by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sustainability

Dec 11 2019

Food corporations recognize need to improve their practices: a glimmer of hope?

I have a subscription to Politico’s Morning Agriculture daily newsletter, an invaluable source of information about doings in Washington DC that I would not otherwise know about.

Politico’s business model usually blocks access to articles from non-subscribers, which makes it difficult to refer to articles that you will not be able to read for yourself.  Sometimes I can find other sources for the same information, but not always.

Nevertheless, I want to point you to two recent Politico articles about how food corporations are getting together to jointly try to improve their production and supply chain practices.

Chocolate companies

The first was about how three large chocolate firms— Mars Wrigley, Mondelēz and Barry Callebaut—have called on the European Union to promote sustainable cocoa production and to enact regulations that will stop environmental and human rights abuses in production.

According to Politico’s behind-a-paywall article,

The Commission declined to comment on the corporates’ move but officials are considering due diligence schemes, market controls and product labeling with a possibility of specific measures for commodities such as soy, palm oil and beef.

Cocoa is a major driver of deforestation and human rights abuses, including child labor, in countries such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, which together account for around two-thirds of global production.

Effects of agriculture on climate change

Politico, happily, released this magazine-length article titled “How a closed-door meeting shows farmers are waking up on climate change,” for open access.  It ought to win prizes for its author, Helena Bottemiller Evich.

In it, she describes how Big Ag companies, high-level US agricultural officials, and CEOs of major food companies are not only talking about climate change, but recognizing that they have to act to prevent it.

But that’s not all:

In Nebraska, farmers are exploring ways to reorient their farms to focus on rebuilding soil and sequestering carbon — a buzzy concept known as regenerative agriculture. In Florida, where rising sea levels are not a hypothetical discussion, farmers and ranchers have recently launched a working group to discuss climate change and how agriculture can help. Similar groups have cropped up in North Carolina, Ohio and Missouri and more states are expected to follow. In Iowa, faith leaders have been engaging farmers on the topic, hosting discussion groups in churches and building a network of farmers who are comfortable speaking publicly about climate change, whether it’s telling their story to reporters or 2020 Democratic candidates.

This is happening despite the politics of climate change.

Rural communities tend to be overwhelmingly Republican, which is one reason why talking about climate change has been politically taboo. It’s seen as a Democrat thing. Dig a little further, though, and the resistance runs much deeper than party politics. In many ways, climate change denial has become a proxy for rural Americans to push back against out-of-touch urbanites, meddlesome environmentalists and alarmist liberals who are seen as trying to impose their will on small towns and farming communities they do not understand.

Recognition of a problem is a necessary first step to getting it fixed.

Many of these companies are increasingly recognizing they can’t meet their goals without significant changes to farming practices at the base of their supply chains.

Yes!

This article is worth reading in its entirety.  It offers glimmers of hope that Big Ag and Big Food will change their practices and embrace sustainability and regenerative agriculture.

Our job?  To push them to change and cheer them on when they do.

 

 

 

Aug 2 2019

Weekend reading: A Sustainable Food Future

I’m always interested in recommendations for how we are to solve world food problems—population increase, environmental degradation, climate change—in the immediate future.

Here is one approach from a group of highly official agencies from the United Nations in collaboration with the World Bank.

The report’s five areas of recommendation:

1. Reduce growth in demand for food and other agricultural products
2. Increase food production without expanding agricultural land
3. Protect and restore natural ecosystems and limit agricultural land-shifting
4. Increase fish supply
5. Reduce GHG [Greenhouse gas] emissions from agricultural production

The report is 564 pages.  There is a lot in it.  The one question it does not answer: Where is the political will to make any of this happen?  It mentions political will five times, for example, “Success would depend primarily on political will” (page 406).

How to get political will?  That needs to be the subject of another report, apparently.

Jul 5 2019

Enjoy the weekend: Beverage Daily’s Beer Supplement

Beer is a hot topic these days, so hot that the industry newsletter Beverage Daily collects its articles on the topic into MONTHLY BEER SPECIALS.  I’ve picked these from the June and July Specials.  The big issues: craft, low or no alcohol, cannabis, and sustainability.

Craft 

Low and no-alcohol 

Cannibis

Sustainability

Jun 13 2019

Can Oreo cookies be sustainable?

