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CSR plans lack teeth in tackling food challenges

Corporate CSR plans are failing to drive the systemic change needed to move towards a more sustainable food system, according to a leading expert.

Olivier De Schutter, co-chair of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), said that changes to business practices set out in CSR strategies were insufficient because they were incompatible with the principal drivers of business models.

He cited the finalisation of the economy, CEO reward schemes based on stock market performance, and global competition as forces that limited the improvements to the environment, health and livelihoods that CSR plans could deliver.

De Schutter was addressing the Future of Food event in London to mark the 20th anniversary of the Food Ethics Council. In his keynote address he called for a complete rethink of the way food is produced, sold and consumed to mitigate the negative impacts of the current system.

He noted that although the “low cost food economy” had been successful in meeting growing demand for food it had created a series of negative externalities including damage to the environment, the disappearance of small farms and growing levels of obesity.

However, De Schutter said there was cause for optimism in growing awareness of the multifaceted nature of the crisis and the emergence of new alliances to develop fresh approaches to food policy. IPES-Food recently convened an alliance of 200 farmers, NGOs, academics and scientists to create a new Common Food Policy for Europe, which aims to set out a comprehensive set of proposals for a sustainable food system.

The Food Ethics Council said we needed a “Blue Planet moment” for food to address the challenges facing the system. “Despite the progress we’ve seen in the last 20 years, the challenges facing our food system are at the moment getting worse not better,” said the Council’s chair Jon Alexander. “This is not about a single issue but the outcomes of the whole system: from the treatment of farm animals to care for the environment, from human health to the welfare of those working in the food system.”