Footprint Blog


Posted in Diet,Sustainability by foodservicefootprint on January 18, 2010

This press release received today claims food industry impact to be greater than assumed…

The food we eat accounts for 30% of the UK’s carbon footprint, according to a new report published today by WWF-UK and the Food Climate Research Network. Previous estimates put the figure closer to 20%, but this study is the first to incorporate land use change overseas, increasing the estimate of emissions attributed to food consumption in this country from 152MtCO2 to 253MtCO2.

Land use change, mainly deforestation, is a major source of climate changing emissions. Each year world-wide, an area of forest equivalent to half of England is lost. The expansion of the food system is the biggest driver behind this as land is cleared to grow crops and rear animals.

 Given the extent of food consumption on the UK’s overall emissions, WWF-UK and the FCRN are calling for a radical change to the country’s food system to help stop deforestation and reduce the scale of emissions from the food chain.

 The new report – How Low Can We Go: an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope for reduction by 2050 – assessed various scenarios that explored what these changes might look like. Both technological and behavioural initiatives were tested, including decarbonisation of the energy used in the food chain, improved efficiencies and changes in consumption of meat and dairy products.

 If the food industry is to play its part in keeping temperature rises below two degrees, emissions need to be cut by at least 70% by 2050. The report concludes that no one solution alone can reduce emissions to this extent. WWF-UK and FCRN are urging Government and industry decision-makers to recognise that a focus on technology alone is not enough – food consumption patterns need to change too.

 Mark Driscoll, head of WWF-UK’s One Planet Food programme said: “The full impact of our diets on climate change is astonishingly high – this report shows that. This makes the target to cut emissions by at least 70% by 2050 a daunting task, but not an impossible one. We must stop chewing over some of the issues and start making change happen – both in terms of technology and behaviour.”

 Tara Garnett, head of the FCRN said: “We now know enough to conclude that the food system contributes very substantially to the problem of climate change. We also know enough about where and how the impacts arise to start doing something about them. Business as usual – and even business as usual ‘lite’ – is no longer an option.”

 In terms of the impacts of food consumption the report found:

•       The food chain’s contribution to overall UK consumption-related emissions is 20%. However, when land use change is included this increases to 30%.

•       All stages of the UK food chain give rise to emissions, with the breakdown as follows: production and initial processing (34%); manufacturing, distribution, retail and cooking (26%) and agriculturally-induced land use change (40%).

•       Livestock farming accounts for 57% of agricultural emissions and is also responsible for three quarters of land use change emissions.

 Solutions-wise, the report concluded that there is no silver bullet to achieve such reductions – a combination of activities and changes will be required. These include:

•       increasing production efficiency, including improved crop yields and changes to animal feeds to reduce methane emissions

•       a significant switch to non-carbon fuels and increased energy use efficiency

•       changes in the types of food we consume

 The idea of collaboration – between producers, processors, retailers, NGOs and Government – is highlighted in the Government’s recently published Food 2030 document, which sets out a vision for UK food. This should be applauded. The role of sustainable diets and a commitment to defining them will also be an important step.

Dietary changes will also ease land pressures, in terms of reducing the amount of land needed to produce the food we consume. While this study did not consider the impact of diet on land use change in detail, nor deal with the issue of land quality, and its potential to produce different types of food, these ideas will be dealt with in a follow-up study tackling the question of how changing consumption will affect land use.

 For more details and to receive a copy of the summary and report, contact David Burrows:


As much as you can eat and more…

Posted in Comment,Credit Crunch,Diet,Food Trends by foodservicefootprint on October 27, 2009

Of course you can have more boy! And more and more and more...

In the news this week has been the success story of Whitbread’s gluttony restaurant concept, Taybarns.

Over the last 6 months, the ‘as much as you can eat’ chain has shown a 3% increase in sales, in marked contrast to the industry norm, and is now planning to roll out another 30 units.

Customers pay on entry – £5.99 during the day and £7.99 in the evening – and then have the opportunity to gorge themselves from a trough, sorry, food counter, longer than a standard cricket pitch! As Taybarns’ Operations Director Simon Ewins says, “People want to try new things. But if you go out on a Friday night and you try a new main course in a traditional restaurant and you don’t like it, that’s a disaster. At Taybarns you can just try something else or go back to your favourites.”

It is recorded that Taybarns customers eat 3.37 platefuls of food per sitting. One has to wonder how much food waste must result from this.

Well done Whitbread, though, for taking advantage of a market opportunity with immaculate timing. Great marketing – give the punters what they want, when they want it and more, more, more of it!

