are defined by a wide range of constraints, regulations and incentives, many of which are beyond the control of supermarkets, there is "substantial potential for producers and retailers to provide consumers with a choice of produce which has been produced in a biodiversity friendly way" (DETR, 1998). In particular, UK supermarkets can help to ensure the maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity and countryside character both in the UK and internationally (where appropriate), by encouraging and helping their suppliers to assess and change their farming practices.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that the intensification of agriculture has damaged biodiversity, and there have been several instances of species becoming extinct (e.g. corn bunting in Northern Ireland). Agricultural landscapes with a low degree of variability have been developed, through specialization and intensification. The use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, combined with changes in groundwater tables, cropping patterns and stocking densities, have led to large scale losses or degradation of populations of domestic and wild species and agro-ecosystems. These include species that support agriculture through pollination or natural pest control.

This damage to biodiversity can be seen in simple terms by looking at the rapid decline in farmland birds in Europe over the last two decades. The UK Government has adopted the status of bird populations as an official 'Quality of Life' indicator. The intensification of agriculture over the last three decades has done more damage to Europe's bird species than any other single factor, including the effects of climate change, pollution and deforestation (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Farmland bird population declines in Europe (Donald et al, 2001)

Farmland bird population declines

Changes in the hedgerow stock of England and Wales are presented as a proxy for changes in countryside character (Figure 2). Whilst the declines reported for the 1980s have been halted, and in some cases reversed, it is important to note that the calculation of net change obscures large transfers into and out of each category. Newly created or restored features are unlikely to have same value in terms of ecology, landscape and historical significance as long-established features.

Figure 2. Transfers between woody linear landscape features in England and Wales, 1990 to 1998. The weight of arrow is proportional to the size of the transfer. Numbers are length of feature in '000 km (CEH, 2000).

Landscape feature changes
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The UK Government recognises that it is not enough to deal with biodiversity conservation by setting aside certain key areas for special treatment.

"In many cases our wildlife and their habitats are dependent on agriculture and sympathetic land management. We need to move towards policies which result in good conservation practice being an integral part of modern farming practices throughout the country ... we therefore need to look to contributions from the whole of the farmed countryside rather than just special parts of it" (DETR, 1998).

By encouraging more sustainable land management practices, retailers can in turn help to conserve and/or reinforce locally distinctive land uses. Nearly all of the land area in the UK is managed, three-quarters by those who produce food. The Countryside Agency has mapped England's landscape into 159 distinctive countryside character areas, based on distinctive features which are often a result of regional farming patterns. Together with insensitive development and extraction activities, widespread intensification of agriculture is cited as a threat to almost all the countryside character areas. The key features associated with intensification from the landscape viewpoint are the expansion of monocultures, the loss or fragmentation of field boundary features and woodlands, improvement or overgrazing of extensive grazing land, and drainage and canalisation of rivers. Retailers can help to reverse these trends by encouraging their suppliers to adopt land management practices that help to maintain the environmental quality and diversity of the countryside.

Retailers should not be entirely responsible for encouraging farmers to protect and maintain the countryside's biodiversity, landscapes and historic heritage - here there is a clear role for public policy and appropriate agri-environment schemes. However, retailers can play a significant role in encouraging and supporting farmers who supply their produce to adopt more biodiversity and landscape friendly practices by integrating additional requirements into their existing farm assurance schemes. This applies both to retailers' preferred direct suppliers and to indirect suppliers, who supply through primary marketing organisations, although it is recognised that the more complex the supply chain, the more difficult it is for retailers to encourage suppliers to implement environment plans on their farms.


What should retailers do about this issue?

Retailers should develop with their producer suppliers a strategy and timetable for ensuring that all primary produce[2] sold is sourced from farms that are complying with environmental standards, and in particular a requirement for a whole farm environment audit and/or plan. This indicator is measuring policy not practice. Recognising it would be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect retailers to have information on all their producer suppliers, retailers are asked to verify the principles or criteria behind any initiative to maintain and/or enhance on-farm biodiversity and countryside character[3].

