Industry Urged to Accelerate Transition to Green Food Systems

According to a new FAO and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development report, efforts in the food industry to commit to carbon emission reduction targets have been “uneven”.

While recognising that some businesses have carbon-cutting initiatives, there are still no regulations in place, and goals are voluntary, leading to calls for a more robust system. Another setback for carbon-neutral efforts is that consumers are often unwilling to pay a premium for carbon-neutral products, declares the report.

Despite trends toward plant-based eating and consumers seeking healthy products also geared toward a healthy planet health – which has led to a growing NPD in this area – there is also a greater need for “simpler and more transparent” communication on the environmental footprint of F&B products.

This, says the report, can positively impact purchasing habits.

Not all carbon reduction initiatives are equal

Agri-food system emissions account for 21 percent to 37 percent of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, depending on estimates.

The F&B industry and consumer dietary habits are often cited as key to curbing global warming and fighting the climate crisis.

However, progress is slow because not all carbon reduction approaches pay off for all agri-food system players, and there are no regulations.

Smaller companies can find it difficult to transition to carbon-neutral and struggle with how to manage the process varies from sector to sector. With little government input and a challenging and expensive transition, some companies and farmers do not see the benefits of going carbon neutral. There is, however, much to be gained by decarbonising agri-food systems.

The report notes that with climate action, businesses can protect their brands, secure supply chains, and reduce costs to gain a competitive advantage.

On top of compulsory regulation on carbon emissions, governments could also offer incentives for businesses that adopt low carbon technologies. They could also harmonise global standards for carbon accounting and verify emissions.

“Decarbonising the agri-food sector is possible and not some utopian ideal or box-ticking exercise,” noted Gianpiero Nacci, EBRD’s director climate strategy and delivery.

“There are low-carbon pathways, as we highlight in the report, but they call for strong political and corporate commitment, concerted action, including sound policies and good governance, and dedicated investment and human resources to see results.”

Moving the needle toward a low-carbon future

The five recommendations from the report are to target carbon neutrality, improve and standardize tools and methods. It also advises improving governance and directly supporting companies and farmers to decarbonise, educate and communicate on carbon neutrality.

“We need to double down and mobilize greater investment, knowledge and innovations to make our agri-food systems greener, more resilient, more productive and more efficient at providing healthy and nutritious diets,” added FAO Investment Centre director Mohamed Manssouri.

The connection between the rapid onset of climate change and the world’s food production systems is well known and much debated. There is a wealth of carbon-cutting initiatives and objectives in place across various sectors, including livestock and dairy, many with ambitious targets that are supposed to be realised within the next few years. Whether they will, remains to be seen.

The mammoth task of reaching carbon neutrality can often seem insurmountable. The report, as has many other reports like it, calls for greater action, collective methods to transform these food systems and so on.

But in an industry facing many headwinds like supply chain disruptions, continuing inflation, a war in Ukraine, and shaking off post-pandemic challenges, investing and transitioning to carbon neutrality may be less of a priority.