Sustainability food codes

An old English proverb, you are what you eat, has been used for many years to warn people to pay heed to their diet as it does directly affect their overall mind and body health. Here we are using it to think about the sustainability of the food we eat, the welfare of the animals involved and the management of the environments that they come from.   Looking at the labels on the food you pick up is the easiest way to make your contribution to the overall sustainability of our food supply. Don’t forget if you don’t buy it, then it will not be economical for people to make it, so if you only buy food that has a reputable supply chain then that should help to ensure at least in the UK (these are mostly UK examples) we ensure good food and farming practices.   Here are some of the main labels to look for and what they mean:  

Red Tractor –

This is one of the commonest labels on UK meat, and is backed by the National Farmers Union and British Retail Consortium. It means that the meat has been raised to UK standards which means that the processes involved in its production (i.e its life) and its termination (death) are carefully regulated and meet standards of health (for consumer and some for the animal) and humane treatment. This is about 10 years old now and standards in some area’s are now lagging behind some of the more forward thinking organizations involved. More here.

What to look out for:

Freedom Food (or now sometimes RSPCA Assured)-

This a more advanced set of standards and pays more detailed attention to animal welfare ensuring they have more space, light and access to natural elements like food and toys, that ensure their mental health as well as physical health. Often you can find both the red tractor and freedom food or RSPCA Assured on the label and this should ensure a better healthier food chain. We have left out the long list of what they define as a suitable living standard, but go to their website and they have a list for each group of animals of what they consider fair and humane. More here.

What to look out for:

UK Soil Association –

This is probably the best indicator of sustainable vegetables, obviously they are not concerned with the mental health of the plant but they are interested in making sure everything reasonable is done to maintain the quality of the environment that the plant is grown in, think leaving area’s of the farm wild for birds and insects to thrive in. More importantly it means less or no fertilizers or chemicals used in the production of the vegetables, this means less potentially toxic chemicals going into the soil (waterways etc) and also less going into the vegetable and potentially healthier (to eat) plants. Most of you will be familiar with the term organic and these guys are the leading certifier and definer of what that means and how that its monitored and measured, this is what to look out for when your buying food and thinking about a more sustainable lifestyle. They also spend a lot of time on research about the rest of the biosphere, like forests and parklands. More here.  

What to look out for:

UK Soil Association - sustainability logos explained

Marine Stewardship Council –

The Marine Stewardship Council was originally set up but the world wildlife fund and Unilever, but now its an independent international organization dedicated to sustainability in wild fish and sea life populations (not farmed fish). their objectives in short form are : 1, to Sustain Stocks 2, Sustain the Ecosystems that support them, 3, to help with the management of 1 and 2. On fish and fish products that carry the little blue label you can trust that that it was caught and processed within the strict guidelines they lay down and that it should ensure that there are both fish and fishermen (and women) around tomorrow to continue to do this. More here.   It’s a very big organisation and managing a massive industry from a vast number of sources and countries. If you are interested in more detailed and up to the minute good practises and habits look also on Sustain Web, this is more proactive organization which tries to work on local and practical ways to highlight good and bad practises.   

What to look out for:

marine stewardship council - sustainability logosmarine stewardship council - sustainability logos

Fairtrade & Rainforest Alliance –

These international organizations are primarily concerned with helping to manage directly, farmers in poor countries by using the western buying power to help determine they get firstly a fair wage for their efforts and secondly can farm in a way that also benefits the environment. It’s easy to see these on products that you know comes from hot poor countries, like chocolate, coffee and banana’s but more recently we now see it on wine and spices, but also start to look out for it on cotton and beauty products. More on the Rainforest Alliance here.More on Fairtrade here.

What to look out for:

How to keep up to date, generally:

Brexit and US/UK trade talks, this is probably a unique time in history when a lot of what we have built up in terms of good and bad practices in farming and fishing and the treatment of the environment is being re-negotiated. Sustainweb is a good source of some of the details behind some of the big issues around all these trade talks and agreements. Quite possibly the future of British Farming and Fishing is all going to be re-set in between 2020-2022, and the effects on the ecosystems and our economies could be long lasting, so it might be a good time to dip into a few more of these websites and understand what’s behind the food on your plate! Visit here.