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Sustain / Eat Somerset

Guiding principles for Eat Somerset

Sustain's sustainable food principles are a work in progress, and we review how we work in light of new evidence and changing priorities. See our separate page on Sustain's sustainable food guidelines

This page provides an archive of the process and conclusions of Eat Somerset's review of sustainable development principles and how to apply them in the implementation of the project.

Eat Somerset and sustainable development

Promoting sustainability is the driving motivation of Eat Somerset reducing the negative effects on the environment of food supply chains; protecting natural resources; promoting health and well-being amongst communities; celebrating food culture, and supporting local jobs, livelihoods and economies.

We believe that introducing more Somerset produced food into local outlets will support sustainable development in various ways, for example, by reducing food miles and associated environmental damage; increasing incomes for local producers; improving sales and marketing opportunities for retailers that provide retail services to communities close to where they live; and improving access to fresher, high quality food for consumers.

The Eat Somerset project team will also give consideration to other factors that affect sustainability beyond simply promoting local food. Such considerations include methods of production, processing, transportation and retail. For example, are producers following environmentally sensitive practices that protect and promote wildlife and minimise energy-intensive inputs such as artificial fertilisers? Are processing methods efficient? How energy efficient is the food refrigeration and storage? Could food deliveries be planned to reduce fuel consumption by, for example, use of more efficient vans; electric or hybrid engines; bio-diesel or bio-ethanol fuel; collaborative distribution, and optimisation of loads? Could return journeys be utilised to 'back-haul' packaging or other goods? What measures are being taken to minimise packaging and waste? Are producers getting a fair deal for their products? Are the working conditions and pay of the employees involved adequate to ensure fairness and economic well-being?

In an attempt to ensure that the implementation of Eat Somerset takes place alongside consideration of the broader issues related to developing truly sustainable local food chains the following mission statement and guiding principles have been drafted. 

Mission statement

Eat Somerset is a project with the objective of developing and promoting real steps towards sustainable local food systems by which we mean food chains that, as far as possible:

  • Protect the environment and wildlife, and avoid the depletion of natural resources
  • Contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods 
  • Provide social benefits, such as good quality food, health and educational opportunities.

This objective will be accomplished by carrying out project activity in accordance with the guiding principles outlined below. Project activity is centred around increasing trade between Somerset producers and independent retailers, public-sector food services and other market outlets in Somerset and the adjacent areas.

Guiding principles for the development of sustainable local food systems

Food chains that help protect the environment and wildlife, and avoid the depletion of natural resources

Principle: Agricultural production methods that minimise the use of pesticides and fertilisers offer significant environmental benefits when compared to conventional production methods. This is due to several factors, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions associated with the manufacture and transportation of pesticides and fertilisers(1). Reduced pesticide and fertilise use has also been shown to provide better conditions for wildlife to flourish(2), and to prevent water pollution. Some food producers work to agreed rules, with inspection and accreditation to ensure that environmental standards are maintained (for example, organic and biodynamic certified food). Other systems that encourage producers to reduce the impact of their farming on the environment include the LEAF (Linking the Environment and Farming) marque and Integrated Farm Management. Such schemes require either that artificial pesticides and artificial fertilisers are not used (organic and biodynamic) or that use of such chemicals is reduced and controlled.

Conclusion:  Eat Somerset will favour producers who are either certified by such accreditation schemes or that practise production methods to the same or higher environmental standards. Eat Somerset will support other producers who are working to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilisers.

Principle: Reducing the distance food travels from point of the production to point of consumption benefits the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation, especially carbon dioxide the principal gas contributing to climate change. The method of transportation (road, rail, ship and air) also has a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, with air freight generating by far the most damaging emissions per tonne of food transported. Fuel efficiency of vehicles and whether they carry full or partial loads will also affect the environmental efficiency of vehicles per tonne of goods transported.(3)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset aims to reduce the environmental damage associated with food transport by increasing trade between Somerset producers and local market outlets (see below, Note A, for some notes on what is meant by 'local'). Over the longer term, Eat Somerset will consider how the fuel efficiencies of the vehicles used in deliveries might be improved and/or how electric, hybrid, bio-diesel or bioethanol powered vehicles might be used. Opportunities for collaboration with other distributors will be investigated for optimal loading wherever possible. Eat Somerset will also encourage food outlets to promote seasonal food, since increased purchases of fresh ingredients that are available in the UK at that particular time of year will support UK farming and local food producers.

Principle: Food producers, processors, retailers and caterers can protect the environment by using energy-efficient equipment (refrigerators, vehicles, cookers, etc.) and reducing their use of harmful chemicals (e.g. cleaning and pest control), water, electricity and gas (e.g. in heating, lighting and hothouse production).(4)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with food producers, processors, retailers and caterers that are committed to protecting the environment, for example through the implementation of an environmental management system. Eat Somerset will favour fresh produce that is grown in season without the use of artificial heating or lighting, unless the energy is generated from renewable sources.

Principle: Huge amounts of waste from food and drink and its packaging are produced in the UK each year. Most is either incinerated or buried, causing significant environmental harm. This is due to pollution from incineration, wasteful use of fossil fuels, and methane gas and toxic substances released when waste is sent to landfill. Environmental benefits can be achieved by reducing packaging and waste.

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with producers, retailers and public-sector food service providers to minimise food waste and food packaging waste. Opportunities for using reusable containers and recycled and biodegradable materials will be explored, as well as composting.

Food chains that contribute to thriving local economies and sustainable livelihoods

Principle: Retailing food that has been produced and processed locally supports local jobs and livelihoods, and multiplies the economic benefits for local communities.(5)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will introduce producers and processors in Somerset and the adjacent areas to retails and other market outlets in the same geographical area. By doing so, it will support local jobs and sustainable livelihoods.

