Investors urge UK government to promote sustainable food systems

News Team, 16/07/2021

A coalition of investors led by Rathbone Greenbank Investments (Greenbank) are demanding the UK government creates a food system that promotes health and wellbeing for the entire population, while preserving environmental systems.

Greenbank is responding to the National Food Strategy’s recommendations for promoting a healthier and more sustainable food system in the UK, and wants the government to demonstrate clear leadership and ambition in its response to what it perceives as a major social and environmental challenge.

As part of its ongoing work on food sustainability and nutrition, Greenbank is leading the group which represents a total of £2.8 trillion in assets under management or under advice and includes Aviva Investors, EOS at Federated Hermes (on behalf of its stewardship clients) and Newton Investment Management.

Specifically, the group urges the government to implement clear and consistent mandatory reporting requirements for companies in the food sector. It also wants the government to consider the full range of regulatory tools at its disposal. This includes fiscal interventions and enhanced regulation - to promote sustainability in the food system, focusing in particular on internalising the externalities currently borne by the environment and society.

Commissioned by then Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove, in 2019, the National Food Strategy is the first independent review of the of the UK’s food system in 75 years. It recognises that the food system is currently delivering poor health and environmental outcomes and sets out a series of recommendations covering the entire system from farm to fork.

Kate Elliot, head of ethical, sustainable and impact research at Greenbank, comments: “The food system is a major driver of climate change and biodiversity loss. At the same time, the incidence of overweight and obesity – a key risk factor in cases of severe Covid-19 – is rising across the world and awareness is growing of labour rights concerns in global food chains. These sustainability challenges present severe risks to the way in which the world produces, processes and consumes food. It’s clear that the food system in its current state is unsustainable and ambitious action is needed to realign it to work for people and planet.”

Commenting on the situation for investors, she explained: “A key challenge for investors has been the lack of consistent, high quality and meaningful information on the nutrition and environmental performance of companies within the food sector. While there are examples of good practice in individual disclosures, a lack of common metrics means investors are often comparing apples and pears and we are limited in our ability to direct capital toward the companies which are taking a proactive and leading approach to sustainability issues. We therefore welcome the recommendation of clear and consistent mandatory reporting requirements for companies in the food sector.”

Senior ESI researcher at Rathbone Greenbank Investments, Sophie Lawrence, added: “The National Food Strategy represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to embed health and sustainability at the core of the UK’s food system. The strategy touches on many of the most critical sustainability challenges that the world is facing, including climate change, biodiversity loss and obesity. It is vital that the UK government responds to the strategy’s recommendations with the high level of ambition and urgency that these issues demand.”

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