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Opinion: The food industry can seize major opportunities through greater collective action

In the face of pressing global challenges, the imperative to revamp the food system emerges as a paramount concern. Backed by comprehensive economic modelling, the potential for collaborative action to yield substantial economic, environmental and societal benefits becomes evident. Sharon Bligh, health and sustainability director at

the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) underscores the urgency of addressing five pivotal challenges: deforestation, net-zero emissions, healthier food access, plastic pollution and food waste. Our food systems offer an incredibly powerful way to address the global climate, nature and health emergencies while improving the lives of millions of people. New economic modelling from the Food System Economics Commission shows that embracing a fully inclusive, health-enhancing and environmentally sustainable global food system would not only benefit people and the planet – it would also provide economic benefits of up to $10 trillion a year. We must urgently upgrade our food system to make it viable for the future. And the only way to do so is together. The food system’s challenges are unprecedented but also shared. No single organisation, government or company can fix them alone. Through collaboration, farmers, food producers, brands and retailers can pull together and radically improve how our food is made. It’s not only our chance to transform our own operations – but also to take the lead on a profound global shift. Wielding significant power and influence, food companies are uniquely placed to lead the transition to a greener and better world. At CGF, experience has shown us the power of collaboration to source solutions to shared challenges. Although every business has its own pressures and priorities, companies are stronger when they come together to meet the needs of customers, communities and the environment. There is a wide range of crucial areas the food industry is making progress on – but focusing on the following five interlinked challenges can really help to shift the dial and drive the pace and scale of change needed for our food systems. Tackling deforestation Companies need to urgently ramp up cooperation with governments, NGOs, indigenous people, farmers and producers to stop deforestation. Forests play a critical role in maintaining life on Earth. Through storing carbon, forests are essential to fighting the climate emergency. And they are vital for so many communities around the world. The first step for all businesses is to understand exactly what’s happening on the ground. Transparency is essential, which is why companies should improve their reporting on key commodities, specifically: palm oil, soy, beef, paper, pulp and fibre-based packaging. The sustainability of how they are produced is critical to the future of the world’s tropical forests. The CGF’s Forest Positive Coalition is a collective of consumer goods companies removing deforestation, forest degradation, and conversion from key commodity supply chains to combat climate change and support resilient forest communities. We support the development of forest-positive businesses that drive transformational change in landscapes and commodity supply chains, strengthening the resilience of communities and ecosystems worldwide. Accelerating net zero transition With nearly a quarter of greenhouse gases attributed to agriculture, forestry and land use, the consumer goods industry has a crucial role to play in stopping rising temperatures and keeping our planet liveable. The mix of gases produced by agriculture – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – along with the natural carbon sinks offered by many natural environments present both unique challenges and opportunities for net zero agriculture and food production. It all starts with open and transparent emissions reporting. Widening access to healthier food While the global food industry has played an essential role in helping more people than ever access affordable food, it still has significant work to do when it comes to reaching all communities and enabling consumers to make healthier and more sustainable choices. We need to continue pushing to go further, presenting these options as positive, delicious and rewarding. At the same time, consumer goods companies need to look inward to ensure they walk the talk with their employees by offering healthier and more affordable food at work. After all, supporting employee health and wellbeing is a key enabler of any thriving and sustainable business. Addressing plastic pollution We need to cut our dependency on plastic packaging by designing out as much of it as possible and switching to alternatives. The Golden Design Rules, developed by the CGF, for example, outline practical guidelines on how to remove difficult-to-recycle elements like PVC to increase circularity and recycling value. These rules are rapidly becoming the go-to guide for redesigning packaging and increasing recycling efficiency across the industry. The next important step is for all businesses to step up and move towards these industry best practices. Minimising food waste Food loss and waste is a crucial issue. Addressing it will achieve multiple objectives, including mitigating Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions from supply chains, reducing the use of natural resources, decreasing land conversion pressures, improving food security and broadening access to nutritious foods. At the same time, making the system more efficient will boost economic productivity by opening up new market channels for surplus produce – for example, upcycling leftover fruit into jam. One of the challenges is that data on food lost and at what point it is lost on farms is often lacking. To address this gap and support measurement efforts, WWF, alongside WRAP, WRI, and other partners, has developed a Global Farm Loss Tool – which the CGF has been involved in helping to validate and test. The tool will soon launch and be available to businesses. The urgency of action across these five crucial areas cannot be exaggerated. Upgrading the global food system is a vital part of ensuring a viable future, in which everyone can eat healthier food, the climate remains habitable, and we rebalance our relationship with the world’s natural resources. The reality is that no business can thrive unless the communities and natural environment around them are thriving too. This is a fundamental truth that every boardroom must embrace. It must act as a catalyst for far greater cooperation between companies working across our global food systems. The interdependent relationship between business, society and the environment has never been clearer. Now is the time for the industry to drive faster, positive change by sharing thinking and resources.


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