But doesn’t this once again highlight the contribution of foodservice to the obesity story; one that arguably had its roots in early 1970’s USA, but also one that demonstrates that commercial reality outweighs social conscience when it comes to perpetuating sales.

And how does this square with Corporate Social Responsibility? Whitbread’s ‘Healthier Lifestyles’ policy says ‘Our overall approach – based on extensibve (sic) customer research – is to give our customers a wide range of choices in the food and drink they order and the fitness programmes they follow.’ programmes they follow…mmm.

Caviar: A wonderful tale of stock replenishment

Caviar, possibly one of the greatest symbols of wealth, could assume quite a different status with commendable ecological side effects.

Caviar is in desperately short supply due to the unsustainable harvesting of the wild sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, where most of the world’s caviar is presently produced. The situation became dire after the break up of the Soviet Union, which led to the virtual collapse of management and control systems. A century ago, rivers and seas were stuffed with sturgeon, even in Britain.

Sergei Trachook who owns a fish farm called Mottra, near Riga in Latvia has a vision that ‘one day our rivers will be teeming again’, according to The Times.

Mr Trachook doesn’t kill his sturgeon, instead milks the fish for their roe using ultrasound technology and massage, before swiftly returning them unharmed into temperature controlled tanks. He has started to deposit young fish into the nearby Daugva River with a view to replenishing wild stocks.

50g of farmed Mottra Osetra is half the price of wild caviar and once he opens more farms, he will be able to bring the price down even further. Mottra is not the only eco-friendly caviar farm but he claims that other farmed caviar producers make a larger incision, which must be sewn up afterwards, thereby limiting the times the fish can be milked.

According to The Times top chefs are already taking note. Richard Corrigan has put it on the menu of his Mayfair restaurant, Corrigan’s, ‘impressed as much by its clean flavour as by its green credentials’.

The ironies of the Green Revolution being debated after Borlaug’s death

Posted in Comment,Diet,Economics,Foodservice Footprint news,Government,International,News,Produce,Sustainability by foodservicefootprint on September 15, 2009

Norman Borlaug died this weekend. His name will mean little to most, but his work has come to symbolise the ironies that we face in the debate about a greener food industry. Many of these mirror Footprint’s efforts to take a view of all aspects of food – from farm to fork.

Norman Borlaug was a genius and also a Nobel Prize winner. His work as an agronomist caused the Green Revolution and prevented continuous post war global food shortages.

In his crop breeding programme Borlaug developed a clutch of wheat varieties with a short stem. Compared with the taller wheats, the short-strawed types shifted a higher proportion of plant sugars into the seedhead, thus enabling higher yields. However, in order to achieve this, the plant required  huge amounts of chemical fertiliser. This green revolution led to an almost 100% increase in harvests in India and Pakistan during the late 60’s.

According to Graham Harvey in The Times, ‘Altogether more than a billion people are believed to have been saved from starvation as a result of the new varieties’. Borlaug intended this to help people across the planet but instead the agricultural and economic opportunity was seized by industrial countries with the wealth to pay for expensive seeds and fertiliser.

‘Today Borlaug’s ideas underpin the global food system. Three quarters of the world’s cultivated land is sewn to grain crops and oilseed. Most are dependent on massive amounts of oil energy in the form of nitrate fertilisers, pesticides, diesel fuel and heavy machinary’, comments Harvey.

The Green Revolution has given the world more food over the last half century but has led to ‘widespread environmental damage that may reduce the planet’s capacity to feed future generations’.

‘No less than 1.9 billion hectares of farmland has been degraded by modern grain growing techniques. Growing annual grain crops such as wheat over lengthy periods inevitably leads to soil damage. The land must be ploughed and cultivated each year and for long periods if left bare, a condition that seldom arises in nature. Stripped of vegetation cover, the soil’s organic matter starts to burn up or oxidise, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and adding to the greenhouse gas burden. The process is hastened by heavy inputs of chemical fertiliser and pesticides. With the loss of organic matter the soil’s structure is weakened so it becomes unstable and subject to erosion, either by wind or rainfall.’

The ambiguity speaks for itself and really highlights the struggle we are facing and why an understanding at industry level is so important.

Some Water Facts!

Posted in Comment,Diet,Food Miles,Food Trends,International,Sustainability,Sustainable Sourcing by foodservicefootprint on September 13, 2009


Last week, the subject of water was raised with us repeatedly in light of the ever-increasing anti-bottled-water momentum.

