UK Parliamentary Committee reports on Sustainable Food

The Environmental Audit Committee of the UK House of Commons has published a report on Sustainable Food and concludes that the food production and safety systems need a major shake up if the availability of food in that country is to become more sustainable.

Recommendations of the report include, in summary,

  • We do not currently have the basic science base to deliver more sustainable food production practices. Relying on markets to identify and to direct where this research is needed, and on sufficient scale, is likely to fail. The Government must be prepared to intervene with universities, colleges and the Research Councils to develop incentives for them to train more agricultural and food scientists.
  • In developing the Green Food Project, and a subsequent food strategy, the Government must explicitly recognize the need for more research into:
    • the interactions between the impacts of food production practices and the environment, so that these can be better managed to increase production in a sustainable way;
    • the impacts of agriculture on climate change, to provide a basis for encouraging farmers to adopt more sustainable practices and behaviours;
    • the life-cycle impacts of food, to give producers, suppliers and customers the information they need to be able to make decisions which would have less impact on the sustainability of food;
    • soil science; and
    • the benefits of new farming practices, such as those in fresh water fish farming.
  • Unless and until there is both clear public and political acceptance of GM, it is proven to be both beneficial to the environment and to producers, and evidence that demand for these products is based on understanding by consumers and transparent product labelling, the Government should not license its commercial use in the UK nor promote its use overseas. The Government must ensure that the public and Parliament is well informed on this issue. It should establish an independent body to research, evaluate and report on the potential impacts on the environment of GM crops, and their impacts on farming and on the global food system. An initial focus of such research should be on the scope for, and risks of, the co-existence of GM crops with conventional and organic farming regimes.
  • Food systems are more likely to be sustainable if food reflects value or cost of the environmental impacts of producing it; an area we identified as needing more research. In the absence of such mechanisms food prices have been relatively low particularly when supplied through supermarkets which are able to bring economies of scale to bear.
  • The Government should amend the Office of Fair Trading’s remit to take account of sustainable development while protecting competition, and task the OFT and the Competition & Markets Authority to investigate and clarify the scope for supermarkets to cooperate in developing shared sustainability good practice.
  • The Government Buying Standards for food should be extended to cover the wider public sector, to ensure healthy and sustainable food is made accessible to more people and to help establish new markets for producers.
  • The Government has a vital role to play in advising consumers on the environmental and health benefits of eating well, by ensuring that they have clear and easily-understood information. The sustainability of food, however, is a multifaceted concept, as we have described in this report, covering a range of health, animal welfare, environmental, climate-change, resource-efficiency and ethical dimensions. As a result there is a wide range of different food label claims — recyclable packaging, food miles, organic, local, carbon footprint, fair trade, lower fat, low salt, etc. Recognizing the multi-faceted nature of sustainable food, the Government should examine the scope for simple and consistent labelling on the sustainability of food products, perhaps through a weighting system to produce an overall score.
  • We welcome the findings of the Food Growing in Schools Taskforce. Good food education and skills, such as cooking and gardening, should be part of the curriculum in all schools. The current review of the national curriculum provides an opportunity for the Government to promote that. The Government should consider stricter advertising limits, to extend the protection for children from junk food marketing on children’s television to all media viewed by children, including the internet.
  • We welcome that the Government will now enable local authorities to use the £250 million Weekly Collection Support Scheme to initiate food waste collections. Without such collections, there is a risk to the use of food waste in anaerobic digestion, as well as for packaging recycling rates. The Government must ensure that there is sufficient funding available for all councils to be able to make sufficiently regular and separated food collections, to help develop a healthy anaerobic digestion sector.
  • The Government should undertake new research to consider the opportunities and risks in using food waste to feed livestock.
  • The overarching aim behind the Government’s work in improving the UK’s food system is ‘sustainable intensification’. The Foresight report presented sustainable intensification as the solution to the global food crisis. The challenge for the Government is to define what this term means in practice, and particularly for the UK. Sustainable intensification must be more than simply increasing yields: the emphasis should be on ‘sustainable’. Policy must take account of social and environmental impacts of the food system, including retaining space for small scale production practices and local food networks.
  • The Government must use the Green Food Project to provide a foundation for developing a broader food strategy that takes into account the health, environmental, social and economic consequences of the way that the food we eat is produced, sold and disposed of.
  • A key theme of the Rio+20 Earth Summit will be sustainable food production. The Government should review its food policy in the light of the Summit agenda, and after the Summit it should build any commitments agreed into that strategy. That review must ensure that UK food policy is consistent with the global aspirations for delivering a sustainable food system.

