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Ecovia Summit: The True Value of Sustainable Foods

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A growing body of evidence shows the disparity between the price we pay for food and the costs of production & consumption. Market prices do not reflect the environmental, social and health impacts of food products. At the Sustainable Foods Summit  on 1-2 June in Amsterdam, it will be shown how sustainable products have lower such impacts over conventional products.

A recent true accounting study by Ernst & Young (EY) showed that organic apples have lower impacts than conventional apples to the value of EUR 0.20 per kg. In terms of specific health impacts, the financial advantage of organic apples is EUR 0.14 per kg. There were similar findings for other organic fruits: pineapples, tomatoes, pears, bananas and citrus, reports Ecovia Intelligence.

External and environmental costs of food production include pesticide use, water & resource use, as well as their associated impacts on soil, pollution, and biodiversity. Organic foods have lower environmental costs because of their sustainable production methods. Farmer and producer payments, worker rights, land ownerships, and health considerations are some of the social costs associated with foods. Fairtrade certified products, such as coffee and tea, have lower social costs since some of these externalities are removed.

Sustainable foods have lower external costs

Various studies show sustainable foods have lower impacts - or external costs - than conventional foods. Research by the social enterprise True Price found that sustainable cocoa beans grown in the Ivory Coast have 15 percent lower external costs than conventional beans. Another study showed that sustainable coffee in Vietnam has 20 percent lower external costs than conventional coffee.

A growing number of companies are looking at the hidden environmental and social costs of their products. The trading firm Eosta has used the true cost accounting approach to determine the external costs of its organic fruits & vegetables. These calculations are being used to demonstrate the environmental and health benefits of organic products. Soil & More has undertaken similar studies to determine the true cost of organic agricultural systems.

A similar exercise by the Dutch ethical chocolate brand Tony’s Chocolonely revealed its sustainable cocoa has a 40 percent lower social and environmental footprint than conventional cocoa. It is sourcing organic and fairtrade cocoa beans directly from farmers. By determining external costs, companies can take steps to remove negative impacts in their supply chains. For instance, Tony’s Chocolonely has made a commitment to source cocoa with zero social and environmental costs by 2019.

Consumer communications - a major challenge

A major challenge however is consumer communications. Sustainable foods, especially organic products, are considered elitist by some consumer groups. Over-stating the negative health and social impacts of conventional products could further alienate such consumer groups. Ecovia Intelligence believes positive messaging maybe the way forward, something that does not always sit well with true costs and impact studies.

The true costs of sustainable food products will be featured in upcoming editions of the Sustainable Foods Summit in Amsterdam and at the
 Latin American edition on 18-20 September in São Paulo and on 28-29 November in Singapore. More on www.sustainablefoodssummit.com and www.ecoviaint.com.

About the Sustainable Foods Summit

The aim of the Sustainable Foods Summit is to explore new horizons for eco-labels and sustainability in the food industry by discussing key industry issues in a high level forum. 


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