Food and agricultural businesses must take responsibility for improving the benefits they bring to the environment, as well as the health and well-being of the people and communities they touch, according to this commentary by a food industry executive, appearing in a special issue on “Food Systems and Public Health: Linkages to Achieve Healthier Diets and Health Communities” of the Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition.
Arlin Wasserman, Vice President for Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility of Sodexo, maintains that in the past several decades consumer interest in what we eat has grown more intense and more complex, driven by concerns such as food safety, better understanding of nutrition, international economics and environmental sustainability.
People want to eat foods that reflect their values and are: healthful; affordable; pure; “green” for the environment; fairly and humanely produced without human or animal exploitation; good for the individuals and communities involved in production; and authentic (produced by real people and farms).
It is hard for people to make food choices consistently based on these values. Food choices often involve irreconcilable conflicts (a health- and environmental- conscious consumer in Minnesota may eat fruits and vegetables transported from a warmer climate during much of the year); little information (more than half of all meals in the U.S. are prepared by someone outside the household); and many small impromptu decisions throughout each day. Therefore, it is the food and agricultural businesses that have the information and the onus to act responsibly regarding the well-being of consumers, producers, communities and the planet.
Wasserman argues it is time for food businesses to adopt best practices used by leading companies in other industries and set “forward-looking goals,” report on progress, and include stakeholders in a process to validate results and identify needed improvements.