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Checking out on-farm biodiversity in retailer sourcing

News | Published  24 March 2023

Our recent report ‘Sourcing Better Checked Out’ found a lack of effective sourcing policies to support local biodiversity in farmed landscapes. While many retailers had topline statements of ambition, there is almost no reporting on biodiversity actions or indicators throughout their meat and dairy supply chains.

Food Retail

The ‘Best’ sourcing means retailers dedicate at least 10% of on-farm land to biodiversity elements, adding or maintaining species-rich hedges, woods, and meadows, and have low use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

Andrew Stark, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB commenting on the report:

“The report shows that retailers have a vitally important role to play in addressing the nature crisis. The global food system is one of the largest drivers of biodiversity loss and harmful greenhouse gases. The Biodiversity Intactness Index – a score for each country on the state of their biodiversity – shows that the UK is in the lowest 12% of global countries and territories for biodiversity intactness. Fixing the food system through positive land use change and agricultural policy reform, so that nature is restored, protected and enhanced, is paramount to reversing this low score.

The good news is that we know what the ‘Best’ looks like for biodiversity in our food system and agriculture, with many farmers and growers leading the way. By dedicating at least 10% of on-farm land to biodiversity, adding or maintaining species-rich hedges, woods, and meadows, and a low use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, we can improve the state of nature in the UK."

What we found:

We found a lack of effective policies to support local biodiversity in farming landscapes. There is almost no reporting on biodiversity beyond topline ambition statements. 

Some retailers report on their pesticide and fertiliser use and have reduced the volume of highly hazardous pesticides in particular; not only does this help to protect biodiversity, but also reduces the risk to public health posed by pesticide residues. Although there has been progress in this area there is still a long way to go in lowering the volume of chemical inputs on UK farms. 

We found little evidence of retailer strategies to support biodiversity on-farm. We only found one retailer is already doing this, requiring at least 10% of land on-farm to be dedicated to biodiversity elements (adding or maintaining  species-rich hedges, woods and meadows) with its dairy suppliers Retailers should be making ‘Better’ meat and dairy the minimum standard of production in the UK, by incorporating better biodiversity management, including grassland management and livestock grazing requirements,. 

Martin Lines, UK Chair, Nature Friendly Farming Network said:

"UK food retailers need to be held to account for transparency around their sourcing standards, which would strengthen their commitments to support nature-friendly farmers who are taking critical action to restore our farmed landscapes. As climate changes and shocks to the marketplace make our food system increasingly vulnerable, farmers need stability and support through a marketplace that genuinely champions the best standards of production."