How can global food become more sustainable?
The current consumption pattern of our society is unsustainable. Fresh products in a great variety from all over the world can be found in our supermarkets, but many of those products have social and environmental consequences the average consumer is unaware of.
The production of some frequently consumed food products is resource-intensive, which leads to the overexploitation of natural resources. Agricultural land is scarce, and we will lose a large share of agricultural land in the future because current agricultural practices harm the soil and climate change negatively affects agro-ecological conditions. Additionally, large shares of produced foods are wasted because they are not consumed in time. This means that the resources used in the production and processing of the product are wasted.
The production of food for global markets is an important source of export revenue for selected developing countries. Much of the world’s cocoa and coffee, but also oil palm is produced by smallholders, thus providing a livelihood for rural households who may otherwise be poorer. Yet, the conditions under which many food products are produced disadvantages the producers in developing countries and leads to an uneven distribution of food and income. This is also caused by the relatively low food prices for certain products in rich countries, most notably in Germany.
With some exceptions, more expensive products with sustainability certification still have a very small market share. There are fierce political debates whether due diligence regarding environmental and social standards in global supply chains, including in food, should be made mandatory by law (“Lieferkettengesetz”).
One thing is sure: We need to change our consumption behavior to ensure global food security and environmental sustainability.
The reason why this does not happen so easily is that most consumers do not know where the product they buy and eat comes from and under what conditions it was produced. Global agricultural value chains are not very transparent for the consumer and the selection in the supermarket can be overwhelming. In other words, most people are unaware of the social and environmental footprint of the product the buy, consume, and maybe throw away.
What do we know about the sustainability of global food production and consumption? Are there particularly harmful products?
What are the effects of certification and labels, for example, “fair trade” or eco-labels? Do they lead to more sustainable food products and how do producers of labelled products fare?
Do we need legislation, such as a “Lieferkettengesetz” or are private (and voluntary) standards the better way to go?
Are there other solutions to increase transparency along global food supply chains that make it easier for the consumer to understand the social and environmental implications of the product?
How can we incentivize young consumers to consume more consciously?