Scale of food’s footprint spelled out

Paint a picture of mankind's environmental impact, and the first thing that appears on the canvas is usually factories and power plants spewing out smoke or gridlocked roads teaming with traffic.

Urban areas are depicted as a damaging blot on the landscape while our fields and farms are often considered a bolt-hole for Nature under siege.

But taken globally, food production accounts for almost a quarter (23%) of humanity’s ecological footprint and 38% of the world’s ice-free land is farmed, making this an area that needs careful consideration in any strategy to lessen that impact.

This was the core message of WWF’s head of sustainable consumption policy, Mark Driscoll, when he spoke at the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum in London this week.

As a country heavily reliant on imports – only 60% of its foodstuff is home grown – the UK must face up to its share of responsibility for the global situation, he said.

“The food we consume in the UK has an impact both on the global environment and livelihoods of people elsewhere in the world,” he said.

He gave a whistle-stop tour of the key environmental issues of food production, arguing that the greatest pressures are caused by increasing population, food wastage, climate change and changing diets as developing countries aspire to Western dietary standards.

Water stress and plummeting fish numbers around the world are also set to become major global problems, he said, with 70% of fishing stocks are stretched to the limit of – or past – the point of sustainability.

He said finger pointing and a blame game was not useful, and it was vital for civil society organisations to work with farmers, business and policy makers to address the issues.

“There are no silver bullets, there’s no one easy solution,” he said.

“We have to tackle food security in the UK and we need to take a more collaborative approach. We need solutions for both consumption and production.”

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie