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Co-op, Iceland, Waitrose, Nestlé and Pilgrim’s Pride urge UK government to align trade with environmental ambition

Major UK supermarkets and food businesses have today joined WWF in calling for a ‘bold and forward-looking vision’ for UK trade, that puts the environment and the just transition to a green economy ‘front and centre’.

Highlighting the food sector’s reliance on ‘ecosystem services’, from healthy soils to clean water and a stable climate, businesses including Co-op, Iceland, Nestlé, Pilgrim’s Pride and Waitrose have signed a statement urging ministers to develop core standards for trade, in line with recommendations set out by the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

This would include environmental, animal welfare, and public health standards for all food sold in the UK, no matter where in the world it’s produced.

In a joint statement, coordinated by WWF, the group of businesses ‘whose operations depend on the health of the natural world’, is urging the government to capitalise on the UK’s status as a newly independent trading nation to define a path for trade that will help tackle the climate and nature emergency, and enhance supply chain resilience.

Tanya Steele, Chief Executive at WWF, said:

“People will be shocked to learn that the food on our plates is destroying our natural world and contributing to climate change, with unsustainable farming practices leading to deforestation, pollution and habitat destruction. With nature in freefall, we must act now to protect the natural systems we all rely on, from healthy soil to clean water and a stable climate.

“Businesses know what is at stake and – like us – they want politicians to act. The UK government must stand up for nature by setting core environmental standards for all food bought and sold in the UK, championing those standards at home and overseas and supporting farmers who are committed to a sustainable approach.”  

Stefano Agostini, CEO at Nestlé UK & Ireland said:

“As a food and drink company, the future of nature is fundamental to the future of our business. We want to see a level playing field for all businesses so that we can ensure all of the food we produce here and import from overseas, doesn’t cost the earth. We now have a unique opportunity to re-write the rulebook on food trade to ensure it delivers for the health of people and our planet, and we must not waste it.”

Richard Walker, Managing Director of Iceland Foods said:

“As the UK emerges from Brexit, the Government has a unique opportunity to support the business community in tackling climate change and nature loss. Business leaders are already acting to help protect the planet for future generations but we now need a core set of environmental standards that apply to both home produced and imported food. This will help all of us to ‘build back better’ through strong and sustainable trading relationships with the rest of the world.”

Waitrose Executive Director James Bailey said:

“We are proud to offer our wholehearted support to WWF’s call for the development of core standards for trade. We are all facing unprecedented challenges to our businesses from the climate emergency and we must develop a robust standards framework to ensure that this country is not simply allowing other parts of the world to bear the cost of food produced without care or concern for the natural environment. We must also ensure that British farmers and growers are able to compete effectively without being undermined by cheap food produced at untenable environmental cost."

Matt Dight, Head of Sustainability at Pilgrim’s UK, said:

“As one of the UK’s biggest food and farming businesses and Britain’s leading higher welfare pig farmer, we’re not prepared to compromise on our standards. That’s why we fully support the WWF in calling for the government to ensure that the highest welfare and environmental standards are maintained for any food products imported into the UK from other countries. We all have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure we have a positive impact on people and the planet - by putting sustainability and animal welfare at the heart of our future trade deals, the government will not only be supporting British businesses and the transition to a green economy, but can also set an example for the rest of the world to follow.”

Cathryn Higgs, Co-op’s Head of Food Policy, said:

“As an ethical retailer, we care about the world we share and are committed to reducing our impact on the planet, by continuing to make positive changes to the way we run our business. We know we cannot do this alone so we are proud to stand by WWF on this important issue and welcome change to the future vision of UK trade which puts the environment at the centre.”