In order to make a real difference to the environment, the issue of sustainable development needs to become part of the hospitality industry's sourcing policies. BPEX chairman Stewart Houston explains.
Environmental responsibility in the hospitality industry is an issue of vital importance and, in the case of the meat industry, one that requires fact to be separated from myth.
The notion that we can save the planet by eating less meat is as misguided as it is unrealistic. The fact is that 96% of people in Great Britain eat meat because they enjoy it and because it's good for us - it's packed full of iron and other essential nutrients.
As a ubiquitous, high-value menu item, meat is also of crucial importance commercially to the hospitality industry.
The red meat industry is engaged and committed to finding practical and realistic solutions to reduce the environmental impact of its activity. In 2009, BPEX released two reports looking at the carbon footprint of pig production and sustainability of the industry. These reports - Scoping Life Cycle Assessment of Pork Production and Pigs and the Environment - demonstrate that the industry understands these very complex subjects and is working hard to improve its environmental credentials.
The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan requires English farmers to make and maintain a reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to a level at least 11% lower than currently predicted by 2020. Achieving such savings in environmental efficiency goes hand-in-hand with improvements in production efficiencies and so it's a win-win situation for the industry and the environment.
Agriculture in this country contributes about 7% of the UK's GHG emissions, not the 18% consistently taken from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report.
There are, however, significant differences in GHG emissions between the various livestock production sectors. For example, using the measure of kg per CO2 equivalents for GHG emissions, chicken production measures 3, pork 5, beef 12 and lamb 14 kg/CO2. Interestingly, the kg/CO2 equivalent of GHG emissions for rice and pulses can be as much as 16, yet we hear little clamour to reduce our consumption of rice.
One of the most important aspects of our work is in improving the environmental impact of feed. More use is being made of sustainable soya and the development of alternative feed stocks. In any case, the pig is an amazing species as a recycler. A large part of pig diets is already made up of "co-products" - left-over's from human food production, which would otherwise go into landfill.
The pig sector in England is increasingly investing in anaerobic digestion to process slurry and other waste which can further help supply energy needs, cut GHG emissions and produce, as a by-product, a substitute for fertiliser produced from fossil fuels.
Tackling climate change is something we all have to take responsibility for and it's vital that the whole of the supply chain works together. In order to make a real difference, the issue of sustainable development needs to become part of the hospitality industry's sourcing policies. Together we can make a difference.