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The big issues

I have attended two events in the last week, the combined themes of which represent three of the major focuses for the food and drink industry at present: waste, obesity and Brexit.

On Friday (7 July) I attended the opening of ReFood in Dagenham, east London. The anaerobic digestion (AD) plant (pictured) offers a secure, closed loop solution that converts food waste into renewable energy. A nutrient rich bio fertiliser, ReGrow, is also created in the process, which, the company says, works wonders for soil fertility and crop productivity, in turn working wonders for anyone from farmers to consumers and supermarkets.

Opening the site, Philip Simpson, ReFood commercial director, noted the recent growth of AD plants, with figures showing that in December 2016, there were 540 AD plants in operation in the UK, compared with 424 in December 2015.

Every little helps in tackling the 14.8 million tonnes of food thrown away throughout the supply chain in the UK every year. This latest AD site represents a £32 million investment and has the capacity to divert 160,000 tonnes away from landfill – the equivalent weight of 403 jumbo jets – and generate 14 million m3 of gas per annum – enough to fuel more than 12,600 homes a year.

Moving on to the themes of Brexit and obesity, yesterday (11 July) I attended the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Convention in London.

The UK food and drink industry has been urged to explore the opportunities posed by Brexit – a decision that disappointed a large majority of manufacturers – but reminded not to underestimate the challenges it presents. Various speakers were asked what they consider the number one priority of the UK’s Brexit negotiations. The mixed bag of answers – including efficient trade deals, securing jobs and labour and delivering a new domestic agricultural policy – reminds us that leaving the EU affects all areas of the food and drink industry, be it growing, harvesting, producing, packaging, selling or serving, and in different ways. Despite the varied concerns of the industry, the importance of speaking with one voice in order to make the strongest possible case for UK food and drink was reiterated.

The convention also discussed obesity topics, including the Childhood Obesity Plan, soft drinks tax, reformulation and CAP’s ban on the advertising of foods high in fat, salt and sugar in children’s media.

Comments surrounding the traffic light nutrition labelling system were particularly interesting, with suggestions that consumers deliberately choose red rated products believing them to be tastier than their orange or green rated alternatives, and selecting products with the largest number of calories in an attempt to get ‘more bang for their buck’. Such beliefs highlight the often repeated message that education plays a significant role in tackling obesity.

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