Highlights from the 'Sustainability Assessment of the Food Chain' seminar

March 01, 2022

The fifth seminar of the EFFoST Seminar Series ‘Sustainable Food Systems: Connecting Expertise in Academia and Industry’ featured various aspects of the sustainability assessment of food, including social issues and blockchain technology.

The well attended seminar 'Sustainability Assessment of the Food Chain'  took place Friday, 22 October, at 1 pm (CET). We were happy to welcome renowned experts from academia and industry, who shared their insights. Please find highlights from the session below and available PowerPoint slides can be accessed here.

In her talk “Social issues in sustainability assessment of food” Dr Ulrike Eberle from Corsus Corporate Sustainability, opened the topic by emphasising the importance of the tools to assess the sustainability of the food system. Agriculture has a great impact on the planetary boundaries by depleting the soil and decreasing the biodiversity. At the same time, we cannot overlook that our food system is not socially sustainable: the lack of access to clean drinking water and adequate sanitation, no standard for a living wage, the modern slavery problem and the double burden of malnutrition (the coexistence of overnutrition alongside undernutrition). Furthermore, dietary habits are changing, and not in the favour of the planet nor our health. Yet, social aspects are often overlooked compared to economic and environmental aspects. Eberle introduced the Sustainability Evaluation of Products method that was developed by first identifying product-related targets and indicators through the 17 SDGs.

The core of the method is sustainability evaluation that aims to measure the contribution of the product/service to the respective SDGs using the defined indicators (e.g. equal wages for men and women, health insurance coverage among employees, share of worker under the poverty line). The results show in which of the addressed sustainability issues the product is good and where there is still a need for improvement.

 

Laura Schumacher from PRe Sustainability introduced the concept of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and a few challenges that come along with this and recently developed solutions. Life Cycle Assessment is a science-based methodology that evaluates environmental and social impact associated with a product or service per life cycle stage. She emphasised the need for a standardized method to ensure transparency and reliability. One of the challenges in the LCA is the primary data collection from every step of the supply chain (e.g. material use, water use, soil characteristics, waste, crop rotation) as there is no standard system employed throughout the supply chain. A solution for this would be to use for instance default data from standards (e.g. PEFCR), taking a three-year average to overcome the influence of the seasonality of foods and collaborating with suppliers in data collection. In general, the results of an LCA depend on the data and assumptions used to carry out the analysis. As methodological choices can highly influence the results, standardized approaches are needed for the comparison of products. These methods, however, are currently lacking. She concluded that the food system is complex, leading to challenges in executing food LCA´s, but collaboration with other stakeholders in the supply chain will help overcome these.

 

Manuel Klarmann, a CEO and co-founder of Eaternity, introduced an App with an Eaternity Score - a software technology-driven approach - where the environmental impact of all food in the market is provided in a transparent and informed way to consumers and decision-makers. In the model different origins of the products as well as seasonality are taken into account to assess sustainability. Eaternity develops the models in collaboration with the restaurants and provides all the metrics needed for recipe calculation according to climate, water, and animal welfare.
 

New developments in Food-Tech and Digitalisation-Tech will greatly influence our capability to govern food chains towards more sustainability, while simultaneously the same tech developments will change the food chains themselves. Prof. Henning Høgh Jensen from DTU Copenhagen pointed out that there is a serious lack of consumer trust towards companies and authorities when it comes to claims and labels on sustainability.

Retailers are taking a lead in that by showing transparency and introducing simpler linear food blockchains. On the other hand, there is no integration or horizontal extension of food processors (bigger companies lead the way, while at the same time SME´s lack the competencies despite producing upmarket products). Here, blockchain solutions can merge with other technical solutions such as Tokens and AI.

Finally, producers like farmers are being seen as the data platform managers. However, sharing of data is still a great challenge and poses a cultural change. Jensen proposes that sustainability, traceability and trust should be interwoven. To advance innovation in this space, we need to build open-source databases - blockchain technologies merged with the data from primary agriculture with LCA technologies to estimate footprints. Jensen emphasises the importance of transparency in the supply chain and the urgency of giving it a priority.

In conclusion, the panellists agreed that there is an unnecessary overcomplication of the information. Change is needed both from the public as well as from the private sector by making a coherent labelling system, introducing simplified information in the market and developing open-access databases.

For 2022, there will be a new seminar series 'Sustainable Food Systems: Connecting Expertise in Academia and Industry', the next seminar will address the topic 'Gastronomy as an Engine of Change'.
 

Seminar - Gastronomy as an Engine of Change
When: Friday 13 May 2022 from 13:00-15:00 (CET)
Where: online, a link will be provided to registered participants
Cost: free of charge
Email: sustainability@effost.org
Register here

 

 

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