The 35 page report is accompanied by extensive appendices including the evidence presented to the Committee by numerous organizations.

The role of the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons is to consider the extent to which the policies and programmes of government departments and non-departmental public bodies contribute to environmental protection and sustainable development, and it audits their performance against any sustainable development and environmental protection targets.

A summary and links to the full report are available at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/news/report-on-sustainable-food/

Endocrine disrupters targeted in new EU report

Based on a report which it published last week the European Environment Agency has declared that the “increase in cancers and fertility problems may be caused by household chemicals and pharmaceuticals”.

The EEA states that “Chemicals which can potentially disrupt the endocrine system can be found in food, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, household products and cosmetics.”  “It would be prudent to take a precautionary approach to many of these chemicals until their effects are more fully understood.”

The report, a summary of science research on endocrine disrupting substances, is the result of an international workshop that evaluated the findings of the last 15 years of research. It does not provide a list of the substances in household products or pharmaceuticals considered to be of greatest concern.

Among the possible effects of EDCs, the EEA states

  • The link between some diseases and EDCs is now accepted. For example, exposure to estrogen or to estrogenic EDCs is an accepted risk factor for breast cancer, endometriosis, fibroids and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women.
  • Breast cancer rates are increasing in almost all industrialised countries. The majority of these cases are due to lifestyles and environmental exposures, rather than specific genetic factors.
  • Some EDCs may also cause low quality semen.  Detailed reviews of current knowledge show clearly that human male reproductive problems are increasing in many countries. There are large regional differences in semen quality. In some European regions approximately 40% of men suffer from reduced fertility while in others it is less than 10%
  • Laboratory studies show that the reproductive systems of a broad range of vertebrate species, for example polar bears and fish, and some invertebrate species such as some snails and oysters are susceptible to EDCs.
  • Some studies have linked EDCs to thyroid disease. Thyroid cancer rates have increased by between 5 % (Switzerland) and 155 % (France), particularly in women, children and young adults.
  • Several studies have also linked exposure to some EDCs with neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, attention deficit disorder and diminished cognitive function in children. However, more work is needed in this area to confirm or refute theories involving the wider sphere of EDCs in modern commerce
  • There is a trend towards the earlier onset of puberty in girls, which may be influenced by EDCs.
  • Some persistent endocrine disrupting substances, such as DDT, TBT and PCBs – now banned or restricted in their use – have been shown to cause catastrophic declines in mollusc, seal and bird populations in some parts of the world as a result of their effects on reproduction. Scientists are concerned that many chemicals that are still in modern commerce also affect the human reproductive system.

The press release and a link to the full report are available at http://www.eea.europa.eu/pressroom/newsreleases/increase-in-cancers-and-fertility

World Bank reports that green growth is the only way

In a new report, released this week, the World Bank argues that green growth is “the only way to reconcile the rapid growth required to bring developing countries to the level of prosperity to which they aspire, meet the needs of the more than 1 billion people still living in poverty, and fulfill the global imperative of a better environment.”

Surprisingly relevant to Canada’s current debate over oil sands, the World Bank argues that “Over the past 20 years, economic growth has lifted more than 660 million people out of poverty and raised the income levels of millions more, but growth has often come at the expense of the environment.”  Key points highlighted by the World Bank include:

  • Rapid growth is necessary to meet the urgent development needs of the world’s poor. But growth will be unsustainable in the long run unless it is both socially inclusive and green – the latter by ensuring that the earth’s natural assets are able to adequately provide the resources and environmental services on which humans depend.
  • Inclusive green growth requires tackling political economy constraints, overcoming deeply entrenched behaviors and social norms, and developing innovative financing instruments to change incentives and promote innovation – and thus address the market, policy, and institutional failures that lead to the overuse of natural assets.
  • Greener growth is necessary, efficient, and affordable. It should focus on what needs to happen in the next five to 10 years to avoid getting locked into unsustainable paths and causing irreversible environmental damage. How will we know if we’re getting there? Green growth also requires better indicators to monitor economic performance. National accounting indicators like GDP only measure short-term economic growth, whereas indicators like comprehensive wealth – including natural capital – help us determine if growth is sustainable in the long run.

