– In the backdrop of rising hunger, half of the world’s population living on unhealthy diets, a third of agricultural produce lost to postharvest events, and waste, poverty in farming communities, a pandemic that laid bare the vulnerability of food systems to external shocks and unsustainable food production, the Barilla Foundation for Food and Nutrition has published a report which introduces guidelines for the private sector to fulfil its role in transforming global food systems.
The Fixing Food Report was released September 16, 2021, one week before the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the largest and most urgent forum to date, which brings together representatives in every sector of the food system to make food production, packaging and distribution more sustainable.
The report acknowledges that food companies are a part of a larger, complex system. However, while they cannot solve the food systems crisis alone, these businesses have an important role in food choices, reducing food loss and waste, sustainable food production and poverty elimination.
It adds that they can contribute to food systems transformation by integrating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) into their business practices through a 4-pillar framework. The framework includes beneficial products and strategies, sustainable business operations and internal processes, sustainable supply and value chains and good corporate citizenship.
“Integrating sustainability principles within business goals and activities is not easy. It requires a rethinking of corporate purpose, management systems, performance measurements, and reporting systems,” the report states.
As part of its release, BCFN officials hosted a webinar on fixing the business of food. It brought together some of the world’s leading research institutions and food experts, including the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) at Columbia University, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) and the Santa Chiara Lab (SCL) of the University of Siena.
“To build back better, now is the time for a great reset, and in order to achieve that, we need to reset the agendas of the food industry and the finance sector to help the agri-food sector to become a game-changer for positive impact on the ecosystem and society as a whole,” said Guido Barilla, Chairman of the Barilla Group and the foundation the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN).
According to the report, while food businesses are now recognizing the magnitude of the global food crisis, many governments seem oblivious to this reality. It adds that the UNFSS aims to change this view “with all due urgency.”
“Companies should look inside and align themselves with sustainable practices, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity, should report on such behaviours, in detail, should adjust internal management systems, promotion systems, compensation systems, evaluation systems, to ensure not just rhetorical alignment in an annual report, but operational alignment in business practices,” said Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University.
In addition to the 4-pillar framework, the Fixing the Business of Food report also lists 21 standards for more sustainable food systems. Those guidelines include measures for sustainable business operations and accountability.
Managing Director for Food and Nature at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Diane Holdorf, has encouraged food companies to commit to ambitious action on food systems transformation.
The CEO-led Council, which consists of 200 businesses working towards sustainable food systems, has challenged members to sign a business declaration towards this goal.
“For example, business leaders have committed to helping meet food system transformation by implementing actions in their companies, value chains, and the different parts of the sectors that are so important across food and agriculture. To, for example, scale science-based solutions, to provide investments into research and innovation that support the transformation that we need to see.”
Holdorf elaborated that the transformation included every part of the process, “from seeds to fertilizers, farming, processing, selling and trading, transportation, consumption, nutrition and ensuring access for farmers and others across the chain that leads into actions around contributing to improving livelihoods.”
The report makes a case for technical, financial, and other support for small and medium-sized enterprises.
International and European Affairs of the Food, Beverages and Catering Union head Peter Schmidt says this support is essential for the private sector’s successful alignment to the SDGs.
“Most of these initiatives are driven by the multinationals, and that’s okay, that’s great, and we appreciate it very much that is practice. I fully support them, but at the same time, we have real problems explaining SMEs. What does it mean when we talk about the problem of sustainability?” he asked.
“I invited several people from the business sector and asked one CEO from a corporate team, producing organic cheese, ‘Do you know something about the SDGs? The UN Agenda 2030? Do you know about the Code of Conduct that was launched within the Frankfurt strategy from the European Commission?’ and the answer was: not really. I think that shows how important it is that we go deeper in this level. That is the backbone of the food industry, of the processing sector. If we do not take them on board, I’m not sure whether we can have success in the transformation process,” he said.
For over ten years, the Barilla Foundation for Food and Nutrition has engaged in state-of-the-art research, hosted high-level think tanks, and contributed to discussion – and action – on food systems transformation.
Foundation representatives say during that time, they have witnessed a shift in the concept of sustainability, including steps by industry leaders to align with SDGs, but a lot more work is needed to achieve food systems transformation.
“Food is more than a commodity. It is a public good at the heart of our societies, our cultures, and our lives. Food actors can and must play a role in delivering this change,” said Barilla.