2003 Results

Nature module commentary

The Nature module provides an opportunity to benchmark the retailers' performance on three broad areas: Environmental Issues within the Supply Chain, The Farmed Environment and Sustainable Fisheries. Food production practices can have a major impact on the natural environment, both positive and negative. This applies both to domesticated crops and livestock grown all over world, and to products sourced from the wild, such as fish. As the gatekeepers of the modern food system, retailers are in a prime position to encourage their suppliers to adopt more sustainable production methods, to bring real biodiversity benefits. Retailers are increasingly aware of their influence, either setting their production standards and/or participating in industry initiatives (e.g. British Farm Standard, Scottish Quality Salmon Environmental Management System). This, combined with a small but growing sector of consumers demanding to know how (and where) their food is produced, suggested this would not be a difficult module for most retailers.

Retailers were asked whether they ran environmental awareness training programmes for primary produce buyers and how they ensured consumer choice in relation to Genetically Modified (GM) foods. They were asked whether they required farmers that supplied them with fresh fruit, vegetables, meats and dairy products to take positive action to protect the natural environment on their farms (including pesticide use), and whether they provided any assistance (financial or in knid) to help farmers comply with these requirements. The fisheries questions focused on sourcing from sustainable, legal fisheries (both wild and farmed), focusing on the NE Atlantic as a particularly vulnerable area, and on long-lining and seabird bycatch.


Of those retailers who responded this year, one stands out as having made a real effort and is now seeing a return on its investment. The Co-op is the best retailer in all 3 areas examined under this module. There were a number of examples of good practice:

A key area for improvement highlighted by the data included a misplaced reliance on farm assurance schemes (in particular those operating under the Little Red Tractor logo) to ensure environmental delivery. At the present time the environmental component of nearly all the assurance schemes is weak, and by and large relies on compliance with legislation. The horticulture scheme does encourage the farmer to look to conserve the environmental capital on the farm, but it is not a compulsory element of the scheme.

It is important to note that all actors in the food system must recognise the need to reward and share the costs of higher standards. In many cases this might involve lobbying governments to provide incentives. However, sustainable production must also be matched by sustainable consumption. Consumers need to be able to access information about the impacts of different production practices so that they can make a reasoned choice in favour of sustainable food products, paying premiums where necessary. In all cases, retailers should aim to work with suppliers towards long-term improvement of standards, and to provide support for the shift to more sustainable practices where appropriate. Finally, retailers and other stakeholders, including their critics, must be prepared to have a rational and realistic debate about how standards can be raised in an equitable and long-lasting manner.


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