Sustainability in Agriculture/Fresh Produce

The Chilled Food Association (CFA) defines ‘Sustainability’ as: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs[1]. This means growing food and using production processes that do not pollute the environment, conserve natural resources including water, increase resource efficiency and reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, are economically efficient, safe for workers and protect the communities.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), by 2050 we will need to produce 60 per cent more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion[2].  This will place more demands on farming in the UK and elsewhere. However, agriculture contributes a significant share of the GHG emissions that cause climate change, directly through agricultural activity and through changes in land use. According to the UK Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy UK agriculture contribution to GHG emissions is 11% of the UK total[3]. Agriculture has to become more efficient in order to meet future demands, producing more food from less resource. In addition, as custodians of much of the natural environment, farms have a unique role to play in protecting and enhancing wildlife.

The level of environmental impact of food production relates to where and how the food is produced and the local availability of natural resources, such as water and soil. Often there are trade-offs between environmental factors, and to date there is no simple set of principles to determine the measure of sustainability. CFA understands that achieving a balance between these components is complicated and depends on many factors including maintaining food safety and economic stability.

CFA and its members recognise that agriculture plays a unique role in the drive towards sustainability in the supply of chilled food.

Aspects of Agricultural Sustainability


CFA members have been working concertedly with suppliers for many years to reduce on-farm waste and optimise factory yields. CFA is a signatory to the Courtauld Commitment[i] which helps to deliver against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 12.3 to halve food waste[4]. CFA and its members are using the WRAP-IGD Food Waste Reduction Roadmap[5] to account for and minimise waste.

Land Use and Soil Health

CFA understands that changes in land use can have a significant impact on GHG emissions and that wetland and forests need to be protected. Members are already setting up due diligence procedures to meet forthcoming legislative requirements to ensure that raw materials are not sourced from deforested land or contribute to deforestation.

CFA encourages the use of responsible farming practices that maximise soil health and productivity.


Agricultural and manufacturing supply chains depend on access to water for the production of our food and non-food products. Freshwater bodies (such as lakes, rivers and aquifers) are also essential for nature, wildlife and human communities.

Water availability will be a cause of concern in the future. Our members support the minimal and sustainable use of water. The WRAP Water Roadmap[6] is a vehicle that may help to achieve some of these goals. This will ensure that 50% of water is sourced from catchment areas where sustainable water management is carried out.

Natural Capital, Environment & Biodiversity and Pesticide Use

Environmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on. CFA and its members support the principles of Integrated Farm Management (IFM)[7] to maximise the biodiversity, whilst adequately controlling pest and disease in crops. CFA understands that optimal IFM techniques will vary from area to area and from crops to crop. Many UK retailers have stretching pesticide policies and restrictions that go beyond legal and regulatory requirements. CFA members comply with these requirements.

Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gas (GHG) increase in the atmosphere leading to climate change poses perhaps the biggest environmental challenge.  Agriculture emissions come from livestock, agricultural soils, fertiliser and pesticide inputs, power and machinery. However, CFA recognises that agriculture can contribute significantly to the mitigation of climate change, through the sustainable management of land. Future changes to our growing and processing practices will ensure that we contribute to achieving the UK target of achieving net zero status by 2050.


Packaging plays a critical part in safety and preservation of produce. But it can also deplete natural resources, and plastic pollution is an increasing problem. CFA members strive to ensure that packaging use is fit for purpose and minimal. CFA is committed to responsible recycling practices and is a signatory to the UK Plastics Pact[8].

Supply Chain Management

CFA members operate and manufacture in the UK. However, they source raw material from a worldwide, agricultural supply base. CFA recognises that it can have a significant influence on the way in which farmers and growers operate and behave. It promotes transparency and collaboration throughout the supply chain.

CFA members expect their suppliers to comply with all applicable laws and regulations and codes within their countries of operation and UK laws, and actively engage with them to assure compliance. Suppliers must operate to strict standards as set out in various CFA guidance documents as well as meeting relevant, specific manufacturer and retailer requirements.

Over 95 per cent of chilled prepared foods are sold under retailers’ own labels. Producers therefore have to meet the targets set by these customers, including those relating to primary agricultural production.

Overview: Agricultural Sustainability Initiatives

There are many government policy initiatives and many retailer-driven activities aiming for the agricultural sector to become more sustainable, and the number of these policies and activities is growing. Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan is one of these. It requires food to be produced sustainably and also sets a number of environmental targets.

The Government has also stated its intention for UK to become net zero carbon by 2050. The BRC has stated its aim for its members to become net zero carbon by 2040 and some retailers are bringing this date forward. This places onus on the farming community to meet a number of sustainability indicators such as land use, chemical input, biodiversity waste, water and greenhouse gases (GHG).  But there remains an important issue of measuring most of these indicators in a consistent way. The agricultural community needs tools necessary to respond to these challenges.

This document gives an overview of agricultural sustainability initiatives (19/5/22).


[1]     Derived from the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development definition of sustainability from what became known as the Brundtland Report.









Published 7 March 2022