Sustainable Foods Summit Discusses Eco-Labels

The annual Sustainable Foods Summit was held in San Francisco last month. It was organised by UK market research firm Organic Monitor and highlighted many pertinent issues in the food industry. The discussions that were held stressed the need for greater transparency and accountability in the food industry. As consumer base for ethically sourced food is growing, 200 executives from across the food industry got together to talk about how this demand can be met in a more sustainable manner.

The summit talked about the evolution of eco-labels such as organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance. Increasingly international supply chains were blamed for causing consumers to become disconnected from local agriculture and seasonal eating. Many industry insiders believe that eco-labels serve to assure the consumer about where their food is coming from.

Seth Goldman, co-founder and president of Honest Tea opened the summit. He used the example of tea plantations in China and established how modernization does not always contribute to sustainability. Honest Tea is one of the fastest growing ethical beverage brands in the US. Last week Goldman wrote an article in Treehugger highlighting the difficulties faced by a small ethical business. Coca-Cola recently bought out the company and  the company faces a lot of resistance from its consumer group for this move. He says that consumers shouldn't unthinkingly judge a product or brand "because of its association without considering the actual merits of the product itself."

The other topic of discussion was the measurement of sustainability. The Straus Family Creamery shared his company's approaches to measuring their carbon footprint. The importance of offsetting carbon emissions was also highlighted by Organic Valley when they demonstrated the role of organic agriculture in carbon sequestration. Sustainability in foodservice was the subject of Bon Appetit Management Company; its initiatives include a commitment to source locally from small farmers.

Eco-labels were up for further discussion when Kenneth Ross from Global ID discussed future trends. His paper stressed the importance of IT in combating food fraud and providing traceability to consumers. Convergence of mobile and internet technologies is expected to allow consumers to get ecological and social footprints of their food products.

Other discussions included the importance of Fairtrade and organic strategies. President of Organic Monitor, showed how pioneering organic food companies were integrating sustainability into their corporate ethos and how some eco-labels were converging. The potential for newer technology like biodynamic cultivation was explored by Demeter and Fetzer-Bonterra Vineyards.

Finally, improvements in sustainable packaging was discussed by many companies like Safeway and Tesco talking about their innovations. They also talked about how they were working with local suppliers to ensure better products. Safeway also talked about how its O Organics label transcended "the boundaries of a private label without cannibalizing manufacturer brands."

Such summits throw up many interesting discussion points on how to improve food sustainability and boost ethical consumerism. It also gives consumers an idea of what the food industry is trying to do to improve supply chains, sourcing and bring items with planetary incentives to supermarket aisles.

Photo: Sustainable Foods Summit Logo