Caroline Spelman speech to Food and Drink Association on ‘Secure and Sustainable Food – The Rio+20 challenge.’

I am delighted to be here today and my thanks to the Food and Drink Federation and Forum for the Future for organising such a worthwhile event.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Caroline Spelman

Good afternoon. I am delighted to be here today and my thanks to the Food and Drink Federation and Forum for the Future for organising such a worthwhile event.

It is heartening to see so many leading figures from the food and drink industry coming together to discuss the important issue of secure and sustainable food ahead of the Rio+20 summit in June. I can only endorse what Nick has said - engagement of business is absolutely paramount to this agenda.

I was interested to see that this event has been called “The Rio+20 Challenge”. This seems like an appropriate title to me - as it is indeed a challenge that we face.

Today there are seven billion people on this planet. In 13 years time, there will be another billion mouths to feed.

The number of middle-class consumers is set to increase by 3 billion over the next 20 years, with changing diets and habits - placing more pressure on our resources.

So by 2030, the world is expected to need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy, and 30% more water.

And at the same time, we are seeing alarming global trends in biodiversity losses, deforestation and climate change.

We know that if we continue to degrade the environment and erode our natural capital at current rates, the planet cannot sustain itself.

So it is indeed a time of great challenge.

But I hope that you will agree with me, it is also a time of great opportunity:

  • To grow more food sustainably;

  • To employ more people in a growth industry;

  • To innovate with new green technology, to produce more, with less.

I believe that by working together we can find solutions which are good for the environment, and good for business.

In three weeks time, the world will meet in Rio de Janeiro to make the case for greening the world economy, a transformation which must address how to use the Earth’s natural resources more sustainably.

One of the major outcomes at Rio+20 is expected to be agreement on developing new sustainable development goals - or SDGs. These goals aim to galvanise the international community to work towards common ends in a much more coordinated, coherent and effective manner.

They have the capacity to drive action in the way Millennium Development Goals secured tangible outcomes for development.

For this reason I have strongly supported the development of SDGs from the onset and I, and the Deputy Prime Minister who is heading the UK delegation to Rio, are working hard to ensure a successful outcome is reached on this in June.

We need a small number of SDGs, focussed on the most critical sustainability issues relevant to poverty eradication, growth and development.

Which is why I have been championing the cause for food security and sustainable agriculture, water security and sustainable energy to form the core of the SDGs.

Food, water and energy are fundamental and inter-related issues. Dealing with any of them in isolation is fruitless.

For example, agriculture uses 70% of available fresh water. Clearly, sustainable food production is not possible without sustainable water resources.

Food, energy and water are fundamental not only to our economy, but also to the lives of many of the world’s poorest people.

Half of the world’s undernourished people, and the majority of people living globally in absolute poverty are estimated to be small holder farmers, dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods and most vulnerable to threats to the food system.

We need recognition of these issues at a global level- we need renewed focus to drive forward change - and I believe SDGs are the means to do this.

In addition to SDGs, we are also working to ensure that any declaration that is agreed at Rio clearly recognises that the food and agriculture sector is critical to greener growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The current negotiating text - called the ‘zero draft’ - is being negotiated in several sessions in New York ahead of the Rio summit itself.

I must admit, watching the text ballooning in size to more than 400 paragraphs is worrying. However, this process is to be expected when you have almost 200 countries involved.

And although it’s hard work, it is important that the international community have that high level mandate to work from.

Ultimately, I want Rio to deliver a short, sharp and clear political declaration.

And food must be one of the central issues within that.

I want to see recognition at Rio of the need to take action to tackle the scale of the challenge.

The Foresight report made clear what actions are needed:

More food must be grown - and at less cost to the environment.

We need an integrated approach to food security, with the emphasis on promoting a more sustainable approach to agriculture.

We need approaches such as sustainable intensification - raising agricultural yields, through improved productivity rather than through using more land or water

We also need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the negative effects which agriculture can have on our environment, as well as helping agriculture adapt to increasingly variable and unpredictable growing conditions. In essence we need climate-smart agriculture.

The need for these actions must be recognised at Rio, if we are ever to chart a path towards a more sustainable food system.

And your role in this is vital.

We need Rio to trigger a profound shift in the way both businesses and governments think about growth.

There will be many ways for businesses to show leadership and affirm their commitment to sustainability at Rio:

• It’s important that the private sector make their voices heard - to show that this is an economic issue as much as an environmental or developmental issue. We need to showcase ideas, innovations and best practice -to really use the Rio platform to increase visibility of sustainable business. So I hope that those of you going out there will make your own commitments, and push governments to do more. I know that some of you will do this for sustainability reporting - but it goes wider than that.

• The UK, together with the World Bank and Natural Capital Declaration, will be holding a Natural Capital Summit, where we hope to showcase commitments from Governments and businesses on integrating the value of natural capital into our decision making.

• And the UN Global Compact is encouraging businesses to make new individual commitments. All businesses can sign up.

I hope that many of you who are here today can get involved. Because I want Rio+20 to help business to do more.

We’ve come a long way since the first Earth Summit 20 years ago - and it’s important to acknowledge that.

Many of the organisations represented here today have been crucial to the shift we’ve seen.

The progress the FDF has made towards their ‘Five-fold Environmental Ambition’ demonstrates the industry’s ability to contribute and lead by example on the global stage.

The progress you are making on your goals such as cutting CO2 emissions, reducing packaging waste and water use shows that to be green and growing is achievable.

I was encouraged by examples of best practice such as:

Kraft simply re-designing Easter egg boxes to reduce packaging and carbon footprint;

or Mars using anaerobic digestion to divert over 220 tonnes away from Landfills;

or Young’s Seafood removing 800 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from their packaging supply chain.

I understand that there are many more examples being displayed at the exhibition today.

Government has an important role to play too.

A sustainable food and farming industry is at the forefront of Defra’s aims. We are working to help increase the competitiveness and resilience of farms, fisheries and the whole food chain to ensure a secure, environmentally sustainable and healthy supply of food - for example through the green food project.

In February, many from the food industry met with Richard Benyon to discuss how we can move forward together to develop a joint National Statement on sourcing Sustainable Palm Oil.

The British Soft Drinks Association are now working in partnership with Defra and WRAP on a wide-ranging and in-depth Soft Drinks Road Map. This aims to help the industry improve its sustainable and economic performance.

These are just a few examples but we need to move from examples of best practice to ensuring sustainability is right at the heart of business.

Working together we can demonstrate the triple bottom line of financial, social and environmental good - and Rio+20 will provide us with a unique platform to demonstrate this on the global stage.

I look forward to hearing the presentations today and to the panel discussion.

Thank you.

Published 24 May 2012