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FDF’s Emma Piercy talks greenwashing, food waste, and Ukraine

4 min read
AUTHOR: Food Matters Live
Speaker headshot and panel information for Emma Piercy, speaking at Inspiring Nutrition
How can the food industry make sustainable nutrition more affordable?

Helping to minimise food waste is key – it is an area of ‘low-hanging fruit’ in policy terms that we’re not doing enough to address. 

Recent developments in use-by and best-before dates are very encouraging, for example with milk and yoghurts, but we must also use our senses to gauge a food’s freshness through things like a smell test.

This requires education to help people understand when a food can be used and when it may pose a food safety risk. These are things that our parents and previous generations used to do, but we’ve lost these skills and become reliant [on labelling]. 

What are the key barriers to achieving sustainable food production?

When we talk about the barriers to sustainability, these are incredibly complex. A term that we’re increasingly hearing is “wicked problems”, especially in the context of sustainability.

What’s meant by that is an issue is systemic and has many interdependent causes. Perhaps the biggest barrier to eating sustainably is the systemic and multi-stakeholder nature of sustainability itself. It doesn’t lend itself to easy solutions.

“The war in Ukraine offers an analogy for what might happen if food systems are threatened by climate change.”

What do you think about greenwashing in the F & D industry?

If manufacturers are going to make green claims, they must be evidence-based. And that evidence must be available to the people that are purchasing the product. Making that available online is fine, but it’s got to be accessible and easy to find.

Do you think eco-labelling should be mandatory?

No, I don’t think it should be mandatory. But whilst I don’t think that eco-labelling should become mandatory for manufacturers, the methodology and data sources used by those making green claims should be prescribed and mandatory.

Consumers want to compare products like-for-like, utilising the same methodology and data sources to identify which is more sustainable. For that to happen, we must work towards an aligned industry methodology for making environmental claims.

What are the challenges to implementing eco-labelling?

The challenge we have with environmental labelling currently is that it’s comparing apples with pork, for example, but the data isn’t there to enable comparisons within product categories.

What I mean by that is if you go and buy a packet of biscuits, you won’t currently receive any differentiation between the environmental impact of different biscuit products. To enable a less binary approach to eco-labelling we require better-quality data and more of it.

““As the industry begins to recover from the pandemic, sustainability is being elevated to board level within organisations.”

How has the war in Ukraine affected supply chain sustainability?

In terms of supply chains and logistics, the conflict in Ukraine has impacted the production of key commodities such as wheat and sunflower oil. And in response to this, the food system has had to adapt and look for alternatives.

This demonstrates how reliant we are on a small number of sourcing areas and the risks of being dependent on only a few producers. In a sense, the war in Ukraine offers an analogy for what might happen if food systems are threatened by climate change… and I think that’s why we have seen the big growth momentum on sustainability.

Are there any insights from your background in energy that are applicable to the food industry?

I often speak of “food efficiency”. It’s a term I’ve borrowed from the energy industry and applied to food and drink. We see the drive to become more energy efficient at home everywhere, whether it’s putting insulation in the walls, turning the thermostat down a little bit, or switching the lights off.

If we can encourage similar measures concerning food waste in the home (which accounts for 70% of all food wastage), that is going to make a big impact… and that will help us as a society to be able to afford and invest in more sustainable production methods too.

Join Emma and other leading experts at Inspiring Nutrition London

Emma Piercy is Head of Climate Change and Energy Policy at the Food and Drink Federation. An accomplished sustainability professional and public speaker, Emma will be appearing on the complexities of sustainable nutrition panel at the upcoming Inspiring Nutrition event in November. Get your industry pass and save £100.