Origin Green is the national sustainability programme for the Irish food and drink industry, launched by Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, in 2012. It is still the only sustainability programme in the world which operates on a national scale, uniting government, private sector and food and drink producers. It is popular with farmers, and is used by government to promote Irish food around the world.
In an Origin Green film a farmer says that in the old days, ‘they didn't call it sustainability, it was an instinct; an understanding that being in harmony with nature was a good thing.'
While there are many reasonable criticisms of Origin Green (for example that the entry level metrics are not tough enough and that the focus on climate change mitigation distorts its overall approach to sustainability), it remains a powerful idea. Ireland has taken the decision to act nationally, to build a strong, resonant brand, and to celebrate Irish farming at a global scale. Claims made by Bord Bia and by ministers when promoting Irish food are now unified and based on clear empirical evidence.
Britain needs a similar national food brand - one that supports legacy farming, ensuring that our land value is greater with each passing generation.
We can learn and build from the experience of Origin Green, to develop an excellent, quality-focussed, and robust sustainable food brand. Our brand should set high standards for entry, above strong base-line legislation, and should aim to embrace at least half of British food producers within five years of its introduction.
The brand should guarantee and help deliver excellence built on:
• Climate change mitigation
• Biodiversity improvements
• Excellent farm animal welfare
A national approach to metrics will be critical, but where Bord Bia inspects farms every 18 months, a UK brand should incorporate closed loop metrics that provide continuous information nationally and at farm-level, guaranteed by private assurance and risk-based inspections.
In this way, a unique and compelling brand could be launched within three years of the start of the transition period. National metrics collection will allow government to build an accurate picture of British agricultural sustainability, and to set a reasonable standard for brand entry.
Brand membership should be available to farmers who genuinely meet high sustainability standards – and importantly, membership should feel good. Farmers should feel proud of their membership, and feel the benefit of government backing as their commitment to environmental and farm animal welfare quality is promoted at home and around the world.
Government should set high brand standards, above strong baseline law, and be prepared to review and raise these standards as farmers rise to meet the challenge. In this way the brand would continue to drive improvement and innovation throughout its existence.