We are seeing intense pressure on food companies to adopt more sustainable supply-chain and production practices.  But can an ultra-processed food ever be sustainably produced?  Or, is a sustainable snack food an oxymoron?

In BakeryandSnacks.com’s Spotlight on Sustainability, snack food companies say what they are doing to reduce their impact on the environment:

May 23 2019

Global Meat News on this industry’s sustainability problem

The meat industry is under siege these days over issues of sustainability.  The major recommendation of the EAT-Lancet report is to cut consumption of red meat by half in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  This is a worry for the meat industry.

This collection of articles indicates how this industry is dealing with the sustainability issue—in some cases, with difficulty, denial, and fighting back.

GlobalMeatNews.com, an industry newsletter, has this Special Edition: Sustainability

In this special edition on sustainability, we look at what the major players in the international meat industry are doing to ensure the future of the sector. We start with quality control plans with Brazilian poultry as well as a massive investment in solar technology by Hormel Foods. We also look at Cargill’s work on reducing antibiotics and a new beef scheme in Ireland.

Apr 19 2019

Weekend reading: Science Breakthroughs for Agriculture

The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine has a new report out on Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030.

In the next decade, the major goals for food and agricultural research include (1) improving the efficiency of food and agricultural systems, (2) increasing the sustainability of agriculture, and (3) increasing the resiliency of agricultural systems to adapt to rapid changes and extreme conditions.

To that end, the committee that wrote this report examined “breakthrough opportunities that could dramatically increase the capabilities of food and agricultural science.”

The breakthroughs?

  1. A systems approach to understand the nature of interactions among the different elements of the food and agricultural system can be leveraged to increase overall system efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.
  2. The development and validation of precise, accurate, field-deployable sensors and biosensors will enable rapid detection and monitoring capabilities across various food and agricultural disciplines.
  3. The application and integration of data science, software tools, and systems models will enable advanced analytics for managing the food and agricultural system.
  4. The ability to carry out routine gene editing of agriculturally important organisms will allow for precise and rapid improvement of traits important for productivity and quality.
  5. Understand the relevance of the microbiome to agriculture and harness this knowledge to improve crop production, transform feed efficiency, and increase resilience to stress and disease.

I’m worried about how all this will help make agricultural production more sustainable.  For that, we need smaller scale, fewer chemical inputs, crop rotations, and other such methods.  I wish NASEM would do a serious study on agricultural sustainability.

Update, May 26: Benjamin Chaulet has translated this into French and posted it on his blog, nutrition-newage.com. Here is a pdf.

Jan 25 2019

Weekend reading: The Lancet / EAT Forum report on healthy and sustainable diets

I’ve saved this for Weekend Reading because it will take a weekend to get through it.  The report is a blockbuster: 37 authors, 47 pages, 357 references.

The Lancet commissioned this report from the EAT Forum, which brought together international experts on diet and health (most of whom I do not know) to define unifying dietary principles that best promote will promote the health of people and the planet.

Fortunately, the diet that is best for health is the same diet as is best for the planet.  The report defines it on page 5.

To summarize:

This report has many strengths:

  • It is researched in depth and is now the reference source for information about needed dietary changes.
  • It firmly links dietary health to environmental sustainability.
  • Its findings are consistent with many previous reports on diet and health, including that of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee DGAC).
  • Its messages are unambiguous.
  • The summary report is a big help
  • The timing  is excellent; the 2020 Dietary Guidelines advisory committee, if it ever gets appointed, will have to pay close attention to the science reviewed in this report.
  • It focuses on food, not nutrients (these meals meet the standards of recommended diets).

Does this report settle the questions?  Hardly.  Remember the fuss over sustainability (the “S-word?”) in the 2015 report of the DGAC?

There is lots to read and think about here.  Enjoy!

Jan 4 2019

Weekend reading: A view of how to feed the world sustainably

The World Resources Institute has a new report on how to feed the world in a way that is sustainable.

The report is based on the premise that 56% more food will be needed by 2050.  Given that premise, the unavailability of more land on which to grow food, and the need to mitigate greenhouse gases, the report recommends (among other things) increasing the efficiency of production and managing demand.

I’d like to see some careful evaluations of the basic premise of this report as well as its recommendations, which seem to place a large burden on individuals rather than governments or corporations.  The word “corporation” does not appear in the report; food companies come up only in the context of food waste (a non-controversial issue):