The UK’s approach to food sustainability is far behind its counterparts says a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit and the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation.

Overall the UK comes tenth out of 34 countries on food sustainability and a lowly eighth of the ten European countries included in the 2017 Food Sustainability Index (‘FSI’). On the crucial indicators like childhood obesity rates, exclusive breastfeeding rates, healthy life expectancy and climate change action, the UK is doing badly.

The report concludes that the UK is unjustly offshoring the impacts of its food, passing the burden to its trading partners and future generations, on issues from food waste to climate change.

Dan Crossley, executive director of the Food Ethics Council said: "What is clear is that the UK is not currently a global leader on good food, farming and the environment – and not even in the leading pack. However, it can be. The UK government must show real global leadership – at a critical time for the UK’s future – and take responsibility for the often-hidden impacts of our food, at home and abroad. We want the UK to be known for high food standards and supporting everyone to eat well, including those on low incomes.”

The FSI assesses and ranks country performance on specific measures relating to food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges, using 66 indicators. The aims of the FSI are to promote food sustainability concerns, benchmark countries and help policymakers identify priority areas to act.

Guido Barilla, president of the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation, said: "The FSI allows researchers and policy makers to identify where and how to intervene to solve some of the biggest paradoxes affecting the global food system: hunger versus obesity, waste versus starvation and food production versus fuel production.”

The UK is doing reasonably well on food waste however, many UK food imports are from countries performing better than average but there are substantial volumes coming from countries that perform badly on food loss and food waste. This offshoring of impacts is compounded by the UK importing around 50% of its food and 64% of the associated greenhouse gas impacts being located overseas.

The UK position in the FSI

• 7th out of 34 countries for food loss and waste.

• 20th out of 34 on ‘sustainable agriculture’ impacts, scoring relatively well on water issues, including environmental impact of agriculture and sustainability of fisheries but ranking 32nd out of 34 on net imports of virtual blue water from crop and animal products.

• 30th out of 34 in `the ‘air’ category which monitors environmental impact of agriculture on the atmosphere and climate change mitigation. This is because it does not have a dedicated national agriculture policy that deals with climate change, hence scores badly on ‘initiatives of agricultural techniques for climate change mitigation and adaptation’.

• 1st on the single farm animal welfare indicator used, ‘quality of animal welfare regulation’.

• The current (average) healthy life expectancy in the UK is 71.4 years, which is outside the top ten of the FSI rankings.

• 20th out of 34 on prevalence of overweight in children and 24th out of 34 amongst adults (the worst of the 10 European countries included in the FSI).

• 34th on exclusive breastfeeding at six months.