At present, all farmers and land managers are required to submit multiple and overlapping audits to government agencies, food companies and certifiers each year. Most of these schemes use different categories of assessment, metrics and units of measurement, and can be expensive, bureaucratic and time consuming to complete. They also make it impossible for consumers, farmers, food businesses and policymakers to gain an accurate understanding of the comparative sustainability of products resulting from different methods of production.
To address this, the Sustainable Food Trust convened a working group consisting mainly of farmers and land managers, but also including representation from government agencies, research institutions, assurance schemes and major food companies, to assess the opportunity for achieving convergence between existing sustainability assessment tools.
Our aim is to facilitate the development of an integrated sustainability and productivity assessment tool, providing common data which would allow:
- Farmers to monitor continuous environmental, social and economic performance year on year
- Governments to assess eligibility for public support payments
- Food companies to assess the sustainability of the products they source
- Citizens to better understand the story behind their food
To achieve this, we decided to commission independent research consultants to undertake a gap analysis of existing schemes, then using our own farms, assess the degree of overlap and discrepancy of the range of current sustainability tools.
The results of this analysis are presented in this report. We believe that this study demonstrates a significant opportunity for convergence by identifying the best features of the existing tools and where there is scope for further harmonisation.
Such a uniformed scheme has the potential to be used by government agencies (including Defra and the RPA), food companies, certifiers and auditors, as well as by farmers to help make management decisions. Common data could also be used to help improve transparency in the market place and empower consumers to use their buying power to support the farming systems they would like to see.
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