In the future, retailers sourcing primary produce from approved producers operating under the jurisdiction of the British Farm Standard (BFS) will be able to cite this as an alternative to completing all the questions under Section 5.2. This option is, however, dependent on all the farm assurance schemes operating under the BFS adopting meaningful baseline conservation standards (section 5.2.1a) and a requirement for Crop Protection Management Plans (CPMPs, a key component of the Voluntary Initiative, Section 5.2.1b). The BFS schemes currently address some environmental protection issues, but by and large do not deal with nature conservation issues. Retailers have a key role to play in lobbying for the adoption of baseline conservation standards and CPMPs Schemes such as EUREP-GAP and the LEAF Marque may also be included, dependent on a requirement for a farm environment audit and/or plan.

In many cases, the measures recommended in the farm environment audit and/or plan need not add significantly to the farmer's costs - many farmers may be unaware of the value of their land for biodiversity and/or landscapes or the ways in which they could help it to be maintained and enhanced at no cost, or even gain, to themselves. However, there will be cases where farmers clearly do incur additional costs in developing and implementing the farm environment audit and/or plan, including those costs related to inspection and verification. Although the government clearly has a role to play here, retailers need to recognise these costs and seek a way to compensate farmers (see 'Limitations of this indicator' below). At present, the food chain does not financially reward those farmers who take steps to directly conserve farmland biodiversity and countryside character.

Case Study 1. Working towards best practice with the EUREP GAP Protocol

A group of European food retailers (including the UK retailers Tesco, Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer, Asda, Safeway, Somerfield and Waitrose) has agreed a protocol for suppliers of fresh fruit and vegetables that includes a requirement for suppliers to aim to enhance environmental biodiversity on the farm through a conservation management plan and to consider the conversion of unproductive sites to conservation areas. This may be regional rather than at individual farm level.

"Each grower should have a management of wildlife and conservation policy plan on their property. This policy should be compatible with sustainable commercial agricultural production and minimise environmental impact of the agricultural activity. Key elements of this plan should be to:

This is a positive attempt to introduce whole farm conservation audits and plans into the supply chain, particularly as it has moved from being a suggested requirement to a 'minor must' requirement. However, it is not a requirement, and there is no indication of support from the retailer to help the grower develop and implement the plan. EUREP ( is currently developing standards for livestock farming, including dairy and red meat production.


How will the indicator be measured?

Retailers will be asked to state:

This information will be verified (where possible) using data from farm conservation advisory bodies (e.g. FWAG); accreditation bodies (e.g. Checkmate International, EUREP), and by consultation with farmers / farmer representatives (e.g. NFU).


Limitations of this indicator

This indicator highlights the crucial question of who should pay for basic biodiversity / landscape conservation standards within the food system. Some argue that where higher standards add costs to our food, the consumer should pay - yet this needs to be supported by vigorous public education to convince the consumer that this is justified, if these higher standards are to be met outside a few premium-priced niche products. Others argue that biodiversity / countryside character protection is a public good that should be financed from the public purse through taxation and agri-environment schemes. It is likely that the best way forward will be through a combination of these, but retailers can play an active role in this debate by demonstrating what can be done through the market, explaining to consumers and suppliers the importance of protecting biodiversity and countryside character, and identifying where there still needs to be additional government support. Another potential implication of this indicator is that it may add weight to any move by the retailers towards reducing their number of suppliers, in order to minimise costs and administration.


[1] 'Producer suppliers' includes primary growers and packer suppliers. For the purposes of the 2002 questionnaire it refers to producer suppliers in the UK only.

[2] Includes organic and non-organic primary produce (including fresh horticultural produce, meat and dairy products but excluding all fish), sourced from the UK and where applicable overseas, and sold under own brand labelling

[3] For further details of the term 'countryside character' see the Countryside Agency's website

[4] The Voluntary Initiative on Pesticides includes a range of measures on pesticide use, some (e.g. competency of spray operators, recording pesticide applications) are already included as standards in BFS schemes (but only for the arable sector), others (e.g. crop protection management plans) are not. It is important that all UK producers, irrespective of the sector, comply with the VI's principles. More information is available at

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