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Companies must take action on unsustainable food system

Ann Elise Taylor
23rd June 2011
A new report outlines the disturbing failures of the modern food industry on the sustainability front, emphasising the critical role that companies in the food sector must play to correct the global problem.
According to 'Appetite for Change', a report published today by think tank SustainAbility, 925 million people are currently malnourished, while another billion suffer from obesity related illnesses. Citing looming threats such as population growth and climate change in addition to this imbalance, the report calls for drastic changes in the way consumers, businesses and governments handle the world food supply.

"We have to realise that the basic thinking of economies of scale has to go," said Jose Lopez, executive vp of Operations at Nestlé, which contributed to report. "[We have] to develop solutions that will impact not only one company but also consumers and society as a whole."

Sustainable food system
SustainAbility identified a sustainable food system as one that produces food within ecological limits, empowers food producers and ensures that accessible, nutritious food is available to everyone. Seeking advice from experts from leading food, technology and finance companies, the report points out pressures for change along with ideas for implementing some of these improvements.

Consumer expectations for transparent and socially responsible practices, dwindling natural resource supplies coupled with the rising population and the implications of poor government policy decisions are listed in the report was pressures for change in food market sustainability practices.

Lack of innovation
As an overarching problem, the report criticises corporations within the food sector for trying to tackle these novel problems within their industry with old, unsustainable approaches that have served to create these problems in the first place. Innovation, a release from SustainAbility said, is occurring in areas such as science and government instead of within the food sector itself.

In identifying a number of solutions to the problems listed, the report calls on players in the food industry to develop vision to change the industry. Defining ambitious, non-growth targets that will treat stakeholders fairly and operate within ecological limits, reducing waste, implementing measures that optimise the benefits of production activities and changing productivity approaches as a whole were visionary ideas gathered during Appetite for Change’s research phase.

Food production
Additionally, SustainAbility calls upon food industry players to develop systematic approaches and holistic measures to better manage food production. Emphasising that industry leaders must understand their decisions affect an, 'interwoven mosaic’ of stakeholders, the report suggests adopting methods such as bringing smallholder farmers into companies’ supply bases.

Information Technology (IT) has a great deal of potential in helping the food sector meet sustainability goals as well, as it provides the potential to empower farmers and consumers as well as better tools for managing production.

Additionally, the report addresses the industry’s uneven distribution of nutritious foods, suggesting the industry’s re-valuing food and the Government’s implementation of incentive providing policy as potential solutions to the problem.

At a crossroads
Though, SustainAbility admits the road ahead of the food industry is unclear, it urges the sector’s leaders to concentrate on correcting its path.

"The food sector is at a crossroads and changing the status quo is urgent," Mark Lee, SustainAbility’s executive director, said. "There is risk here, certainly, but also enormous opportunity if we perceive the challenge to be not whether we feed nine billion people sustainably, but how."

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Companies must take action on unsustainable food system
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