Some of the pressing sustainability challenges facing the food industry were debated at the recent editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit (www.sustainablefoodssummit.com), hosted in São Paulo (29-30 June) and Amsterdam (9-10 June).
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Each edition brought together over 120 senior executives involved in sustainability in the food industry. Discussions covered future role of eco-labels and certification schemes, transparency in global supply chains, climate change mitigation and risks, use of sustainable ingredients, and tackling food waste. A major outcome is that there are no simple solutions for many of the challenges facing the food industry. As stated by Amarjit Sahota, President of Organic Monitor and organiser of the Sustainable Foods Summit: “With the growing complexity of sustainability, there is no silver bullet to solve many of these issues.”
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An update was given on eco-labels in the food industry. With over 200 labels now representing some ethical, environmental or sustainability attributes, there is a concern about proliferation. Details of new schemes, such as Sustainable Rice Platform, Global Salmon Initiative, and Danube Soya, were presented at the European edition. The Italian pasta company Barilla gave details of its sustainable durum wheat programme. Barilla is one of many food companies developing its own sustainable sourcing programmes. There was much debate about the merits of third party standards vis-à-vis in-house schemes.
The role of sustainable agriculture to mitigate climate change was discussed. According to Monique Grooten from WWF, food production is the largest user of chemicals and also the main polluter. She called for a ‘safe operating system’ if the food industry is to feed another 2 billion mouths whilst preventing environmental degradation. André Villaça Ramalho from the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development said Brazil plans to meet its obligations of COP21 by strengthening its low carbon emission agriculture programme. There are plans to restore 15 million hectares of degraded pastureland, and enhance 5 million hectares of integrated cropland-livestock-forestry systems by 2030.
The opaqueness of global supply chains is making food traceability prominent. Luis Fernando Guedes Pinto from Imaflora gave an overview of traceability schemes at the Latin American edition. Vasco Picchi, Director of Safe Trace, showed how traceability tools can guarantee origins of contentious foods and ingredients. His organisation is working with leading retailers, such as Carrefour and Wal-Mart in Brazil, to prove beef was not from cattle raised in deforested areas. Augusto Freire said the Proterra Foundation standard for sustainable soya was gaining popularity because of concerns about GM soya beans. The label is present on Alpro soya products in Europe and Leve products in Brazil.
Details were given on the growing array of sustainable ingredients. With growing scarcity of agricultural land, there were calls to use more marine-based plants. Willem Sodderland from Seamore demonstrated the importance of creativity when marketing new sustainable foods. The Dutch company is marketing a novel range of seaweed-based pasta products. Mário A.C. Vejar from Natural Seaweed highlighted the health and environmental benefits of algae in his keynote at the Latin American edition. Carla Barboto, President of the Ecuadorian brand Pacari, showed how it is using indigenous ingredients to create award-winning chocolates. Rik Kutsh Lojenga gave details of the new Union for Ethical BioTrade standard for herbal teas.
The FAO (United Nations) gave a global update on food waste. Robert van Otterdijk stated that 1.3 billion tonnes of food for human consumption is wasted or lost per year, having major social, economic and environmental consequences. In Brazil, most waste is occurring in the supply chain, whilst the highest proportion of waste at consumer level is in Europe and North America. Examples were given of initiatives in Latin America to improve food storage, distribution and logistics. Tobias Grasso from Sealed Air highlighted the role of packaging to extend the shelf-life of foods, and thus reduce waste. Spar Austria gave insights into how retailers are working with food banks to re-direct food waste from landfill. Luciano Quintão, head of one Brazilian food bank, stated awareness was a major barrier for greater donations / collaborations.
A number of speakers stressed the importance of conscious consumerism, whether in the context of sustainable food purchases, responsible consumption, or tackling food waste. The Brazilian supermarket Pão de Açucar said it is investing in consumer education to raise organic food sales in its stores. Alpro is marketing its products as ‘plant power’ to raise awareness of their lower environmental impact over dairy products. Gustavo Porpino from the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation called for a ‘culture change’ if consumers are to take concrete steps to reduce food waste. Greater government involvement, industry collaborations, and marketing campaigns were cited as some of the levers to change consumer behaviour.
Sustainability discussions will continue in 2017 editions of the summit…
North American edition: 18-20 January, San Francisco
European edition: 8-9 June, Amsterdam
Latin American edition: 29-30 June, São Paulo