Gallon Environment Letter will provide a more complete review of this report in a future issue. You can subscribe to GEL at http://www.cialgroup.com/subscription.htm

The World Bank Green Growth report, together with a summary and FAQ, is available at www.worldbank.org/inclusivegreengrowth

UK government maintains green economy agenda

In the Queen’s Speech, delivered yesterday and akin to Canada’s Speech from the Throne at the beginning of a new parliamentary session, the coalition Government of the United Kingdom made a number of positive environmental and sustainability commitments:

  • to improve delivery of investment funds through the Green Investment bank to accelerate private sector investment in the green economy
  • to create a Groceries Code Adjudicator to uphold the Groceries Code and ensure suppliers are treated fairly and lawfully, breaking down the climate of fear amongst suppliers and farmers by ensuring they can raise complaints confidentially with the Adjudicator.
  • to introduce legislation to reform the electricity market to enable large-scale investment in low-carbon generation capacity in the UK and deliver security of supply, in a cost-effective way.
  • to prevent construction of new coal plants which emit more than 450g/kWh i.e. the most carbon-intensive form of electricity generation.
  • to allow businesses and public sector bodies to obtain more competitive prices and improve their efficiency, allowing every business and public sector body to switch its water and sewerage supplier, increasing opportunities for new entrants to enter the water and sewerage market, stimulating the market for water resources potentially unlocking new sources of water supply and reducing the impacts of future drought, encouraging water companies to think differently about how to address future resource challenges and focus on their customers’ needs.
  • to spend zero point seven per cent of gross national income as official development assistance from 2013. This will be the first time the United Kingdom has met this agreed international commitment.

The Queen’s Speech is at http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/queens-speech-2012 and background information on each of the initiatives can be found through a link on that page.

More details about the Green Investment bank are at http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/biscore/business-sectors/docs/g/12-553-green-investment-bank-policy-and-finance-context.pdf

Significant majority in US want business to act on climate change

A recent poll conducted in the US by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication reports that 72 percent of Americans think that global warming should be a very high (12%), high (28%), or medium (32%) priority for the president and Congress. Even among Republicans a majority think global warming should be a priority.

70 percent of poll respondents say that corporations and industry should be doing more to address global warming.

83 percent of poll respondents think that protecting the environment either improves economic growth and provides new jobs (58%) or has no effect on economic growth or jobs (25%). Only 17 percent think it reduces economic growth and costs jobs.

This is a poll of 1008 adults with a large number of questions on environment and energy policy conducted between March 12 and March 30, 2012. Margin of error: +/- 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Hmielowski, J.D. (2011) Climate change in the American Mind: Public support for climate & energy policies in March 2012. Yale University and George Mason University. New Haven, CT: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. http://environment.yale.edu/climate/files/Policy-Support-March-2012.pdf

US government supports major anti-pipeline environmental group

It seems the US government is not much interested in Canada’s description of anti-pipeline environmental groups as a “terrorist threat”. Last week, US Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta spoke to a reception hosted by Environmental Defense Fund, one of the larger environmental non-governmental organizations in the US. EDF played a major role in opposing the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, in the process describing Canadian oil sands oil as an “exceptionally dirty kind of oil known as diluted bitumen” and one result of the pipeline being to “accelerate the refining of the gooey toxic tar sands oil, which generates more global warming pollution per barrel than conventional oil”.

Panetta told the assembled EDF crowd:

