Our present system of food production and distribution is built on a range of practices that are unsustainable as we near the tipping points of climate change, ecosystem collapse, and rising obesity levels. It privileges these unsustainable practices by redistributing the costs of their damaging impacts from the private sector to the public sector. Moving towards a more globally sustainable food system is critical. In sustainable food circles, there’s a new concept that is becoming increasingly important when discussing these issues: The True Cost Accounting. It’s the idea that we need to start accounting for all these additional costs associated with food production and farming that we don’t pay for when we buy our food.
Our organization, the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), a UK based charity, is promoting the need for a widespread discussion related to this concept. We are working to catalyze this transition to more sustainable food and farming systems. On December 6th, we will be hosting our first international conference at the Royal Geographic Society in London, on the topic of True Cost Accounting in Food and Farming.
Our industrial food system is dining out on the earth’s finite resources, damaging planetary ecosystems, and impacting public health. We need to start evaluating the real cost of our food, giving a monetary value to all the costs embedded in it. True cost accounting seeks to make this real cost visible by putting a value on the natural “capital” that our food system uses and abuses and the poor health it generates from processed foods.
The SFT conference will foreground significant research on the subject, debate its methods, and outline policy shifts needed to create a more equitable economic environment for sustainable food practice.
The roster of eminent speakers include: Mike Clark, chief executive of the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of the Birds); Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank; Dr. Pavan Sukhdev, McLuskey Fellow, Yale University; and BBC Radio 4’s John Humphrys, who will discuss the development of a new economic model for a sustainable future.
Patrick Holden, chief executive of the SFT and former director of the eminent UK based organic charity, The Soil Association, who will be in attendance at the meeting urges others to come and said, “Urgent change is needed to create a fairer economic environment, redirecting existing support to encourage resilient, food-secure systems of production.”
It is important to push for changes in our food system that will prevent prices rising as much as they might otherwise do if we leave them to the mercy of climate change and the rising cost of fossil fuels. Ensuring our food systems are sustainable could help mitigate the rising cost of food by localizing food production, encouraging regional diets, and eliminating the onerous cost of fossil fuel based fertilizers and GMO pesticides and herbicides that many industrial farmers are dependent upon.
It is critically important that widespread public awareness of the urgent need for true cost accounting is achieved. The era of cheap food is ending and the door to a more sustainable future is opening as a result.
This is one of the most important debates of our time.
For more information about the conference and the Sustainable Food Trust, go here.