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Sustainable Foods Summit: Major Outcomes from European Edition

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The German expert for sustainability and cradle-to cradle Mr Braungart

The European edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit drew to a successful close in Amsterdam on 1-2nd June. Over 100 senior executives from the food industry debated sustainability issues over the two-day summit.

Initial discussions covered approaches to sustainability. In his keynote, Professor Dr. Michael Braungart of EPEA International Umweltforschung, urged food companies to go beyond traditional efficiency thinking. Citing examples of deforestation for agriculture, plastic islands, and diminishing air quality, he said traditional design structures were flawed. Braungart believes the way forward is product design for effectiveness.

Picture: Professor Dr. Michael Braungart of EPEA International Umweltforschung.

 

Tom Zoellner, Founder of TZervice, called for investment in urban farming. With half of the global population now living in urban areas, he said there were opportunities for retailers and foodservice operators in this emerging field. In another seminar, Ecofys showed how life-cycle assessment tools are used by companies like Alpro to measure the carbon footprint of its products. According to Annemarie Kerkhof, metrics enable environmental impacts to be measured and comparisons to be made between products.

 

Adrian de Groot Ruiz (True Price) and Tobias Bandel (Soil & More) presented findings on the true cost of food and beverage products. Although awareness of the externalities of agricultural products was rising, more pressure was required on food companies. The two speakers said higher adoption rates of sustainable foods were necessary to narrow the ‘externality gap’ with conventional products.

Picture: Tobias Bandel (Soil & More) presented findings on the true cost of food and beverage products.

Picture: Tobias Bandel (Soil & More) (on the left) presented findings on the true cost of food and beverage products.

Elfrieke van Galen from TheRockGroup looked at how the food industry can prepare for a circular economy. Apart from finding new applications for food waste, she said there were opportunities with aquaponics, plant-based packaging, and social fridges. Jessica Sansom of Innocent Drinks said sustainable packaging remained a thorny area for the smoothies company; it was using recycled plastic in an attempt to close its packaging loops.

The Food Ingredients session began with a paper on traceability in food supply chains. According to Andy Green from Cert ID, risks of food safety and fraud were increasing in global supply chains. Givaudan gave an update on natural flavourings, whilst Palsgaard showed how the company is making emulsifiers for sustainability.

Cees de Jong, CEO of Chr. Hansen, called for greater recognition of the role of bacteria

Picture: Cees de Jong, CEO of Chr. Hansen, called for greater recognition of the role of bacteria.

Cees de Jong, CEO of Chr. Hansen, called for greater recognition of the role of bacteria. In one of the liveliest presentations at the summit, he said bacteria were one of the first microorganisms on our planet. Bacteria now play an important role in sustainable agriculture, as well as improving gut health. According to Jong, each of our bodies carry around 2kg of bacteria yet only recently scientists have realised the health problems caused by the loss of good bacteria. He believes the future is with bacterial solutions for our general health and well-being.

Alistair Davis from Olam International gave an overview of sustainability certification schemes for agricultural commodities. He showed that adoption rates of such schemes was increasing, however demand was lagging supply. For instance, almost half of all cocoa is now produced sustainably, yet demand remained significantly lower. Questions were asked about this demand shortfall by speakers in the proceeding panel discussion.

Second day of the Summit

Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, former president of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, former president of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) opened the second day of the summit. In his keynote, he called for greater support to agricultural smallholdings if the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved. He said 90% of the world’s farms have less than 10 hectares; these farms play an important role in sustainable farming and maintaining rural communities.

The sustainability challenges faced by retailers were expressed by Delia Garcia Gomez from El Corte Ingles. Europe’s largest department store chain has introduced a sustainability manifesto to ensure suppliers meet its ethical and environmental criteria. The Italian pasta company Barilla gave insights into how it is reducing its impacts by the use of sustainable durum wheat, cage-free eggs, and developing palm-free products.

Picture: Dr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, former president of International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

The final session explored various ways food and ingredient firms can address their social impacts. Veronica Rubio from the Foreign Trade Association gave an overview of the social risks faced by companies in their supply chains. Asia Pulp & Paper (picture 3) said the company is taking a multi-stakeholder approach by setting up the Belantara Foundation in Indonesia. Monique Marez from the Organic Trade Association highlighted the social and economic benefits organic farming was having on American communities. Fair Trade Original gave details of some of its pioneering fairtrade projects in Asia. The social enterprise was growing and processing its food products in Asia to create maximum value for growers.

Audience during a break

Picture: The participants during one of the breaks.

During the Sustainable Foods Summit, there were several references to the news that President Trump was taking the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. In his closing keynote, Amarjit Sahota, founder of Ecovia Intelligence, called for the private sector to take the lead for climate change: “over the last two days, we have seen several examples of sustainability pioneers in this respect - Super Unie with its climate-neutral coffee & tea, Palsgaard with CO2-neutral production facilities, and Fairtrade Originals as a carbon zero organization.” Sahota said the food industry should follow their lead and not wait for the government to make green policies.

Sustainability discussions will continue in upcoming summits...

Sustainable Foods Summit Latin America 18-20 September, São Paulo Sustainable Cosmetics Summit Europe 6-8 November, Paris, Sustainable Foods Summit Asia-Pacific 28-29 November, Singapore.


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