Sustainability in the Food Industry

Maria Rigby

What is sustainable food? Is it good for profits, people, and the planet?

Sustainable agriculture has been getting much attention lately due to society’s increasing desire for transparency within the agriculture industry. Some people believe industrial agriculture is what it is today because sustainable agriculture practices cannot feed the world. While industrial agriculture may seem effective presently, its harmful impacts will drastically affect our health and the environment in the near future.

Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture is a different, more environmentally and socially conscious way of growing food. Specifically, it is “a way of growing or raising food, including animals, in an ecologically and ethically responsible manner using practices that protect the environment, safeguard human health, are humane to farm animals, and provide fair treatment to workers.  Eating sustainably means eating food that is grown or raised according to these principles” (Halwell, 2007). Within sustainable agriculture, there have been a number of movements in recent years, including organic food production and the local food movement.

Organic Farming
Broadly, organic reflects a set of ethical standards toward the environment, social justice, and animal welfare. The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements states the four overarching principles of organic to be health, ecology, fairness, and care.  These principles help to maintain biodiversity and soil integrity, by utilizing such tools as natural plant fertilization and pest management.

Local Food Systems
The term ‘local food system’ describes a method of food production and distribution that is localized geographically. Local food networks typically start on smaller, more sustainable farms. The distribution network for local food is much shorter. These networks commonly rely on the direct-to retail and institution markets. This food is grown closer to the consumer and is distributed over much shorter distances than food that is raised industrially. The local food movement is distinct from the organic movement, in which food can travel thousands of miles both nationally and internationally, resulting in a negative environmental impact. While local food can be both organic and local, it can also technically be industrial and local.

Unlike industrial agriculture, sustainable agriculture can be good for people, the planet, and for profits. Many experts agree that industrial agricultural practices will eventually increase global food insecurity. In order to avoid this, sustainable agriculture practices need to be supported – at the consumer and policy-making level. At an individual level, buying local and sustainable food keeps money local, with more money going to the farmer, and less to the middlemen and to transportation. Increasing education, knowledge, and transparency are key to bettering the country’s food culture, which in turn will result in increased support of ethical food sourcing, more informed buying decisions and healthier food.