Study Assesses Impact of Climate Change on Fresh Produce Supply Chain

Most of the fresh produce ranges carried by grocery stores are at risk from climate change, according to a forthcoming study to be issued by UK supermarket group Asda and PwC.

British daily
The Guardian
reports that Asda, which is owned by US group Walmart, has assessed that 95% of its entire fresh produce range is already at risk from global warming. Asda asked PwC to map its global fresh produce supply chain against the models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The study is said to be the first attempt by a food retailer to calculate the financial impact that climate change will have on the food it buys from across the world.

Chris Brown, Asda’s senior director for sustainable business, said the study shows the impacts are already being felt and will progressively worsen over the years ahead.

The results have already gone to senior management and Brown said some of the results were surprising. “It did highlight things which we did not expect to see as well as quantifying the impacts. Quite a lot of the debate is illuminated by opinions, this provides some much-needed data.”

One finding is the only produce that would remain unaffected by increasing temperatures would be those with easily moved production, such as fresh herbs.

Brown added that the results show the need for companies in the retail sector to think strategically about how to cope with the impacts of rising emissions.

“If we do nothing, we will leave a rubbish legacy for our children and the future would go one of two ways,” he said. “One is that rich western economies can try to buy their way out of trouble although that is morally not acceptable, and emerging economies such as China will equally be able to use their economic power to secure access to food.

“Secondly, there is the risk that we will act tactically rather than strategically as we won’t have thought the implications through.

“The ingenuity and capacity of the supply chain to cope will insulate consumers but we cannot be certain which is why we need to makes these studies and review the implications.

“Monoculture production systems – for example, palm oil and sugar cane – may benefit local communities with employment and funding but they’re often reliant on over-exploited water resources. Such systems need to be reconsidered and restructured.”

Asda is already reviewing its choice of what produce it wishes to see grown in what regions and assessing how better water management can alleviate climate change pressures.

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