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Sustainable Foods Summit calls for greater collaborations

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

Greater collaborations are required if the American food industry is to meet the challenges of sustainability. This was one of the key outcomes of the 4th North American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit, hosted in San Francisco at the end of January (picture). Over 160 senior executives debated key sustainability issues affecting the North American food industry over the 2-day summit. Major themes were ethical sourcing & biodiversity impacts, the role of sustainability metrics, and food ingredients for sustainability. 
The importance of collaboration was highlighted by several speakers. In her opening keynote, Theresa Marquez of Organic Valley called for a holistic approach to sustainability. She stated that focusing on measuring impacts led to ‘reductionist thinking’ whereas a more co-operative approach was necessary to change to sustainable food systems. The American retailer Safeway has entered partnerships with hundreds of farmers to supply sustainable foods for its stores. According to Jonathan Mayes, such partnerships are vital if Safeway is to meet its environmental and social goals. Its sustainability strategy focuses on zero-waste, and reducing greenhouse gases and packaging waste. Mayes stated that greater transparency, more collaborations and increased engagement with suppliers was the way forward for Safeway. Henk Campher of Edelman also highlighted the importance of transparency in the digital age. He called for green brands to take a personalized approach when marketing their products. According to Campher, ‘social media has given brands the opportunity to communicate directly with consumers in an authentic way’. He stated that green brands need to be more effective in communicating their sense of purpose.
Labeling of genetically modified foods was a hot discussion topic at the summit. In its paper on GM ingredient labeling, the Non-GMO Project said that about 90% of Americans are in favor of GM labeling. However, concerns about high labeling costs are deterring consumers to vote at the ballot box. Representing the Just Label It! Campaign, Laura Batcha believes American food companies will increasingly opt for voluntary labeling schemes. Whole Foods Market and Ben & Jerry’s have already made GM-free pledges. Over 14,500 products are now certified Non-GMO Project Verified, with retail sales exceeding US$5bn. (Picture: Amarjit Sahota, President of Organic Monitor, is speaking). 
A number of experts discussed the growing use of metrics to measure sustainability. According to Quantis, metrics enable the right questions for sustainability to be asked. The consulting company has extended the use of life-cycle analysis to social aspects, such as human rights and labor force. In its paper, The Sustainability Consortium advocated the use of sustainability scorecards as they create a ‘level playing field’ for food companies. Anheuser-Busch InBev stated it is taking a risk-based approach to water management, starting with water conservation at its own operations followed by supply chain initiatives. According to SCS Global Services, the way forward for the food industry maybe a unified standard for metrics; it gave details of a national sustainability agricultural standard.
The summit raised many questions about the sustainable development of the food industry: Is the future of eco-labels in clean label - such as GM-free, pesticide-free - or in positive labels like Fairtrade? What can be done to prevent the proliferation of logos and seals? How can food & beverage firms innovate for sustainability? Are retailers and brands meeting rising consumer expectations of sustainable products? What are best-practices in green communication methods? Such issues will be discussed in the Latin American (27-28 March, São Paulo) and European editions (Amsterdam, 5-6 June) of the Sustainable Foods Summit. (Picture: Felipe Guerrero, Director of Sustainability of Daabon)

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