How buying British can boost the local economy and help the environment
Historically, farming has shaped much of the British countryside, contributed to its beauty and provided a unique way of life in rural areas. Unfortunately, by using pesticides, artificial fertilisers and other intensive farming techniques, industrialised agriculture in this country and across the world is damaging our life support systems – the water, soil, wildlife and climate we need to continue to feed ourselves. Our food and agriculture systems contribute to between 20 and 30 per cent of global warming caused by human activity.
As well as producing food in unsustainable ways, we are importing fruit and vegetables from across the globe, using unnecessary energy for transportation, storage, and road and infrastructure projects. A quarter of food eaten in Britain comes from abroad, which equated to £8 billion pounds worth of fruit and vegetables in 2012.
As the global population increases so does the demand on our finite resources.
Sustainability is about seeking ways of providing food, water and energy that are long lasting and have less of an impact on the environment.
What is sustainable food?
The working definition of sustainable food, as defined by the advocacy group Sustain, is that it should be produced, processed and traded in ways that:
- contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods – both in the UK and, in the case of imported products, in producer countries;
- protect the diversity of both plants and animals (and the welfare of farmed and wild species), and avoid damaging natural resources and contributing to climate change;
- provide social benefits, such as good quality food, safe and healthy products, and educational opportunities.
What can you do?
Buy local and seasonal
Seasonal food can offer better taste and be more affordable, while local food generally fresher, reduces food miles, offers benefits to local farmers and communities, and helps reconnect consumers with where their food comes from.
Buying your fruit and vegetables from local farm shops and farmers markets is a good way to ensure that it is local and seasonal.
Organic standards require farmers to protect the environment by restricting the use of pesticides and artificial chemical fertilisers.
Buying organic food from certified farms minimises harm to the environment.
British households are throwing away 4.2 million tonnes of food and drink annually; the equivalent of six meals every week for the average household. This is not only a waste of food, but a waste of money and the resources used in production.
You can reduce your food waste by trying to make the very best of the food you buy, by using up leftovers and getting creative with what you’ve got. Putting soup on the family menu is an easy and tasty way to use excess vegetables and cater for seasonal variations.
Push consumer demand
Consumers, rather than retailers, should lead by buying sustainable food. People power can help bring about a revolution in the way food is produced and sold. Food businesses, supermarkets and manufacturers would follow consumer demand for sustainable food with a smaller environmental footprint – just as consumers pushed the rapid expansion of Fairtrade products and free range eggs in the last decade.