The Great Green Row-Back? How may the food sector be affected?

Prime minister Rishi Sunak announced on 20 September a 'row-back' on a series of key green commitments.  

But what areas may be affected most for agri and food companies? 

  • Data Transparency - Voluntary

The role of the the Food Data Transparency Partnership (FDTP) and whether data reporting by food businesses should be mandatory or voluntary has also been widely reported in the last few weeks.

The plan around the setting up of the Food Data Transparency Partnership between government bodies, private organisations, charities and food business was to make it mandatory for large businesses to publicly report against a consistent set of health metrics and explore a similar approach to sustainability and animal welfare.  This was to be achieved via a system of mandatory measurement to be used by industry to measure its impact across three areas: public health (including HFSS and obesity), animal welfare and supply chain emissions. A fourth working group was to be charged with ensuring there is transparent reporting and developing the data to back it up.

The Westminster Food Forum on transparency of data in the food supply and the Food Data Transparency Partnership took place on Tuesday 5th September.   At this event Sean Povey, deputy director, diet, obesity and healthy behaviours at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC),  updated attendees that reporting will now only be required on a voluntary basis

Jessica Burt of Mills & Reeve also spoke at the Westminster Forum event and referenced the importance that a clear proportionate and achievable objective should underline any additional responsibility before it is placed on business.

The voluntary provision of data has been reported this week in the Grocer as already committed to by a number of larger food businesses and retailers, including IGD, supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, and suppliers such as Nestlé, Mars and General Mills.  The out-of-home sector is reported as including Compass Group, Mitchells & Butlers, KFC and Deliveroo.

The exact metrics for sales data are not finalised but are likely to include the salt, sugar and fat content of products.

A future second stage may see data communicated to the public via a new system of on-pack labelling, which will be used to either replace or supplement existing traffic light labels.

The provision of the voluntary traffic light labels involved detailed consultation and it is hoped that any voluntary scheme to supplement or replace this does not cause confusion for consumers.

As referenced by Jessica Burt at the Westminster event, it can be easy to lose track of the 'why' in the rush to demand food businesses provide more and more information. The provision of a clear structure and goals that companies may then wish to signpost their compliance to as a foundation is vital.

  • Emissions Reporting - Mandatory

It is conversely reported that the reporting of Scope 3 emissions will still be mandatory for large food and drink companies. This has left questions over how that will be defined ie the size of companies affected, whether there may be voluntary reporting by smaller businesses and what metrics and which proprietary systems are to be used.

Clearly one agreed system within industry, supported across business, would add a great deal of clarity and this should be the foundation before any mandatory system may be introduced.

  • Food Waste Reporting - Voluntary

Defra has stepped back from proposals for mandatory reporting on food waste and has “no plans” for mandatory targets for prevention and will be keeping food waste reporting on a voluntary basis due to the perceived costs to businesses and the impact on food prices. 

A campaign group Feedback has threatened the Government with judicial review over its decision not to make food waste reporting mandatory for large and medium sized businesses.  

A Defra spokesperson said: “A regulatory approach would increase costs for businesses and the public sector, which might be passed on to consumers. We therefore believe the right approach at this time is to enhance the existing voluntary approach to food waste reporting.”

Critics of the move have highlighted the potential for impact on other schemes such as Extended Producer Responsibility EPR and the Deposit Return Scheme DRS.

We will shortly be seeing the Single Use Plastic Ban coming into force on 1 October however as illustrated within our previous update:  Single Use Plastics Ban - What is covered? - Mills & Reeve (mills-reeve.com)  The variety of exclusions for 'packaging' mean that the vast majority of takeaways, delis and filled at point of sale hospitality venues will not be affected.  Nevertheless, a voluntary approach such as the Plastic Pact UK, led by Wrap, The UK Plastics Pact | WRAP signed by a number of restaurants may have an equal if not greater effect.

Similarly, it is important that the overall objective, rather than the short term target such as blanket bans, is kept in mind; whereby environmental objectives should be measured and achievable.

  • Meat Tax 'Dropped'

The provision of meat tax has been ruled out.  This tax has not been previously consulted on and has been referenced as a ‘non-existent government policy’.

However the ruling out of additional ‘taxes’ should be broadly welcomed by those parts of the food sector that may fall within the high in fat, salt or sugar bracket or are perceived as less environmentally friendly.

  • Logistics – Ban on new diesel and petrol vehicles delayed

The ban on sales of new diesel and petrol cars has been postponed from 2030 to 2035.

In order to ensure this implementation it would be essential that an appropriate infrastructure to support the supply chain for food businesses including charging stations for HGVs and other delivery vehicles across the country, and an overall better infrastructure network that can fully support a total transition to electric powered transportation and storage of goods.

The logistics sector may therefore be subject to further uncertainty for investment

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Every piece of content we create is correct on the date it’s published but please don’t rely on it as legal advice. If you’d like to speak to us about your own legal requirements, please contact one of our expert lawyers.

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