Here are a few lesser known facts about fresh water, that might serve as a fundament to understanding the ambiguity of this issue:

97% of the worlds water is in the ocean. Of the 3% of fresh water, three quarters of it is locked in the polar ice caps, some of it billions of years old. Most of the rest of groundwater, in the soil and rock, seeping gradually back into the sea.

Less than 1% of the world’s freshwater (0.008% of the total) is sufficient to fill all the world’s rain clouds, lakes, swamps and rivers.

There is a clear link between access to safe water in a country and its GDP.

It is estimated that by 2025 more than half of the world will be facing problems caused by lack of water

More than a quarter of the British water supply is wasted through leaky pipes.

There is half as much fresh water in Africa today as there was in 1970.

70% of available fresh water each year is used in agriculture.

It takes 2,800 litres of water to grow a kg of rice and 50 glasses of water to grow enough oranges to make a glass of orange juice.

Perhaps the bottled water sceptics might consider some of these points when they next drink a glass of orange juice. We clearly have a global water problem that needs to be addressed but can the blame for this be laid at the door of the mineral and spring water industry?

Organic food is no better for you says FSA report

Posted in Comment,Diet,Economics,Provenance by foodservicefootprint on July 29, 2009

organic hands

So organic food is no better for us than ‘ordinary food’. ‘Ordinary food’? To anybody over 60, organic food is ordinary food – it’s the homogenised fare offered by the supermarkets today that is different; it’s just become the norm.

But what of organic and the so called ‘organic movement’?  Does research such as this FSA commissioned document represent an early death knell? Possibly. ‘Organic’ has moved from a production method to an accreditation. When once it represented an ethos championing the production of food stuff to traditional methods, without the use of chemicals to stimulate, enhance or protect, today the word organic has become a retail category assuring the customer of a product’s production provenance. 

The organic movement has successfully drawn our attention to the fact that a lot of the food we eat today is produced in an arguably unnatural way and has made us want to know more about the provenance of our diet. This is excellent. But there is another side to this argument. To call your farm and your product organic, you have to be accredited by one of a number of organisations, the Soil Association being the most high profile. To achieve this accreditation means you have to undertake an audit and this audit costs money. Quite a lot of money. Rather more money than increasing numbers of cash strapped farmers will bear, and herein lies the story. 

Due to the demand for ‘high provenance’, naturally produced product, there are increasing numbers of farmers producing what is known as ‘uncertified organic’ ie that which is produced to organic methods without the expense of the accreditor’s fee, and finding ready markets throughout the country, not least in the burgeoning numbers of farm shops and farmers markets. 

Assuming that demand for this sort of product increases, might it be suggested that more and more farmers will begin to question the necessity of jumping through each year’s new set of accreditation goalposts, when they know they have a market for their products with or without an accreditation? And furthermore, does the paying public want organic or just comfort in the knowledge that they know where their food comes from?

The Forager: Extraordinarily Brilliant!

In this weeks Eco Hero column, Miles Irving talks about how he grew up foraging for wild food, encouraged by his grandfather. Irving has turned his hobby into a business selling his ‘forage’ to leading restaurants.

Miles said ‘I tried setting up a foraging company a while ago when I had lots of chanterelles to get rid of, but no restaurants were interested. Then about three years later we happened to mention our wild food escapades in a restaurant in Canterbury and got pounced on by the chef’.  He really saw the potential. We now sell to J Sheekey, The Ivy, Scott’s, St John Bread and Wine and Le Caprice, amongst others.

Come on Chef’s, this is so exciting, why not try bittercress, chickweed, a lady’s smock and beefsteak fungus….

I think this is the most exciting thing since Olive Oil became something to cook with, rather than just a remedy for ear-ache! 

Please check out

Sir Paul flexes muscle

According to a UN study published in 2006, the livestock industry is responsible for a staggering 18% of man’s global greenhouse gas emissions partly due to the deforestation in the Amazon. It is generally acknowledged even by Dr. Rejandra Pachauri, the leading authority on climate change, that going meat free once a week, would be the most attractive way for individuals to reduce CO2 emissions.

For this reason, Sir Paul McCartney’s campaign to have a meat-free day a week  in order to cut carbon emissions makes sense and might be worth consideration for foodservice.

McCartney’s mission is supported by high profile chef’s such as Giorgio Locatelli, Yotam Ottolenghi and restaurateur Oliver Peyton is also highlighting meat free dishes.

