The expansion of anaerobic digesters, more mandatory composting and further plant-based protein adoption are on the horizon, the experts say.
Good afternoon! In today's edition, we asked the experts to think about how food production could realistically get more sustainable in the next five years and let us know what was on their wish list. Questions or comments? Send us a note at email@example.com
Chief sustainability officer at Smithfield Foods
Modern food production is a wonder to behold thanks to ongoing innovation that drives new efficiencies and sustainable practices to address climate change, reduce waste, minimize food safety risks and support communities. Thanks to these practices, we produce more food while using far fewer resources than ever before. That’s a good thing given a growing global food security challenge. As those of us who work in agriculture know, the challenge is massive and requires ever-increasing efficiency that can only be realized by modern food production practices. Of course, this production can’t come at the expense of the incredible progress we have made in sustainability.
Because the vast majority are far removed from it, many Americans hold on to romanticized, bucolic images of agriculture. It’s likely these images don’t include anaerobic digesters that turn manure on Smithfield and other hog farms into energy. Digesters capture methane from manure, reducing carbon emissions, and turn it into renewable natural gas to power communities, creating a new and much-needed revenue stream for family farms.
The expansion of anaerobic digesters on more livestock farms is an absolutely realistic food sustainability goal over the next five years. It’s already happening and is part of Smithfield’s commitment to becoming carbon negative by 2030. It’s also a strong example of the sustainable practices adopted by modern agriculture to make food accessible and affordable for a global population expected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050.
Head of corporate affairs and chief sustainability officer at JBS USA
A shift in focus from exclusionary corporate sourcing policies and niche program promotion to broadscale producer empowerment policies that attract sustainable financing and provide all farmers with the tools to adopt more sustainable practices.
Today’s corporate and federal policy environments continue to pursue a premium model whereby consumers are expected to pay more for more sustainable food options. Consumers have not exhibited a clear willingness to do so and the lack of premiums available has limited farmer adoption of more sustainable practices. Producers have a right to be compensated for increased costs and consumers have a right to sustainable food options that benefit their families and the environment.
Significant capital inflows – both public and private – will be necessary to support global adaptation funding that can empower farmers from around the world to adopt more sustainable practices without compromising profitability, while ensuring they can continue to feed the world in the face of a changing climate.
Chief sustainability officer at Just Salad
In the next five years, I’d like to see food waste disappear from the restaurant industry. One-third of all food produced globally is wasted, and eliminating food waste is one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Within the restaurant industry, I see several forces at work.
First, consumer-facing innovations are making it easier for individuals to purchase high-quality surplus food from restaurants; a prime example is the mobile app Too Good to Go. I am also optimistic that artificial intelligence will help restaurant operators predict day-to-day demand with greater precision, allowing them to avoid over-prepping.
Second, municipalities can and have made composting mandatory for restaurants, which keeps food waste out of landfills — and, by virtue of separating food from non-organic trash, makes it easier for operators to see how much food is going to waste. At the federal level, WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) has mobilized food companies to lobby Congress to pass the Food Donation Improvement Act, which would help increase food donation by updating food donation liability protections.
Third, organizations like The Upcycled Food Association are normalizing the use of upcycled ingredients that would have otherwise gone to waste; its Upcycled Food certification is now visible on product packaging. We need an ever-more-potent cocktail of innovation, policy and consumer-facing solutions to create a world where food is never wasted.
Chief sustainability officer at ADM
Consumers are increasingly concerned about health and wellness, as well as the environmental and social impacts of their diets and purchasing decisions. In fact, over half (54%) of global consumers feel they can make a difference to the world through their purchase decisions, according to Euromonitor.
Expectations for food and drink to come from sustainable ingredients have led to booming demand for plant-based and protein-forward alternatives. With the alternative protein market expected to climb to a staggering $125 billion by 2030, exciting new innovations are emerging to meet increasing consumer demand.
As part of ADM’s efforts to advance a more sustainable global food system, we are building a portfolio of protein solutions for food and animal feed that span plant-based, cell-based, microbial fermentation, insect and more. ADM established the foundation for alternative proteins decades ago as the inventor of textured soy protein and we are eager to partner with others to innovate and scale faster than ever.
As the global market for alternative protein is growing and could impact billions of lives through potential environmental and health benefits, I would like to see the food and agriculture industry scale up to meet this opportunity. Scale is critically important to feeding a growing global population sustainably as alternative proteins, such as those produced from plants, hold a large potential for emissions reductions and other environmental benefits.
Executive vice president and chief sustainability officer at PepsiCo
Agriculture is an under-tapped resource for accelerating the world’s green transition. Across PepsiCo’s supply chain we are seeing how a transition to regenerative agricultural practices can reduce a farm’s GHG footprint, sequester carbon, improve watershed health, increase biodiversity, and make farmers more profitable and improve their lives.
