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October 2014: Thou shall have a fishy on a little dishy: the food industry and climate change

Whilst the Climate Summit put forward Leonardo DiCaprio as the new dishy face of UN Messenger of Peace and delivered 480 minutes worth of speeches to world leaders, the food industry marched on towards delivering solutions to the treats of climate change.

What the food industry understands is that food production is very sensitive to climate change, and one that has the potential to have devastating impacts on global populations. As well as agriculture being impacted by fluctuations in climate, climate change will bring the increase in frequency of extreme weather events, such as flood and drought, increase pressure on water resources and a reduction in agriculture yields in key food producing regions. Not to mention rising populations. Global agriculture output will need to rise by 2% a year to keep up with projected food demand.

Similar to what was found in the Climate Summit 2014, is it seen here that business are understanding the risks and acting faster than global leaders, becoming the major players in finding solutions. The food and beverage giants like Unilver, SABMiller and Pepsico have long understood the sustainability mantra and have been forging ahead with ambitious sustainability programmes. Now moving beyond sustainability as a brand identity, they are knocking on the door of Doug McMillon, Walmart’s CEO, wanting to join forces for a large scale, almost industrial, sustainability programme. This exciting prospect will merge the sustainability thought leaders with Walmart’s access to suppliers, big data and agriculture programmes. The scale, potential and importance of this move will impact us all.

What’s becoming clear is that the food industry can see the gloomy future of climate change and water scarcity. Those businesses which do not act will find they’re left behind. The global energy companies and world leaders need to inherit this sense of urgency to deliver some real top-down action. Potentially taking guidance from Leonardo DiCaprio, “you can make history ... or be vilified by it.”

Closer to home, Plymouth University get the issues around food production and supply chains. Although we can’t impact to the same scale as the likes of Walmart, we can make a big impact in the South West. We are prioritising local sourcing to support short distances from farm to fork and a higher quality product. Over the past year we have been working to transform our cafes to a sustainable model of catering, spending three-quarters of the total catering spend in the South West.

Previously our fish, Individually Quick Frozen haddock, was fished in the Pacific and packed in China, before flying over 5,000 miles to get to your plate in Drake’s CafĂ©. Now we source from the local Plymouth and Brixton fish markets, we empower our supplier to provide fish that is plentiful on the day and either MSC Certified or from boats part of the Responsible Fishing Scheme. The boats are small day boats, and many are rod and line boats. This supports the local fishing industry, removes air miles and increases quality. Our meat is from an Exeter family butcher, Red Tractor Certified and sourced from the South West. Our charcuterie meat is from an award winning Bristol RSPCA Freedom Food certified supplier. Our fruit and vegetables supplier is from Saltash. Our baker is in Plympton. Our fresh milk is organic. Our eggs are free range. Our coffee is Fairtrade, in fact we are a Fairtrade University. Our disposables are biodegradable. Our food is composted. Our near-date food is donated to the Devon and Cornwall Food Association.

Don’t just take our word for it, over the last year we have won the Good Egg Award, Food for Life Bronze certification from the Soil Association, the top rated 3 star accreditation from the Sustainable Restaurant Association, known as the Michelin Stars of sustainability. We are creating a sustainable food culture even if it is small scale. 

Dr Samantha Price, Sustainability Manager, Plymouth University

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