“Conventional agriculture and our growing animal product consumption and all of the food we waste are contributing to climate change in a negative way,” said Carlotta Mast, executive director of content and insights at New Hope Network. “But food can also be seen as part of the solution, by going back to more regenerative agricultural practices, by reducing food waste and by increasing plant-based food consumption and reducing animal product consumption.”
During a presentation at Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 21-24 in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., several speakers discussed the food industry’s role in addressing and reversing global warming.
“The question on the table right now is, ‘How do we feed the world without destroying it?’” said Eric J. Pierce, director of business insights at New Hope Network. “Currently our ability to feed the world is being undermined by climate change and a loss of arable land, by a rapidly growing population, water loss and misuse of our agricultural land for creating grains to feed livestock and for the creation of biofuels.
“I hope as an industry we can find the opportunities to work collaboratively with those outside of our industry to solve these problems because solving these problems is going to require the best of humanity, of science and the wisdom of Mother Nature.”
The industry must agree to common goals, he added, such as improving soil quality, conserving and protecting water supplies, sequestering carbon, defending genetic diversity, protecting ecosystems and protecting human health and communities. Engaging consumers in discussions about regenerative agriculture and the benefits of organic, grass-fed, local and plant-based diets is another part of the solution.
“If we can grow the motivation to engage with food as an act of sustainability, to engage with food as an act of climate regeneration, we can get as big as $13.3 trillion,” Pierce said. “That’s the U.S. retail food and agriculture value chain. We need to connect the food people eat every day, the products consumers buy in grocery stores every day, to sustainability. All of us can help with that whether we’re a manufacturer or a retailer.”
A number of companies exhibiting at Expo East have taken action to eliminate waste, use restorative farming practices and innovate with sustainable ingredients, such as algae and insects.
“How do we feed more people with less land and less water?” Mast said. “We will do that through multifaceted innovation, really incorporating the best of the technologies and solutions that are available to us. This has come to life in the marketplace over the past few years with the growth of insect-based products. Chirps Chips is one example of the growing number of insect-based products on the marketplace, which is looking at a more ecological way to get more protein into the food system without the use of traditional animal products.”
Other brands have identified more sustainable methods for farming and ranching. Lotus Foods, for example, works with small-scale rice farmers to double or triple their yields while using up to 50% less water and up to 90% less seed. Epic Provisions, a maker of meat snacks, supports ranchers in using biodynamic practices that create a positive impact on the ecosystem. The company also has initiated a nose-to-tail endeavor to reduce food waste, introducing products to its portfolio such as beef tallow and pork rinds that utilize the whole animal.
And then there is the plant-based food phenomenon, a top trend at Expo East, underpinned by scores of new dairy- and meat-free alternatives appealing to eaters of all types.
“You’re seeing all of these new plant-based products that are positioned to a broader audience than maybe just vegans and vegetarians, who have been the target audiences for those products (in the past),” Mast told World Grain. “These products are in many ways far superior to what we’ve had in the past in terms of dairy alternatives and alternative meat products.”
During the presentation, Pierce implored participants to “get really serious about sustainability.”
“Look deep into your business, and think about all the different aspects of your business and what stories you might have to tell, thinking about where your agriculture is coming from, where your food and products are produced, supply chain, manufacturing, packaging, marketing,” he said. “Think about waste — both your input waste in manufacturing but also the end-of-life waste of the products you’re creating or the packaging you’re putting out into the world. Consider your impact on people, on water, on soil, energy use, air quality, and find the story you can tell for your business. Be consistent, authentic and transparent about what you do, and in doing so, find ways to demonstrate to consumers how easy it is for them to support you and for them you support regeneration of our climate.”
Added Mast, “Climate change … is actually a gift for us. Because it’s actually ushering in the death of a wasteful society. What got us here will not get us to where we need to go.“It’s actually the birth certificate for a whole new way of conscious business practice and approaches to the kinds of products we bring to the marketplace.”