The food we eat accounts for 30% of the UK's carbon footprint, according to a new report - How Low Can We Go? - published today by WWF-UK and the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN). Previous estimates put the figure closer to 20%, but this study is the first to take account of the way land is used overseas in the production of our food.
Land-use change - mostly replacing forests with crops or animal pasture - is a major source of climate changing emissions. Each year, worldwide, an area of forest equivalent to half of England is lost.
We're calling for a radical change to our food system to help stop deforestation and reduce emissions from the food chain.
Cutting food industry emissions
How Low Can We Go? points out that if the food industry is to play its part in keeping average global temperature rise below 2°, its emissions need to be cut at least 70% by 2050.
It's a daunting task, but not impossible. The report explores a number of options - for instance:
· decarbonising the energy used in the food chain - at the moment most fertilisers, processing equipment and transportation is dependent on fossil fuels
· making the whole industry more efficient, from field to fork - including improved crop yields and changes to animal feeds to reduce methane emissions
· changing our eating habits - particularly the amount of meat and dairy products we consume.
None of these elements is sufficient on its own. The only way to achieve big enough cuts is to change food production and consumption patterns.
We were pleased to see that the idea of collaboration - between producers, processors, retailers, NGOs and government - was highlighted in the government's recently published Food 2030 document, which sets out a vision for UK food.
The role of sustainable diets - and defining what that means - will be an important step. We'll look into this in a follow-up study tackling the question of how changing consumption will affect land use.