Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sustainable Food Summit

United Nations declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC). With that incentive, the Sustainable Food Summit concluded yesterday in San Francisco. This is the first time North America is hosting the event; in the previous two years, Europe had been its home. (See Triple Pundit's more in-depth article on the Summit).

It’s an education and networking event for industry players; company representatives come together and learn about sustainability issues concerning ingredients and packaging in the food industry and their environmental and social impacts. As any industry conference, it is also a show case of sustainable packaging and labeling.

Amongst the attendees, Frontier Natural Products shared its experiences in using sustainability metrics and communication methods. Frontier Natural Products is one of the few enterprises to produce an annual sustainability report, giving key indicators for sourcing, operations, products, packaging, employees, customers and the community. The Food Co-op Initiative was also in attendance and addressed the progress in regional food co-op communities and their ability to meet the growing consumer demand for local foods.

Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) addressed the importance of a sustainable agriculture in mitigating food security risks; Worldwatch Institute showed sustainable food culture’s capability to curb carbon emissions. Eco-labels is also a huge topic: Non-GMO Project Verified is one of the many showcased.

There is also a push to reduce industrial commoditization of ingredients and promote sustainable processes for production. Things like fair-trade, tractability of ingredients, and transparency in reporting can encourage socially responsible and sustainable agricultural practices. Fair Trade USA and West Africa Trade Hub presented case studies that showed positive impacts on local communities

Animal welfare is also a hot topic at the summit. With more and more impoverished people emerging from low living standards, the demand for meat products and animal protein are on the rise. China is a prime example of this phenomenon. In China’s recent foreign investment guide, released by the government, agricultural investment is amongst the top demands. In light of the increase in demand, the Marine Stewardship Council, Safeway, and the Global Animal Partnership Program shared their insight on responsible animal protein processing, market impact of animal welfare considerations, and the growing use of plant proteins as a suitable replacement to the meet the demand.

Packaging and marketing took up a large part of the discussions. The Good Guide led the discussion on using technology to educate consumer; others prepared whitepapers on distribution methods, financing structures, consumer behaviors, and retail best-practices. According to reports, packaging is the most pressing issue and has the highest environmental impact. A keen focus at the summit was on various alternatives, such as bioplastic packaing, cradle-to-cradle designs, and adequate solutions to prevent waste through the supply chain.

My most sincere hope is for this summit to take place in Asia as well as continue in North America. It starts a pertinent conversation we must have in light of our ever increasing population. As more and more people coming out of poverty in the rest of the world, in places like China and Africa, our industry's best practices and best intentions ought to be part of the ever growing demand for healthy, sustainable, and socially responsible food production and delivery infrastructure.

Food we must love; how we relate to food defines how we shall find love for one another--and ultimately we shall find peace amongst our divides.  

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