With all of the focus this past weekend on the United Nations Climate Summit and the hundreds of thousands of protestors (perhaps more than a million) in many global locations, including the 100,000 in New York, my mind has certainly swung to the need for Canada Food Inc. to have a very complete and achievable environmental strategy. What might that look like? And what would it cover? I want to take a closer look at that.
Go back to my thinking that competitive success is dependent on innovation to meet the market’s needs, wants, and demands. It is also dependent on increased productivity and improved sustainability.
Well, the market is telling us what it wants in terms of food trends, as I’ve discussed, but it is also telling us what it expects in terms of sustainability. The growth in organic foods is an indicator, as well as increased demand for local foods. It is also looking, more and more, for socially responsible production broadly, for example Marine Stewardship Council certification for fish and seafood products, or certification to Ethical Treatment of Animals standards.
So I’m going to focus on the environmental aspects of sustainability. In order to do that, we need to take a value chain approach from crop and livestock producers through processing/packaging, retail/foodservice, all the way to consumers. And each of the sectors (or divisions, as I have referred to them) needs to be considered separately.
So for the crop production sectors (grains, oilseeds, pulses, horticulture) we use soil and water from the earth, add seed stock from the seed industry, add fertilizers and pesticides, and use machinery powered by energy, generally from the oil and gas sector. And with all of that we produce safe food crops, but sometimes with unsafe residues. But the by-products usually include soil loss and contamination, water loss and contamination, harm to other species, bio-waste, greenhouse gases, and scrap machinery.
The same thing applies to the animal production sectors (red meats, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products). Again, we are using earth-born inputs plus genetic stock, feed, drugs, plus buildings and equipment and the energy to power them. And aside from the safe foods produced (sometimes with unsafe residues), the by-products include greenhouse gases, bio-waste, scrap materials, and inefficient energy use.
As one moves into food processing and packaging, we’re using water, manufactured ingredients, equipment, chemical-based cleaners, energy/lubricants, plus all of the packaging inputs from sources like forests for paper, petroleum for plastics, ores for metal, etc. Again, along with the safe food products (sometimes with unsafe residues), the by-products include air and water effluents, food residues and other bio-waste, inefficient energy use, and scrap equipment.
The same type of profile can be done for grocery retailers, foodservice operations and consumers. And then there is the transportation and warehousing that exists between every level and the next one in the value chain, with the high level of air effluents and energy use that goes along with it.
Many, probably most, of the by-products could be reduced through better application of existing “fixes” like sustainable agriculture practices, more focus on recycling of all things possible, more focus on energy from waste and bio-energy, composting, and a disciplined approach to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards in buildings and processing plants. In the course of doing so, we would also, without a doubt, increase the productivity of the entire value chain, making us more competitive.
Now there may be aspects of all these issues that aren’t as efficient or as good as they might be. And so the whole area of innovation in the research community comes into play, this time not to just meet market demands for products, but to find innovative new techniques to provide those products in a more environmentally sound manner. That might include new crop varieties, new types of fertilizers and crop protection products that have better environmental aspects. It might include new types of packaging. It would have to include reduced energy use with fewer effluents.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know that a lot is being done in all of these areas, but if we could create a national strategy for environmental performance with strong government and industry support, and if we could collaborate through the entire value chain of each “division,” or sector, of Canada Food Inc., I am certain that we could improve the environmental performance of Canada Food Inc. and significantly increase the speed of progress in improvement in that area in a manner we have never seen before.
We, Canada Food Inc., could become the most environmentally sound food sector in the world and gain the recognition of environmentalists, industry, consumers, and governments in a manner never seen before. We CAN do it. We are CANada.
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at [email protected]