Sustainable eating and supply chains: a way out of labelling chaos

Nutrition has become an individual and collective battlefield, one on which social and interpersonal clashes often intensify. The subject of what we eat is rendered controversial by the ethical and practical implications of the processes that bring food to our tables. The debate we are most familiar with is probably that between vegans and omnivores or vegetarians and carnivores, which is then further divided into a myriad of minor areas of conflict. Then there is the whole issue of sustainable supply chains for plant-based products. Is it ethical to eat quinoa in Europe? Is it sustainable to buy fruit that is not in season? In the 2022 edition of GECO Expo, we have added a special section on Eco food, in order to explore the issues behind sustainable eating. Why is it so difficult to eat without harming our planet?

Craving sustainability: sustainable food is a priority for consumers

Although the continued success of fast-food chains may suggest otherwise, the share of consumers who are interested in making ethical and sustainable food choices is on the rise. The question is often what constitutes sustainable food. Of course, we can all say that daily consumption of red meat from intensive farming, or of vegetables that have had to cross continents to land, individually wrapped in plastic, on our tables, are hardly sustainable choices, but the issue is much more complex than that. In order to make conscious decisions, we need to have as broad and clear a picture as possible of the environmental impact of our food. On the one hand, this requires access to correct information and food education - in schools if possible - and on the other hand, it calls for ethical and transparent food supply chains that the public can trust.

What are the main obstacles to sustainable eating?

Many factors still stand between us and a truly eco-friendly diet. Responsibility in this field cannot be shifted entirely to the individual, as the food chain is a huge and complex system that still has considerable grey areas. For instance, information on whether or not food is sustainable is not always clear and readily available, while products that make sustainability their trademark are not always accessible to all consumers due to distribution issues or prices. It must also be said that the very parameters of sustainability of food chains are far from unambiguous and different sources refer to different standards. How can the non-expert consumer find their way through a jungle of conflicting information?

Possible solutions for a sustainable food supply chain

Per risolvere un problema sistemico, ovviamente, occorrono interventi sistemici. Per esempio, adottare sistemi di etichettatura coerenti a livello globale, con informazioni certificate sull'impatto ambientale dei prodotti potrebbe essere un ottimo inizio. D'altra parte, la necessità di etichettare tutti i prodotti in modo che se ne possa conoscere il contenuto non è certo una novità nella grande e piccola distribuzione ed è pensabile, a livello nazionale e internazionale, introdurre requisiti simili sulla sostenibilità. Al momento, sono in corso alcuni tentativi di definire i parametri di un'etichettatura di questo genere. Alcuni di questi prevedono un'analisi dell'intera filiera di ogni prodotto tenendo in considerazione quattro principali parametri: emissioni di CO2, consumo di acqua, contaminazione delle acque e biodiversità. Partire da un inquadramento di questo tipo potrebbe fornire un quadro chiaro, da far confluire in un punteggio in base al quale i consumatori possano valutare la sostenibilità di ogni prodotto. Oltre a questo, sarebbe auspicabile rendere facilmente disponibili per tutti i consumatori interessati le fonti che permettano di valutare in generale il comportamento delle aziende e le implicazioni della produzione degli alimenti che consumano.

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Published on 16-12-2021

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