I suppose we will only be able to establish a link between reduction in carbon emissions and the meat industry once the industry works in unity towards this! Perhaps one might be able to propose an equivalent to WWF’s Earth Day!

Here are some interesting facts that might support Meat Free Monday.

To produce a single  kilogram of beef, farmers have to feed a cow 15kg of grain and 30kg of forage. It is a highly energy intensive business that is ultimately not sustainable. Livestock production is responsible for 70% of the deforestation of the Amazon jungle and by 2050, the world’s livestock population is expected to rise from 60 billion farm animals to 120 billion. It is a scary fact when you consider that in a day a single cow can produce 500 litres of methane, a gas that has about 25 times the global warming impact of CO2.

But how would a meat free Monday have a positive impact on the environment? Simple!  It would slow the projected growth of an industry, expanding at unprecedented levels in order to keep up with demand. This is not about vegetarianism, soya and nut-roasts. Livestock farming is responsible for a huge proportion of the worlds greenhouse gases, therefore, the objective is for restaurateurs to educate the consumer, and collectively bring an industry that has an even greater impact on the environment than the transport industry, back to sustainable levels.

If a die-hard carnivore such as Oliver Peyton can see the sense in this and is promoting meat free dishes in his restaurants every Monday, then maybe so can I. All operators would have to do is highlight a meat free dish every monday an explain exactly the reasons why it is doing so.

Maybe not tree-hugging veggie madness after all!

For more info

Is Organic Food too posh, asks The Daily Telegraph!

The Daily Telegraph 09/05/09

The Daily Telegraph 09/05/09

I absolutely hate the use of the word posh in any context but this article published in The Daily Telegraph is definitely worth a read. Click on picture.


Posted in Comment,Credit Crunch,Diet,Economics,Food Miles,Food Trends,Produce,Provenance,Sustainability by foodservicefootprint on May 5, 2009

We must distinguish CSR from Green issues and recognise that these can occasionally conflict! These two subjects every now and again blur into a grey area that is naturally assumed to be the same genre, thus causing confusion between ecological awareness and the responsibility that corporations have to reinvest a proportion of their profits in the community.

Let us, for arguments sake, untangle these intertwined issues: the corporate responsibility on issues of community/social and green topics, respectively, are separate themes motivated by different forces and impacting our world in a variety of ways. It is assumed that corporations reinvesting profits into schemes that add value to the community and the environment are indeed charitable activities and naturally all fall into the realms of a business’s footprint.

We have been researching a piece on food waste in foodservice and fine dining, in which the grey area between CSR and environmental issues is most apparent. A great deal of material addressing this issue is about giving wasted food to the homeless. An example of this is the Pret Foundation Trust, a hugely noble cause and obviously a CSR policy. Surely we should be looking at the source of the problem of food waste rather than its negation by means of a good deed within the community. Rather than justifying food waste by charitable means, could it be addressed at source?

By giving food that otherwise would be thrown in the bin to the less fortunate, it is by definition no longer ‘wasted’, and this is something we wholeheartedly encourage and promote. But the flip side is that even the very notion of giving food away in this manner could be argued to be not a ‘waste of resources’ but some form of moral justification.

Let me put this to you; could it be argued that with better portion control, more conscientious ordering processes and greater operational diligence, the produce and the products that are feeding the homeless or are simply thrown in the bin could still be growing on the ground or on a tree, roaming in fields or swimming in the sea, ready to enter the food chain in a more sustainable manner, ie when really needed?

We also set out to determine some facts about how much food is wasted at the top end of the UK’s hospitality industry. Research on this was impossible to obtain. How much, painstakingly locally sourced food, is wasted as chefs strive for picture perfect culinary presentation and quality? How much is wasted in experimentation and portion control? We can only speculate, but this problem, we feel, could be addressed by environmental means such as recycling and energy generation.

Within the realms of CSR, instead of feeding the homeless on wastage, could they be employed by trusts and charities established to employ homeless individuals to work in the processing of food? Would that not be a corporate and social responsibility victory? And on a green platform, could the food that is wasted on faulty presentation, perceived sub standard preparation or inefficient ordering have a use? Could this not be returned into the food chain at sub-human levels or even to create organic matter as fertiliser? Would that be an environmental victory?

The point is that some instances of corporate social responsibility strategies are straining parts of our natural resources and food chain. Equally, chefs sourcing local quality produce are wasting a percentage that could have a positive use in some way reinvested into the environment. These points highlight more paradox issues and demonstrate that the commonly bundled CSR and environmental issues should be distinguished and addressed separately.

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