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UK accused of ‘offshoring’ food impacts

The UK has been accused of unjustly offshoring the negative impacts of its food system to key trading partners.

The Food Ethics Council said that headline statistics on the UK’s own sustainability performance on measures such as food waste and greenhouse gas emissions failed to account for the social and environmental impacts related to food imported for overseas.

The FEC analysed the results of the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (FSI), a collaboration between the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation, which ranks countries according to the sustainability of their food systems.

The UK ranked seventh out of 34 countries for food loss and waste, however the FEC said the figure did not reflect the full reality, noting that while lots of UK food imports come from countries performing better than average in the FSI, there are still substantial volumes coming from countries that perform badly on food loss and food waste. It said that this offshoring of impacts was not properly recognised when assessing the UK’s own performance.

This displacement is true of many other social and environmental impacts relating to the UK’s food, according to the FEC, citing recent evidence which suggests almost two thirds of the greenhouse gas impacts associated with UK food are located overseas.

Although the UK was ranked first on the quality of its farm animal welfare regulation, it ranked in the bottom half of the index on sustainable agriculture and the prevalence of overweight in children and adults.

“What is clear is that the UK is not currently a global leader on good food, farming and the environment – and not even in the leading pack,” said Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council. “However, it can be. The UK Government must show real global leadership – at a critical time for the UK’s future – and take responsibility for the often-hidden impacts of our food, at home and abroad.”