Prince Charles has backed plans to simplify how sustainability in farming is measured to cut workload and data fatigue for farmers caused by the proliferation in eco labels.
The new framework has been developed over four years by the Sustainable Food Trust, along with contributors, and hopes to harmonise methods of measuring sustainability on farms and accelerate the transition to a lower impact food chain.
It was unveiled at a recent event run by speaking platform TedXCountdown and the Sustainable Food Trust and attended by speakers including Prince Charles, who endorsed the development of a “common language” for measuring farm impact, adding that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.
He also spoke his hopes for this year’s pivotal climate talks in Glasgow, adding: “Mindful that COP26 is being hosted by the United Kingdom in Glasgow, I can only say how strongly I hope it might come to be seen as a landmark event, a turning point where world leaders came together and recognised the transformative potential of our food systems.”
The Global Farm Metric is a new proposed framework that would use 11 markers of sustainability, including soil health, biodiversity, social capital and nutrient management, to try and counter the current multiple certifications for each one.
Chief executive of the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), Patrick Holden, said farmers are currently subject to multiple audits from different organisations with differing agendas, which results in limited success for sustainability.
The framework will not seek to replace or become one large umbrella certification, the SFT said, but rather a self-assessment tool for farmers and land managers to merge data and balance workload, and use existing schemes where available.
“It’s important to stress that we are not trying to re-invent the wheel here or create a ‘one size fits all’ certification for farming – in fact the SFT has no ambition or interest to hold ownership of this work at all,” a statement on the SFT website read.
But another speaker, the chief executive of Morrison’s, David Potts, highlighted the consumer confusion around the many labels in the market. Potts said: “If you buy an electric car, you don’t have to be an expert, you know that what you are doing is good for the environment. We want to take away that ambiguity.”
Elsewhere, leader of the upcoming National Food Strategy Henry Dimbleby outlined how our current food system “feeds the world but can also make us ill, a food system that devastates the environment and produces a third of global greenhouse gases.”
“Our food system has developed a new destructive reinforcing feedback loop and lacks a vital balancing one,” he said.
Pointing to the importance of making farm businesses viable as well as environmental, NFU president Minette Batters said: “I know I speak on behalf of the 50,000 farmers when I say they are determined to be world leaders in climate friendly, sustainable farming, to be able to do more for biodiversity, for the environment.
“But most importantly of all to make sure that the business case is made for sustainable farming.”