Driven by Scope 3 emission pressures, conversations are well underway about how farming can be more sustainable, with a focus on the carbon footprint of supply sitting at the top of the list.
While bringing sustainability and safety into the same conversation should be welcomed, it is important that expectations are set as to how they are managed. Broadly speaking, it is straightforward to work towards recognised farm assurance schemes to manage food safety, such as Red Tractor Farm Standards. However, the standardisation of sustainability is far more complex because it is dependent on organisational goals put in place by each retailer. This lack of consistency only adds to the challenges facing the agriculture sector and raises the question of how the farming industry can prepare to face these new challenges without causing significant expense to the farmer.
There is no doubting that more focus is being placed on ensuring farming practices are as carbon neutral as possible. While this has historically been led by farms themselves, we are now seeing evidence that this is extending to the wider supply chain with a growing need to demonstrate sustainable practices. Definitions of sustainable practices differ, but the farming industry can expect these to primarily include environmental impact and greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, secondary processors, who are further away from the primary production, are likely to prioritise aspects such as packaging solutions and waste minimisation.
With retailer pressures filtering down the supply chain, transparency and communication from retailers is paramount to ensuring sustainability is clearly defined and food safety is not compromised. Sustainability and safety are two very different requirements, and it can be easy to compromise one for the sake of the other. Dairy is a prime example where moving towards alternative packaging could have a detrimental impact on product safety. To balance the two, it has never been more important for collaboration and effective communication between those who manage food safety and sustainability.
This is easier said than done, particularly when we look at how food safety and sustainability practices are currently managed. For example, while the approach to food safety is collaborative – where organisations have a mutual understanding of the benefits of a safe food supply chain – sustainability practices arguably have a more competitive nature. This is driven by recent changes to consumer demand, whereby sustainability is much higher on the purchasing agenda. As such, it is unlikely that there will ever be a consistent and global approach to achieving sustainability across the supply chain.
As supply chain assurance specialists, LRQA is working towards proactively developing best-fit solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Goals need to be realistic and set according to the scope – and budgets – of the supplier. Retailers must also be clear and ensure those responsible for food safety and sustainability collaborate to ensure practices align and are communicated. Only then will we see truly effective sustainable practices in the farming industry.