Canadian farms have sustainability advantages from the climate they produce food in, progressive soil management practices and low water usage, Pulse Canada says.
Two new reports have attempted to measure sustainability within agricultural supply chains and how food companies view and value it as a measure of food product quality.
The reports, commissioned by Pulse Canada and released at an industry symposium in Toronto last week, show that environmental sustainability at the farm level has become a top priority for food companies.
“The food industry’s focus is shifting from practice-based to outcome-based sustainability measurements,” said Gordon Bacon, CEO of Pulse Canada in a release. “Companies are looking at measuring key environmental performance indicators like the amount of energy used, and focusing less on the process used to produce the food.”
More than 30 interviews conducted with food industry documented in the reports –one titledMeasure What Matters,the otherMeasuring Sustainable Agriculture–show leading food companies also view their farm-level agricultural supply chains as the biggest opportunity to improve the sustainability of their products. Key priority areas include greenhouse gases and energy use, soil quality as an indicator of stored carbon and water quality, water use, and biodiversity.
“Their partners and customers are asking questions about how the environmental impact of food is being managed,” adds Bacon in the executive summary ofMeasuring Sustainable Agriculture.
“When these companies look back to see where their product is coming from, their analysis is showing that the biggest impacts aren’t coming from their own processing or distribution operations, but from their farm-level agricultural supply chains.”
For example, in its 2009 sustainability overview report Unilever estimates energy use in its agricultural supply chains to be 10 times greater than its own manufacturing.
Another report from General Mills estimates 90 to 95 per cent of the food industry’s environmental footprint to be occurring in commodity production.
“Like food safety, sustainability lives in the public interest,” writes Gene Kahn, vice-president and global sustainability officer for General Mills in the report. “Increasingly, consumers will expect sustainability to be an intrinsic characteristic of good product performance.”
The reports’ findings will be used to help the pulse industry develop sustainability pilot projects with food industry partners, such as life cycle analysis (LCA), carbon footprinting, water footprinting and on-farm calculators, Bacon said.
“Eighty to 95 per cent of energy consumed in food production occurs at the farm level. Preliminary results from an LCA show that when pulse crops are added to annual cropping rotations, non-renewable energy use is reduced by 22 per cent to 24 per cent. Combined with the significant contribution pulses make to human nutrition and health, pulses have a big role to play in foods that deliver healthy people and a healthy planet,” the report says.
– GORD BACON