3 August 2022 – for immediate release
Call for proper scientific scrutiny and validation of the Sustainable Food Trust’s Global Farm Metric
The policy group Science for Sustainable Agriculture has called on Ministers to submit the Sustainable Food Trust’s Global Farm Metric model to a proper process of scientific scrutiny and validation.
It follows concerns raised by leading academic scientists in the field that, by measuring environmental impacts such as resource use and greenhouse gas emissions on a whole farm basis, rather than in terms of food output, the Global Farm Metric is skewed towards less productive, more extensive farming systems.
At a meeting of the APPG on Science & Technology in Agriculture in September 2021, leading scientists evaluating the sustainability impact of different farming systems, including conservation scientist Professor Andrew Balmford of the University of Cambridge, and economist Professor Paul Wilson of the University of Nottingham, indicated that, to be meaningful and robust, sustainability metrics must focus on measuring resource use and environmental impact per functional unit of output (ie kilograms, litres, bioavailable calories), not per area farmed.
Writing on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website, advisory group member and science communicator Dr Julian Little highlighted the importance of adopting a consistent and science-based approach to defining and measuring agricultural sustainability:
“There is an urgent need to embed farm-level data and sustainability metrics at the heart of a policy agenda focused on securing the optimum balance between food production, resource use and environmental impact.
“Access to metrics capable of objectively and consistently monitoring that balance will be essential to set targets and measure progress for sustainable efficient production, to develop coherent R&D programmes, to understand and disseminate advice on best practice throughout the industry, and to provide meaningful information to consumers relating to the sustainability impact of their food choices,” he noted.
However, although the UK Government has funded a significant body of work on sustainability indicators and metrics as part of its 2014-18 Sustainable Intensification Research Programme, according to the researchers involved this research appears to have been quietly shelved and forgotten. Meanwhile Defra is supporting the Global Farm Metric as one of the Government’s ELMs test and trial projects.
“This is a puzzling policy decision without apparent explanation or scientific basis. Not only is the Sustainable Food Trust an activist, openly pro-organic NGO which actively campaigns against potentially beneficial farming tools such as gene editing, and to this day peddles unscientific anti-GMO propaganda such as the widely discredited 2013 Seralini rat-feeding study, but the Global Farm Metric model itself is not based on science, and is skewed towards less productive, more extensive farming systems by favouring a whole farm, or area-based, approach to measuring resource use and environmental impact,” observed Dr Little.
“At a time of heightened food security and cost-of-living concerns, this could risk the UK sleepwalking into its own food crisis. The Government must urgently commit to the development of robust metrics for sustainable agriculture, grounded in science, and drawing on the considerable body of work already funded by Defra as part of the Sustainable Intensification Research Programme. A failure to do so would not only do a big disservice to UK agriculture, but would also undermine confidence in the Government’s assertion that it takes evidence-led policy decisions based on the best available scientific information.”
Notes to Editors
Dr Julian Little’s commentary first appeared on the Science for Sustainable Agriculture website here.
Science for Sustainable Agriculture (SSA) is a new policy and communications platform, offering a focal point for information, comment and debate around modern, sustainable agriculture and food production. Supported by an independent advisory group of political, scientific and industry leaders from a range of sectors and backgrounds (listed below), SSA’s aim is to promote a conversation rooted in scientific evidence, rather than ideology. Science for Sustainable Agriculture will provide a platform for like-minded individuals and organisations to champion and explain the vital role of science and technology in safeguarding our food supply, tackling climate change and protecting the natural environment. SSA also stands ready to expose, comment on and challenge unscientific positions or policy decisions in relation to sustainable agriculture.
Further information about Science for Sustainable Agriculture is available here.
Advisory Group members
Matt Ridley – science writer and farmer
Professor Tina Barsby – plant scientist
Dr Julian Little – science communicator
Graham Brookes – agricultural economist
Lord Rooker - politician
Professor Helen Sang – livestock scientist
Helen Munday – food industry scientist
Dr Helen Ferrier – scientific and regulatory affairs adviser
Dr Craig Lewis – livestock breeder
David Hill – arable farmer
Paul Temple – mixed farmer
Professor Johnathan Napier – plant scientist
Julian Sturdy MP – politician and farmer
Alex Waugh – primary food processing
Dr Alastair Leake – agronomist and conservation scientist
Karen Holt – regulatory consultant
Nigel Moore – plant breeding
Daniel Pearsall – co-ordinator
Daniel Pearsall, co-ordinator
M: 07770 875455