Sustainable food is produced with good practices that minimise the impact on the environment. The term is often used in relation to fishing, but sustainability is also an important issue for farming.
'Sustainability is the ability of our food system…to continue into the future without bankrupting the environment,' say George Miller and Katharine Reeve, authors of The Rough Guide to Food.
Sustainability encourages a lower-intensity farming culture and is mindful of finite resources such as oil and the damage that farming can do to local wildlife or delicate ecosystems. Methods used in organic farming – such as crop rotation and maintaining healthy soil – are often called sustainable, and help to preserve our food heritage.
The term 'sustainability' can also cover social and economic benefits, such as trading fairly with suppliers and growers, as well as providing jobs, education and clean water for workers and their families.
The Fairtrade Foundation and Rainforest Alliance are two of the bodies that support producers in the developing world and certify growers and farms that use sustainable practices. David Wilson, manager of Duchy Home Farm in Gloucestershire, says: "Sustainability is good for the soil, good for the animals and crops, and ultimately good for the consumer."
Why is organic food more expensive?
Organic food isn't always more expensive – but there are several reasons why it often costs a little more than its non-organic equivalent. Organic farming is more labour-intensive than conventional agriculture and it takes three years for a farm to undergo the conversion and strict accreditation process. The first year is classed as conventional and the farm can be used for conventional farming. In the second year the farm is 'in conversion' and up to 50% of the farm can be used to grow organic crops. In the third year, all of the farm's crops should be grown organically.
"The three-stage conversion process from conventional to organic farming means that, although the farmer may be going through a period of change, he is usually able to manage the conversion in a way that does not negatively impact on his income." David Wilson explains.
Organic food isn't always more expensive – but there are several reasons why it often costs a little more than its non-organic equivalent.
"It is also during the first two years that the payment from the Organic Entry Level Stewardship Scheme is at its highest. This payment is aimed at making sure the farmer remains viable during conversion."
Once an organic farm is up-and-running, many organic farming practices take a bit longer and produce lower yields. Organic meat and dairy animals also have more space and are reared more slowly than conventionally reared animals.
Is it OK to eat imported foods if I'm trying to be green?
Many environmentalists recommend that we cut down on our 'food miles' (the distance food has travelled from its source to your plate), and for us to eat more local, seasonal British foods. But imports – such as Kenyan green beans and Fairtrade tea and coffee – provide vital income for communities in the developing world.
A good rule to adopt is to buy British foods when they are in season. If a food can't be grown here, then look for imports produced ethically, such as organic goods and foods certified by the Fairtrade Foundation and Rainforest Alliance.
Why should I have to worry about these things? Can't shops just sell the right stuff?
It's important to be aware of the issues so you can decide what to buy. Waitrose has a long history in this area, and with our new brand Duchy Originals from Waitrose (HRH Prince Charles’s brand, formerly called Duchy Originals), we have worked hard to take the guesswork out of ethical shopping, so you can choose food that does good and tastes good. In fact, sustainability and great quality go hand-in-hand – for example, slow-reared meat has more flavour and line-caught fish tends to be of a higher quality.
Waitrose encourages all its suppliers to protect the natural environment, promote high standards of animal welfare and provide the best possible conditions for workers.
Waitrose is also committed to organic farming and currently stocks more than 1,700 organic products. And, now that it has joined forces with Duchy Originals to bring you Duchy Originals from Waitrose, you can expect to see hundreds of products from this new range appearing in Waitrose branches over the coming months.
Find out more about the Good Food Charter (this link opens a new window)
David Wilson manager of Duchy Home Farm