Principle: Every 10 spent on food from local food businesses has been shown to generate 25 for the local economy compared to 14 for every 10 spent in a non-local food business(6). Spending money with local businesses slows money from leaking out of the local economy. Local food businesses also tend to contribute more to the local economy by using local rather than national services, such as plumbers and electricians. (7)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with independent retailers, i.e. locally managed and owned food businesses, thereby generating more money for the local economy than if it were to choose to work with non-local food businesses.

Principle: Small-scale, independent operators (producers, processors and retailers) tend to provide jobs for more local people and have better staff retention than larger operators, e.g. multiple retailers.(8)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with independent retailers. It will also work with small-scale producers, even where small-scale producers need extra support and investment to enable them to participate in the project.

Food chains that provide social benefits, such as good quality food, health and educational opportunities

Principle: Due to a reduced time in transit and storage, local food can be fresher and of better nutritional quality than food transported many miles and stored for long periods of time.

Conclusion: Eat Somerset aims to increase the number of local market outlets for Somerset producers so that they can improve provision of fresh and healthy local produce.  The project is particularly interested in promoting the production of fresh horticultural produce, due to the health benefits associated with eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, and also in improving access to local 'everyday' foods, rather than high-value niche foods.

Principle: Small-scale, independent operators (producers, processors and retailers) tend to contribute more to the social wellbeing of the local area, for example, by providing a more personal and diverse service to their customers.(9)

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with independent retailers and smaller producers. 

Principle: Foods often have a unique link to a geographical place and/or tradition. Some of these food have designated protected name status - either PDO (Protected Denominations of Origin), PGI (Protected Geographical Indications of supply) or TSG (Traditional Speciality Guarantee) - and are recognised as unique under EU law. Using these products can promote diversity and cultural richness, as well as high quality, distinctive tasting food.

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will promote foods according to their cultural and geographical significance and, where appropriate, will support producers who make a feature of their regional distinctiveness, helping them gain recognition, such as better marketing opportunities and protected name status.

Food chains that protect animal welfare

Principle: Conventional farming systems can compromise the health and welfare of animals due to their stocking intensity, behaviour control measures, rapid growth rates, and use of antibiotics. Some examples of production methods that guarantee higher animal welfare standards include RSPCA Freedom Foods, free range and organic.

Conclusion: Eat Somerset will work with producers to meet RSPCA Freedom Foods, free range and organic animal welfare standards, either through being accredited or by adopting equivalent practice.

Principle: In 2005, it was estimated that 97% of the world's fish stocks were either fully exploited, over exploited, depleted or moderately exploited(10). The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) runs a certification scheme for fish coming from fisheries managed with a rigorous sustainability policy: fish are not from threatened fish stocks and not caught using unsustainable fishing methods.

Conclusion: If fish or fish products are traded as part of Eat Somerset, consideration will be given to the sustainability credentials of the fish stocks and fishing methods used. We will encourage producers to avoid fish species most at risk (identified as 'fish to avoid' on and seek more sustainable alternatives.

We recognise that in some cases the project will need to invest time, effort and perhaps funding to help partners and project activities live up to some of the more ambitious principles outlined above. For example, it may take much time and negotiation before a participating retailer is in a position to adopt reusable rather than disposable packaging; before a producer can move to more sustainable production methods; or before deliveries become more coordinated and efficient. The principles outlined above should not be an obstacle to increasing trade links between Somerset producers and local market outlets but should guide how these links develop.

Note A
There is currently much debate about whether or not there should be an agreed definition for 'local'. When using 'local' as a description for marketing food, Sustain supports a definition of 'local food' being produced at a distance of no greater than 30 miles from the point of sale or produced in the county or Joint Character Area (JCA) for most areas; 50 miles for large towns and small cities; and 70 miles for large cities.

However, as noted above, the distance food has travelled should not be considered as the only measure of sustainability, nor as the only signal of a sustainable local food system. Sustainability is also related to how the food has been produced, transported, stored, packaged, sold and consumed, and how waste is managed at all stages. These factors all need to be considered. Eat Somerset will keep abreast of the debate around local food definitions and revise the principles above according to any conclusion reached by Sustain and others, and in consultation with its working party and the national Real Steps Towards Sustainable Local Food Systems working group.

  1. East Anglia Food Link Food, briefing on Food and Climate Change, 2005, see:
  2. For government information on organic farming, see
  3. Garnett, T. Wise Moves: Exploring the relationship between food, transport and carbon dioxide, Transport 2000 Trust, 2003
  4. Food Climate Research Network, 
  5. The Foundation for Local Food Initiatives, FLAIR Report 2003, The development of the local food sector 2000 to 2003 and its contribution to sustainable development, see:
  6. For more information, see the new economics foundation website: Plugging the Leaks: Making the most of every pound that enters your local economy, see:
  7. New economics foundation and the Foundation for Local Food Initiatives, Local Convenience: Exploring the impact of Spar stores on their communities, 2006 (draft report); also Flair Report 2003, ibid
  8. Campaign to Protect Rural England, The Real Choice: How Local Foods can survive the supermarket onslaught, see
  9. New economics foundation and the Foundation for Local Food Initiatives, Local Convenience: Exploring the impact of Spar stores on their communities, 2006 (draft report); also Flair Report 2003, ibid
  10. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Fisheries Department, Review of the state of world marine fishery resources, 2005), p.12, see See also Marine Stewardship Council information on sustainable fisheries accreditation at:

Eat Somerset: From 2006 to 2009 Sustain co-ordinated a food chain project in south west England that worked to increase trading between producer groups in and around Somerset and independent food retailers in the county, and create new markets in Bristol and Bath.

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