As world leaders gather for the landmark COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, FoodIngredientsFirst examines how the F&B industry is calling time on unsustainable practices and working toward fixing broken food systems as the health of the planet comes into sharpened focus.
Just a few weeks after Innova Market Insights crowned “Shared Planet” as its Top Ten Trend for 2022, combating climate change and slowing global warming has reached a critical point. Food and beverage businesses and brands play a massive role in what happens next.
At tipping point?
World leaders are highlighting how any kind of failure to tackle global warming – keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees – will inevitably lead to increased global competition for resources such as food and water.
It may seem unimaginable, but living in a world with heightened competition for vital resources like water, not to mention a plethora of raw materials and commodities, is where we are heading unless things change.
Meanwhile, consumers are at a point of demanding action and not words when it comes to what big business does to eliminate certain practices within the food value chain and focus more on transparent, sustainable and a carbon neutral ethos.
One of these aspects is, of course, deforestation, which is linked to the cultivation of palm oil and soy, which are huge commodities within F&B. Another primary driver of deforestation is beef.
Forests are a key part of the climate solution. Stopping deforestation and forest degradation, protecting forests, managing them sustainably and restoring them is crucial.
Just last month, Mondelēz International, olam food ingredients, Partnerships for Forests and The Nature Conservancy joined forces to scale up efforts to eliminate deforestation and restore degraded land in Pará, Brazil, where deforestation rates are the highest of any Brazilian state.
Looking to nature
Now is the time to invest in nature-based solutions and climate smart agriculture. Among industry players who back this notion is the Rainforest Alliance, which is presenting critical initiatives to eradicate deforestation from commodity supply chains and building climate resilience for farming and forest communities.
Conventional agriculture accounts for 24% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions and 75% of tropical forest deforestation. Moving to a nature-positive production system which includes climate-smart approaches will go a long way to address these challenges, stresses the Alliance.
“We must cut emissions in half by 2030, according to the scientists who produced the latest IPCC report, if we are to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Two years ago, those same scientists told us that nature-based solutions could help achieve 37% of necessary emissions reductions, yet not much has happened since. There is no more time to waste. The time to act is now,” says Abdul-Razak Saeed, climate change Lead at the Rainforest Alliance.
Feed the world, save the planet
Policymakers must find a way to “feed the world and save the planet at the same time,” QU Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said last night on the eve of the summit. Global agri-food systems are being threatened by a host of factors ranging from civil conflicts to biodiversity loss.
“Climate change will compromise our ability to produce sufficient amounts of nutritious foods and increase poverty and deepen inequalities,” he warned.
Global agri-food systems are being threatened by a host of factors ranging from civil conflicts to biodiversity loss, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse, pushing more than 800 million people into chronic hunger. Another 3 billion cannot afford healthy diets, Qu added.
“We are not on track to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees,” he said starkly.
Agriculture, food systems and supply chains play a critical role in shaping the future of food.
However, The Good Food Institute insists that without significant investment, fixing so-called broken food systems, which includes alternative protein innovation, and hitting net-zero emissions by 2050, will not happen.
The coalition wants to see more financial support for alternative meat R&D, claiming massive investment is critical to achieving a net-zero, climate-resilient world.
Foundation Earth recently launched a pilot program to test consumer response to a science-backed environmental scoring system. Eco-labeling is anticipated to rise in popularity, as these front-of-pack indicators are designed to help consumers assess the overall environmental impacts of the products they buy while accelerating industry’s journey toward net-zero emissions.
Cell-based on the rise
Indeed, changes in diet toward less meat and more plant-based, as well as the future commercialization of cell-based meat, fish and poultry, are one of the key factors of reaching net-zero food.
The main objective of the nascent cellular agriculture industry is to work toward a slaughter-free world where animals are not reared and killed just to be eaten, but rather leveraging science and technology to develop a real long-lasting and groundbreaking alternative to a meat model that has never been challenged.
Cell-based agriculture – believed by many to be the future of meat supply – plays a pivotal role in transforming the global food system.
New research indicates that significant funds are being allocated to help this nascent alternative protein sector in China optimize and scale up, to propel the nation’s climate ambition.
Mitigating climate change: Water resources
Food companies are uniquely vulnerable to the water crisis, as growing and processing food consumes more than 70% of the world’s increasingly strained water resources.
Without proper management and disclosure of water-related risks, companies increasingly face market, financial and reputational risks, and lose out on new market opportunities.
Most food companies are not taking the necessary action to reduce their demands and impacts on freshwater resources, further worsening the global water crisis, according to a new report by the sustainability non-profit Ceres.
Food companies are uniquely vulnerable to the water crisis, as growing and processing food consumes more than 70% of the world’s increasingly strained water resources.Feeding Ourselves Thirsty, a benchmark analysis of 38 food companies, shows some encouraging signs of progress on corporate water management, but underscores that much more work needs to be done by companies to help ensure sustainable water supplies.
The average company received 45 points out of 100 on water management, and the meat industry still lags considerably behind the pack, with meat industry companies scoring an average 18 points.
Overall, Ceres’ analysis found companies do not have adequate practices in place across categories of water management, including governance structures, risk assessment, target setting and implementation actions.
The top scoring companies, out of a possible score of 100, by industry were: Coca-Cola with 90 (Beverage); Unilever with 83 (Packaged Food); Cargill with 67 (Agricultural Products); and Tyson Foods with 37 (Meat); Coca-Cola, Anheuser Busch and Unilever top the list of highest overall scores.
Less talk, more action
Last month, scientists rang the alarm bell more loudly than ever before with the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Changes 2021: The Physical Science Basis.
However, such warnings have been sounding for many years now – and the time for talk is well and truly over.
Industry knows what needs to be done – and we all know the potential cost of ignoring sweeping changes that are needed to mitigate a rapid onset of climate change that could forever change the world and the availability of food and raw materials.
The future of food literally depends upon the changes that are made now – and consumers don’t just want platitudes, never-ending targets that chop and change, and lacklustre responses to this huge challenge facing the world.
Innova Market Insights underscores that consumers now rank planetary health as their number one concern, overtaking personal health, which has been the top priority in recent years.
As we head into 2022, it’s largely agreed that politicians should be stronger on climate action leadership. Consumers must also take more ownership by voting with their purchase preferences and industry can accordingly bolster its sourcing and manufacturing as a way of navigating toward sustainable and safe food for future generations.