To scale and dial-up the role that agriculture plays in helping decarbonize the private sector to achieve a 1.5°C world, one of most important changes that we – at PepsiCo – believe is needed is a range of policy enablers that include explicit incentives for climate-smart agriculture. Additionally, with new pressures being placed on the food system, it is equally critical that more climate finance, including soil sequestration credits, loans and guarantees, needs to be mobilized now in order to meet internationally agreed targets and minimize the worst impacts of climate change.
Late last year, we launched pep+ (PepsiCo Positive), an end-to-end business transformation that puts sustainability squarely at the center of how we create value for people and the planet. It is a business transformation, not a sustainability initiative, because we recognize that to be resilient and successful over the long-term we need to invest in building a sustainable future, now.
We see an opportunity – now – to increase support for regenerative agriculture, which can address both adaptation and mitigation, the improvement of livelihoods, and the creation of a more resilient, sustainable food supply.
Rashida La Lande
EVP & global general counsel and chief sustainability and corporate affairs officer at Kraft Heinz
Over the next five years, the food and beverage industry will be challenged to provide the growing population with healthier, balanced diets from sustainable food systems.
Providing these healthier and more sustainable diets, consistent with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, requires constructive relationships to develop innovative solutions to meet the population’s nutritional needs without compromising the planet.
This implies profound transformation of global food systems, including production, supply chain, processing and waste reduction. These challenges are compounded by consumer scrutiny and demand for ethically sourced products and an increasingly complex regulatory environment. Further, the ongoing transformation of diets to include more positive nutrients, plant-based foods, fewer animal-sourced products and reduced nutrients of concern (i.e. sugar, sodium, saturated fats) also must consider consumer demand related to taste and texture.
I believe that the food and beverage industry plays a critical role driving this positive change and addressing global nutrition challenges. It requires investment in sustainable sourcing, product innovation and technology, with a view to solutions that can be scaled over the mid- to long-term.
Sustainable nourishment of the world’s growing population in an eco-friendly manner requires a collaborative effort throughout the global food systems. Leveraging technology and scaling solutions will enable science-based, nutritious and tasty solutions for everyone.
CEO at Soylent
The future of food is both exciting and unknown; we have a real opportunity to make very different decisions about how we eat. I envision a movement that I call from “no-kill” to “no-till.” Most of us in the plant-based and food tech industries do not want to harm animals to develop food, but in my eyes, that is just the beginning. Tilling the ground for large-scale agriculture typically leads to severe deterioration of soil quality. Topsoil erodes, runoff occurs and crop residue is reduced. Worst of all, carbon dioxide is released from soil when it is tilled, contributing to the already massive issue of global warming. My hope is that in the near future we’ll start working to create nutrients that don’t require massive amounts of space or negatively impact our planet. We don’t know what the future of food will look like yet, but as we move toward it, I believe the industry will continue to evolve and be shaped by science and innovation.
CEO at Future Meat
The conversation around food sustainability first needs to shift away from a simplistic focus on producing more pounds of food via the same systems to satisfy the growing number of mouths to feed. We all need to consider how we're going to feed a growing global population, but current framing around this challenge encourages focus on making small improvements to existing problematic systems rather than rethinking the systems themselves.
I want to see more attention given to breakthrough innovation in food technology, such as cultivated meat production. This technology, when scaled, will slash emissions and the overall impact meat production has on the environment more than any incremental improvements made to livestock production and traditional industrial food processing. Cultivated meat produced in small-footprint facilities placed close to population centers eliminates the need for both concentrated animal feeding operations and the inefficient and high-emission animal agriculture operations that are sometimes presented as an alternative.
Cultivated meat is a long-term play. But the technology behind it has the power to completely transform how meat is produced for the next 200 years. I'd like to see more discussion about and investment in transformational technology, which will lead to more impact and meaningful change than pursuing limited sustainability goals within our unsustainable current system.
Vice president, Sustainability at Mars
The science is clear on what companies need to do to lessen their environmental footprint and improve sustainability: draw down greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, reduce and replenish water use in water-stressed areas and halt deforestation. What’s far less clear is the approach to managing the many material social issues businesses face in both direct operations and supply chains that are crucial for food sustainability — such as improving the livelihoods of farmers, enabling women to thrive in agriculture and food production and addressing human rights risks like forced labor and child labor at scale.
While certain guidance is available, such as the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, businesses lack alignment on specific actions, accounting standards and reporting to address systemic inequalities related to social and human capital. The business community, including the food industry, must focus on elevating the ‘S’ in ESG, to ensure that work in our value chains empowers people.
A thriving business is about thriving people — and investing in continued actions to help those in our supply chains thrive at scale will be critical if we want a sustainable, resilient food system for the future.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.