Sunday, April 14, 2024

Accounting for all the pluses and minuses in food systems


The economic foundations of today’s food and agricultural systems continue to be dominated by a singular focus on productivity and increased yields.

This has distorted what is valued in assessments of how food is produced, sourced, processed, traded, sold and eaten. Moreover, it has led to the mass production of commodity crops and the proliferation of unsustainable practices — such as clear cutting to expand production, intensive livestock production, environmental contamination through pesticide and fertilizer use, soil degradation and more. The way these practices are pushing up against planetary boundaries and undermining human, animal and ecological health inevitably threatens a business’s bottom line.

There is an imperative for agri-food businesses to course correct, shift to operate from a values-driven proposition and, in doing so, shore up their operations against the looming risks they face.

One immediate way progressive food company leaders are doing this is by applying true cost accounting to their operations: assessing and measuring the negative impacts and positive benefits of their business practices and taking stock of their dependence on ecological and human resources.

True cost accounting approaches do not just look at the usual financial metrics; they also enable organizations to understand the broader human, social and ecological impacts of their food systems activities. By gaining this full picture of impacts, better decisions can be made in the short term and the longevity of businesses can be safeguarded over the long term.

Today, pollution, ecological degradation, diabetes, farmworker exposure to toxins, displacement of Indigenous peoples and more are largely unaccounted for on business balance sheets. At the same time, the positive externalities — carbon sequestration, pollination services, health and wellbeing and vibrant cultural traditions — also go unappreciated. Without a standardized way of capturing these impacts, sustainability efforts are being jeopardized. Read more…

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