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The third North American edition of the Sustainable Foods Summit was hosted in San Francisco on January 22–23.
Improving efficiencies in food supply chains was the resounding message from the summit, which brought together more than 160 senior executives from the food industry. A number of speakers highlighted the inefficiencies in food production, distribution, and consumption.
The general consensus from summit participants was that intensive production methods were not the sole solution to feed the growing global population. Sustainable agriculture has a role in improving the environmental and social footprint of food products, whilst reducing food waste can expand the supply base, reduce food inflation, and improve food security.
In his opening keynote, journalist Jonathan Bloom highlighted the hidden costs of food production. Bloom said agriculture takes 10 percent of oil, 45 percent of land, and 80 percent of water resources. He said a third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, while more than 15 percent of American households struggle to find enough food.
Amy Kirkland from the Food Waste Reduction Alliance said that landfill should be the last resort for food waste. Source reduction, feeding hungry people, feeding animals, industrial uses, and composting were preferred routes over landfill.
However, two-thirds of food waste goes to landfills, creating environmental pollution and contributing to social issues.
The Bon Appetit Management Company showed how it is reducing food waste by apportioning meal sizes and changing menu options. The foodservice company has also set up a food recovery program to feed the hungry.
With no centralized waste disposal system, Whole Foods Market is composting its food waste. The natural and organic food retailer said waste management infrastructure was vital for a successful food waste program.
Michael W. Hewett from Publix supermarkets said retailers now factor a “myriad of competing elements” when tackling sustainability. He said change is vital; the environmental footprint of the human population is 1.3 planets, while three Earths would be needed to meet the needs of a 9 billion population.
Hewett called for radical innovation and collaboration to meet the challenges ahead; food supply chains should be a major focus, considering they have 80 percent of sustainability opportunities.
United Nations Global Compact and FLO-Cert highlighted the role of sustainable agriculture. With its new Fairtrade Gold Standard, FLO-Cert is encouraging small farmers to set up carbon offsetting projects. The new initiative involves smallholdings getting carbon credits for undertaking sustainable agriculture and reforestation projects.
Day two of the summit began with an update on the global market for eco-labeled food and beverages market. Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor (organizer of the summit), the number of food eco-labels is proliferating.
He warned that multiple logos and seals on food products could deter consumers from buying sustainable foods.
To overcome “label fatigue,” the Ethical Bean Coffee company provides Quick Response (QR) codes on its products so consumers can get as much, or as little, information as they required. The Canadian company has set up ethical sourcing projects for its sustainable coffee in Guatemala.
The growing move towards locally grown food is increasing the number of community-supported agriculture projects in the US. In her paper, Liz Young from Local Harvest highlighted the positive impact such projects can have on farmers and local communities.
The pro-GM labeling movement is also gaining ground in the U.S. According to the Non- GMO Project, Prop 37 did not pass in California because of low funding and consumer confusion. However, Courtney Pineau believes the proposed bill has propelled the “Right to Know” movement, with a rise in campaigning expected this year.
The impact of new technologies on the sustainable development of the food industry was the subject of the final session. James Clark, founder of Room 214, explained that consumers are becoming more connected to each other by social media, yet less connected to the environment.
Describing this as the “dark side of social media,” he encouraged more transparency in social media communications for sustainable products.
Other papers covered mobile communications, online distribution, novel production methods, and food authentication tools. In light of the growing number of fraud cases in the food industry, Global ID described the use of chemical fingerprinting to detect food origins, species, and quality.