A study by the Sustainable Development Commission found that 19 government departments are in charge of almost 100 different policy responsibilities dealing with food and supermarkets.
Its report, "Green, Healthy and Fair -- A review of the government's role in supporting sustainable supermarket food," said ministers have to set clear goals and work with supermarkets.
"What came out of this process was something I didn't expect -- a remarkable demand from industry and others that Government would be clear in setting what it thinks a sustainable system should be," Professor Tim Lang, one of the co-authors of the report, told Edie News. "There is not adequate coordination (between government departments) and that's partly because this is so enormous. Supermarkets are saying, 'We would like some guidance.'"
The study concentrated on six policy areas that the Commission saw as priorities for government and supermarket action -- waste, nutrition and obesity, climate change, fair supply chains, ecosystems, and water.
Among the Commission's recommendations were that Defra should develop an ambitious packaging strategy, as current packaging legislation is vague and poorly enforced, allowing supermarkets to continue over-packaging products and pass the burden of waste onto consumers and local authorities.
To tackle climate change, the study said ministers should work with the food industry to set a clear agenda for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the whole food chain, as current policy fails to resolve transport issues, including the transportation of goods.
It also recommended that government resolve conflicts between health advice and sustainability.
For example, the report said Department of Health advice to eat more fish is cutting across attempts to preserve endangered fish stocks.
The Commission's recommendations are expected to form part of a Government review of food policy set to begin in spring.
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