Is the UK agribusiness sector supported in its goal of delivering ‘greener’ economic growth?

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/ICHIRO
© GettyImages/ICHIRO

Related tags carbon emissions Insect protein biodiversity

The UK government should work more closely with farmers and agri-supply businesses on new and revised legislation, to avoid unnecessary shocks to trade, says the CEO of the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC).

Robert Sheasby was speaking at that feed, fertilizer, crop protection and seed trade group’s agribusiness conference, which was held on November 17.

The event heard that concerns remain around funding to support greater innovation within the UK agriculture and food chains.

Questions were posed as to whether the UK legislative environment will encourage farmers and supply-chain businesses to invest in the right initiatives, at the right time, to meet Net Zero targets by 2050.

UK legislation impacting farming should be based on science, stressed Angela Booth, AIC’s chair. “We want a strong, practical regulatory framework.”

With the event taking place just four days after 197 countries agreed to urgently accelerate action on climate change at COP26, Sheasby said many stakeholders are beginning to wonder  about who is going to cover the associated costs from carrying out such work.

“Some of the increased costs from being ‘greener’ can be shared across and absorbed by the supply chain, and some offset by efficiencies, but not all.”

UK farming minister, Victoria Prentis, spoke about the UK agri-food industry can embed sustainability through three the pillars of food production, carbon capture, and biodiversity.

And, while funding for farmers couldn’t be guaranteed under future UK governments, she highlighted the new farming investments fund that is designed to provide grants for new equipment to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact. She also noted the opportunities that gene editing technology could offer in terms of improved crop resilience and nutrient value.

Carbon audits

Sir Dieter Helm, professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford and Fellow in Economics at New College, Oxford, challenged the assumption that the UK needs to switch to producing more food or food/feed ingredients domestically to lower carbon emissions.

Instead, he said that was is needed is a carbon price at the border: “It means a change in the structure of trade to reflect not just the transport costs, but the relative prices of the carbon intensity of the inputs that produce the products that go into the global food supply chain.”

Re-thinking the supply chain for a zero-carbon world will require companies to carry out a carbon audit of the full supply chain, he continued. “Once you start asking those questions, you open up a huge number of issues which you will have to address if you want to present yourself as net carbon. But you also open up big opportunities.”

Insect feed collaboration

Dr David Telford, Head of Agrifood at KTN, talked about how collaboration is vital for sustainable transformation.

KTN, he said, brought together 15 organizations to accelerate the development of insect protein for animal feed in the UK, with a collaborative funding bid worth £9.8m, that will hopefully deliver significant savings in carbon emissions.

Sophie Throup, head of agriculture, fisheries and sustainable sourcing at UK supermarket group, Morrisons, highlighted the huge challenge for supermarkets trying to address sustainability issues, where over 100,000 raw ingredients might be going into 12,000 products on the shelves, each with their own story, ingredients, and sourced from around 2,500 different suppliers.

The retailer, though, has made a commitment to reach net zero as a collective within its directly sourced agricultural supply chain by 2030, she said, with initiatives aimed at reducing emissions, reducing costs, and providing training, funding research and improving communications.

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