  • the Environmental Defense Fund [is] a leading force for protecting the environment and for harnessing market forces to preserve our quality of life.
  • As Secretary of Defense, I am honored that the Environmental Defense Fund would honor the Department of Defense.
  • The U.S. military has a long and a very proud record when it comes to helping conserve our nation’s natural heritage.
  • We are working to be a leader and an innovator in environmental stewardship, energy efficiency and energy security.
  • the area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security:  rising sea levels, to severe droughts, to the melting of the polar caps, to more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
  • one of the things I hope we get a chance to work on is to finally get the United States of America to approve the Law of the Seas treaty
  • As one of the largest landowners and energy consumers in the world, our drive is to be more efficient and environmentally sustainable.
  • Teddy Roosevelt once said that “in utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight.
  • In the next fiscal year, we are investing more than $1 billion in more efficient aircraft and aircraft engines; hybrid electric drives for ships; improved generators and micro-grids for combat bases; and combat vehicle energy efficiency programs.  We are investing another $1 billion to make our installations here at home more energy efficient, and we are using them as a test bed to demonstrate next-generation energy technologies.
  • We have also led, in partnership with you and other environmental organizations, in developing an innovative and robust land management program.  We have learned that managing these lands for environmental reasons goes hand-and-hand with managing for military readiness.
  • Let me assure you that DoD is helping to lead this nation when it comes to preserving our environment and building a more sustainable and secure energy future.

Somehow it does not seem to be a speech that Canada’s Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay would give, though it seems to GallonDaily to be a speech that Canadians would very much like to hear.

The full text of the speech of the US Secretary of Defense to EDF can be found at http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1667

McDonald’s joins ranks of green power users

McDonald’s USA LLC has joined the ranks of those large power users buying significant amounts of green power. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, McDonald’s USA, LLC Oakbrook, Illinois, has made its list of the Top 50 green-powered organizations. McDonald’s is number 11 on the 2012 list. The EPA also states that McDonald’s has also reduced energy consumption in its restaurants through multiple energy efficiency initiatives and technical innovations.

McDonald’s leadership places it at number 6 on the top 20 retail green powered organizations, after Kohl’s Department Stores, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. / California and Texas Facilities, Whole Foods Market, Staples, and Starbucks. The data on which these rankings are based are for the US only, with green power usage by business somewhat less developed in Canada than in the USA.

Gallon Environment Letter has previously pointed out that the EPA’s Green Power list is somewhat flawed because it focuses only on green power use and not on energy conservation but leadership in green power use is needed and there is therefore much to commend the list. The fact that using green power costs a little more than using conventional power also provides an additional incentive to green power uses to implement efficiency initiatives.

Hopefully other retail sector companies in both Canada and the US will follow the McDonald’s lead.

The EPA’s announcement of McDonald’s joining the list, with links to the complete list and Green Power Partnership program details, is at http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/d0cf6618525a9efb85257359003fb69d/d0e91712149cade9852579f3006ca77f!OpenDocument

Running a food warehouse on solar power (almost)

It used to be thought that solar power was not the best for heating and cooling. Now a food warehouse in New Jersey has proven that new technology can more than (almost) do the job.

Gloucester Terminal in Gloucester City, NJ has the largest refrigerated capacity of any marine terminal in the United States. The total terminal covers 150 acres and the refrigerated and freezer capacity is 15 million cubic feet of perishable products.

The Riverside Renewable Energy Solar Project at the Gloucester Marine Terminal is the largest rooftop solar array in North America and covers 1.1 million square feet of rooftop space. The 27,528 photovoltaic panels produce 9 megawatts annually. The array saves over 7 million tonnes of CO2 annually and produces enough power for the equivalent of 1500 homes. It meets approximately 80% of the chilled warehouse power needs.

For more information: http://www.holtlogistics.com/facilities and follow links to the Riverside Renewable Energy Solar Array and the Gloucester Marine Terminal.

The book on parking we have been waiting for

ReThinking A Lot is the clever title of a new book by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning Eran Ben-Joseph.

In the book  Ben-Joseph shows that parking lots need not be concrete or asphalt wastelands but can be heavily planted with trees and flowers and properly linked to the rest of the built environment. He suggests that parking lots can be significant public places, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks, or plazas.

This is a book about landscape design, not about sustainable development but in fact it does focus on the sustainability issue, not justifying the automobile but suggesting that cars are likely to be with us for many decades to come and that while they are so prolific we can do much to turn the horrible impact of the parking lot or garage into something more attractive, more useful, and more sustainable.

Maybe it is time to have a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard for parking structures and areas. Certainly Professor Ben-Joseph’s book is recommended reading for everyone interested, professionally or as a neighbour, in design and placement of parking areas.

A summary of the book and reviewer comments can be found at http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=12874

ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking. Eran Ben-Joseph. The MIT Press. February 17, 2012.  is available from Chapters and other good bookstores in Canada.