The true price of food & its role in transforming the food system: FFA 2020 review – 26 October 2020

On 26 October 2020, our Director Eduardo Cuoco attended the Forum for the Future of Agriculture (FFA) event ‘Rewarding sustainability in the food system’. He was an expert speaker on ‘Sustainable business models: paying for the transition’. Other panelist were Bas Rüter, Global Head Sustainability, Rabobank, and Ben O’Brien, Director Europe, Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

The event’s starting point was the concept that the future of our food systems relies on two interdependent demands:

  • The adaptation and reinvention of food chain business models, and
  • The provision of farming methods which actively combat climate change and support biodiversity.
Our Director Eduardo Cuoco during his speech at the FFA2020 event, 26 October. Credits: Forum of the Future of Agriculture

Keynote speech by Janez Potočnik

In a vivid keynote speech, Janez Potočnik, FFA Chair, and RISE Foundation Chairperson, addressed inequality and the role of affordability when it comes to more sustainability in the food system. He called for a systemic approach, stressing how crucial natural capital is for life on Earth and stating we need to reconcile our short and long term interests, making space for changing habits and becoming more conscious and active citizens.

“All public money should follow public interests, aligned with the needs of the transition following the EU Green Deal vision. [..] The current crisis provides us with a moment of fragility enlightenment in which we can make real change… and we must make it.” he stated.

After his address, EU Policy Journalist Jennifer Baker opened and moderated the session.

‘Sustainable business models: paying for the transition’ – A discussion with likeminded panelists

The discussion built on a few issues: how will the transition to sustainable food systems be paid for, what new farming models are available for farmers to deliver profitable and climate neutral businesses, and are they scalable enough to achieve real change?

Our Director started his speech listing the current system’s side-effects on the environment, society, economy and wellbeing. He made clear how a simple adjustment of said system would not be sufficient to provide the needed long-term solutions in a coherent and comprehensive way. We need systemic change to switch from a vicious to virtuous cycle.

To finance such a change, he stressed the key role of a holistic approach: working on policies that help farmers develop new sustainable business models, and making the organic market grow so it can provide all farmers with fair and stable prices.

When asked about prices at the counter, he introduced the concept of true cost accounting, explaining how prices of conventional food do not match the real costs of such products and how consumers pay much more than what they see on price tags through their taxes (on health, climate change mitigation and environmental protection, and in terms of agricultural subsidies). If policies would reward sustainability practices though, the gap we currently see between price and cost may reduce. As a next step, we need nutrition-smart food policies that start with public investments to improve availability and reduce prices for healthier items, so that everyone can afford them.

Bas Rüter also stressed the importance of introducing true prices, internalizing externalities, and called for wide coalitions of stakeholders to make this a reality. “A level playing field and true pricing are preconditions for consumers behavior shifting in the right direction” he stated.

Did you miss it?

The full online event was recorded and is available on the Forum for the Future of Agriculture’s website.

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