Where does your Christmas dinner come from… and where will it come from in the future? 

United Kingdom
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Sir David Attenborough caused a sensation when he joined Instagram in September 2020 and broke the record for being the fastest account to reach one million followers. He is urging us all to cut down on meat consumption in order to save the planet. He says that “We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters. If we had a mostly plant-based diet we could increase the yield of the land.” With over 3 million chickens consumed every day and roast  turkey symbolising Christmas dinner there are increasing  options to ensure your Christmas dinner brings cheer to both the table and the planet.

The desire for change is reflected in the From Farm to Fork Strategy, at the heart of the European Green Deal. It aims to make food systems fair, healthy and environmentally friendly. The strategy recognises the demands on the food system and the need to ensure food sources remain resilient to crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic. With 14.5% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions coming from animal agriculture, equivalent to the combined impact of every motor vehicle in the world (15%), it is no wonder that science is stepping in to establish sustainable, eco-friendly solutions.

Research and innovation is one of the foundation stones. For example, the Food Standards Authority (FSA) has just changed its Guidance on the shelf life for chilled fresh beef, lamb and pork reflecting new microbiological and epidemiological advice that traditional meat use by dates can be safely extended. At the same time Singapore has approved for sale cultured meat, which is produced in bioreactors without the need to slaughter an animal. Proponents see this as a landmark moment for the food industry and could result in a future where all meat is produced without the need to kill livestock. The meat source is produced by obtaining cells, through a biopsy, from a living meat donor which are combined with plant-based ingredients and grown in a bioreactor. Currently the production of such meat is very small scale and requires a significant amount of energy resulting in carbon emissions. Some estimates do suggest however that large scale cultured meat production could emit 78-96% fewer greenhouse gases although the true environmental benefit of producing this alternative will not be known until it is in widescale production. However, even when the science is fully harnessed the hearts and minds may not all be persuaded. The French Agricultural Minister’s social media post made his position on cell-based meat clear when he said that ‘Meat comes from life, not from laboratories’. Is this stance a blow to French food or an opportunity for competitors?

Another approach the FSA is considering is its attitude to Genetically Modified Foods (GM) which are restrictively regulated by the EU but which the UK Government has suggested may be an early opportunity to show the benefits of divergence in Food Law policies after 1st January 2021.

Sustainable Food comes from Sustainable Farming. The EU aims to ensure that 25% of the total farmland being used by 2030 is for organic farming. Additional steps being taken as part of the Farm to Fork Strategy to promote sustainable farming includes sustainability food labelling to allow consumers to make choices about the food they buy based on how sustainably farmed it was, and a requirement to include food origin labels. Sustainable farming encompasses a wide range of options beyond more familiar options such as organic and free-range to the less well known low-input, holistic and biodynamic. Agrofarming is one to watch which involves farmers combining crops and pastureland with the planting of trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere.

Waste is another developing arena, the revised Waste Framework Directive sets out the need for EU countries to reduce food waste within the supply chain and to monitor food waste levels as well as encouraging food donation. Here too technological advances are being made. New technologies are being developed to more accurately calculate food expiry dates. A handheld scanner and an ultraviolet reactive label have been developed that monitor the past conditions the food has been exposed to in order to accurately reflect the expiry date. It is hoped that historic heat maps will indicate exposure to warmth and ensure food can remain on shelves longer, reducing the estimated 88 million tonnes of food waste in the EU each year.

Despite the differing responses we can conclude with a little Christmas cheer. In an era of ever growing consciousness regarding our impact on the earth and its resources, food and beverage manufacturers are stepping up and making it easier for everyone to get involved. Scientific advancements and an increased focus, not only on the production of food but on the disposal, means our Christmas dinners for years to come can taste better in the knowledge its impact on the earth is reduced.

For more information on how CMS can assist please see our Sustainable Food flyer here.