Supply chain sustainability key to navigating food consumption minefield

With experts warning that consumer eating habits are likely to be impacted by climate change and the obesity crisis rather than price fluctuations and global supplies, businesses are being urged to source more 'sustainable' products to sway demand.

New research released this week highlights the lack of sustainable security surrounding meat and fish, while another report explores the growing levels of energy expenditure to produce vegetables.

Supply chain analysts Prestige Purchasing warns that global gluttony and developing economies could have radical effects on the supply chains for restaurants and retailers.

David Read, CEO of Prestige Purchasing, said: “Since the late 1970’s food retailers and caterers alike have taken advantage of the increasing sophistication of our international supply chains to make foods from all over the world available.

“We believe more and more people will recognise the impact that meat production has on climate change, and this will drive them to reduce the amount of meat they consume, to do their part to cut greenhouse gases.

“We are at crisis point, and we can see the government starting to make moves to introduce measures to make a meaningful difference to tackle the problem, including the consideration of a ‘sugar tax’. As the nation’s attitude changes, we expect families to adopt a healthier approach to eating every day”.

Figures revealed that excess availability in food has led to 1.5 billion people being classed as ‘obese’. Yet across the globe 925 million are undernourished. An unhealthy relationship with sugar and protein are a major cause of this imbalance and the fact that meat is a leading contributor to GHG emissions merely adds to the problem.

The trajectory of meat and dairy consumption – set to skyrocket in emerging economies – will lead to the agricultural sector emitting 20 gigatonnes of emissions by 2050, according to independent policy institute Chatham House.

A switch away from meat and dairy intensive eating habits could halt the current 7.1 gigatonnes of GHG emissions that arise from the livestock sector annually, Prestige Purchasing says.

Un-green veg

However, new research from the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has found that consuming excess fruits, vegetables and dairy actually increases energy by 38%, water use by 10% and GHG emissions by 6% per calorie, compared to a standard meal plan. 

“Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon,” said Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decisions sciences and engineering and public policy. “Lots of common vegetables require more resources per calorie than you would think. Eggplant, celery and cucumbers look particularly bad when compared to pork or chicken.”

Overall, the results showed that getting weight under control and eating fewer calories has a positive effect on the environment and reduces energy use, water use and GHG emissions from the food supply chain by 9%.

Fishy issue

Fish emits less than meat and dairy and vegetables but there are still questions being raised about its sustainability credentials.

The Marine Conservation Society and Fish2Fork have this week called on JD Weatherspoons, Café Rouge and Bella Italia to serve 100% demonstrably sustainable fish amidst transparency issues regarding seafood sources.

More than a quarter of the world’s fisheries are overfished, equating to $32bn in lost revenue every year. The stock is damaged to a point where the fish are diminished and can’t be reproduced. With growing populations and rising economies Fish2Fork is calling for a sustainable supply chain.

To combat the minefield of sustainable food, conservation charity WWF has teamed up with facilities manager and food services provider Sodexo to launch a new range of 10 ‘sustainable’ meals. The Green & Lean meals are designed to be nutritious and low-carbon with responsibly sourced ingredients.

Matt Mace

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