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Agriculture and food: sustainability as a competitive lever

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Agriculture, including forestry, livestock farming and processing agricultural commodities, is increasingly transitioning to a carbon-free economy and greater emphasis on environmental management.

After energy, agricultural activities are the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, if we include processing, distribution, etc, and one of the three main systems responsible for loss of biodiversity.

The need to consider sustainability requirements has meant significant changes throughout the value chain in each concerned sector (food, cotton, timber, etc.), and therefore actors in the global financial system (banks, investment funds, etc.) are now taking this into account when deciding how to allocate resources.

As France’s leading industrial sector, the food industry has embarked on a large-scale transition towards sustainability. According to the French Environmental and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), sustainable food means “all food practices that seek to provide human beings with a sufficient quantity and quality of food, now and in the future, while protecting the environment, being affordable, and remunerating the entire food chain” (1). A sustainable food industry looks after the environment and consumer health while addressing societal issues (standards of living for farmers, human rights in developing countries, etc.).

Several factors have caused this:

  • Changing consumer expectations. Traditionally, consumers focused on the quality of food and its impact on health. However, expectations have now shifted to include transparency, traceability, animal welfare, reducing carbon footprint (refusing to eat products with significant food miles because of the pollution this causes), more local food production, and others.
  • Regulatory changes. There is a growing trend for tougher legislation and standards to meet new consumer expectations (health, traceability, etc.). The European Union’s “Farm to Fork” strategy is designed specifically to promote a new and better balance between nature, food systems and biodiversity in order to protect the health and well-being of consumers.
  • Competitive pressure. The provenance of raw materials in sustainable food and clothing are now competitive assets, in both the domestic and export markets.
  • NGOs are becoming more actively involved in areas such as the sale of products obtained from the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest (clothing, oil, etc.) or animal welfare (poultry farming, abattoir conditions, etc.).

Europe’s agriculture and food industry have begun their ecological transition. This adds value to their products: in the long run, it’s an essential competitive and developmental lever.

All food practices that seek to provide human beings with a sufficient quantity and quality of food, now and in the future, while protecting the environment, being affordable, and remunerating the entire food chain.

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