Food production and environmentalists: time to co-operate

Food is loaded with emotional symbolism. Therefore, this is no wonder that agribusiness industry and environmentalists regularly have conflicts.

After my graduation, I remember reading a book on such matters, which had as introduction about half a page of complaining about how low the quality of bread had gone. The funny part was that the complaint had been found on some ancient Egypt papyrus document!
The agribusiness, being a business, is about making money. As such, this is not shocking since this is what business is about. Of course, this is acceptable as long as this is does not imperil us, and this is, in my opinion, where environmentalists play a very important role. They balance the power and challenge what the food industry does. This is very useful, as it stimulates thinking about what we do, and it can help stopping us from making mistakes. The problem is when this debate slides into the dogmatic and doctrinal sphere. Then, this is no more about the general interest, but about partisan interests only. The debate shifts from the moral to the political.

On the one hand, we have aggressive opponents to the industry, unfortunately too often supported by the media, because sensation is good for ratings. On the other hand, we have the industry that tends to react too rigidly and too defensively, as they resist change very often because of short-term production costs increase, while on the long term they actually delay the possibility of securing their business. Moreover, they spend a lot of money for lobbying purposes, which could be invested in the systems of the future.

Clearly, neither approach benefits the general interest. The sad thing is that both sides always claim to possess the absolute science to demonstrate their points of view. The main result is that the public opinion is confused, which is normal, since unless you are a specialist of these matters, there is no way of knowing who tells the truth. Once, I was attending a conference organized by Marks & Spencer on public perception of animal husbandry and animal production practices. The master of conference then said one very relevant thing: the main source of scientific knowledge for the public over there was The Sun (very popular British tabloid), not Scientific American!

I believe that most has been said in the debate between the food industry and the environmentalists. They rarely say anything new, just the same old things being repeated over and over again.

Not everything is perfect in the agribusiness, as it is work in progress; and consumers deserve to be properly informed, so that they can cast their vote when they shop by electing the good products and rejecting the bad ones. Eliminating bad practices is exactly what can benefit us all.

This cannot be done through confrontation only. It is highly frustrating to hear people opposing something while not offering a solid alternative based on solid evidence, facts and thorough analysis.

The way of the future is a co-operation between the industry and environmental groups, by joining not only their knowledge and science, but also their financial and business understanding to develop and support sustainable solutions. By joining forces, they will help us develop a better agriculture and find the most sensible ways to feed nine billion people and preserve our ecosystems. Such an approach has already started, for instance with the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and Unilever that created the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), which certifies sustainable fisheries. The WWF is busy with a similar approach with aquaculture. In Brazil, the beef industry has agreed with Greenpeace on a moratorium on deforestation and they will not expand their ranches at the expense of the rainforest anymore. This type of co-operation needs to be developed to a much larger scale!

Copyright 2009 The Happy Future Group Consulting Ltd.