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Risk of goal conflicts when the food industry switches to increased sustainability

There is a strong commitment to a sustainable food system. But the road to the goal is not straight. Focusing solely on making one's climate impact as small as possible risks having a negative effect on other important environmental goals. This is how you as a food operator can make the choices that suit your business best. 

How we produce and consume food affects all three dimensions that are necessary for sustainable development: environmental, social and economic. A transformation of the food system is a prerequisite for achieving the UN's global sustainability goals, the national environmental goals and the public health goals.  

The above is the conclusion of Dag Sjöholm, Research and Business Developer at RISE. According to him, there are two clear goal conflicts when it comes to the transition that are important to relate to. The first concerns the production of food: 

"More and more agricultural and food actors are making a real effort to reduce their climate impact. If it is to succeed fully, for example by harvesting more, to get more food out of each square meter, it is unfortunately in conflict with biodiversity and the protection of nature,” says Ulf Sonesson. 

Different crops are grown together 

"In the longer term, the conflict may not be as clear. But in that case, it requires us to develop production methods that create a much greater variety in the agricultural landscape, for example by growing different crops together in the same field. In order for this to be possible, we need to learn more about how the development of different crops can be predicted and controlled. 

The other major conflict of objectives concerns us consumers and is between the range of food in the stores and what we feel good about eating.” 

"Globally, increased prosperity has initially contributed to us eating better when hunger is fought. But quite quickly, an increase in prosperity means that the diet deteriorates. More fast food, sugar and fat. The second trend is the vegetarian and vegan diet. It is climate-efficient, but requires more knowledge from the consumer to provide all the nutrition you need. 

It is possible to build the food system of the future on today's knowledge

Reduced amount of chemical pesticides 

A food operator wanting to avoid the blind spots can use RISE's guidance. The first step, according to Ulf Sonesson, can be to acquire enough knowledge to decide whether it is conventional or organic farming that you should invest in. For example, for cereal cultivation, conventional agriculture provides better performance for many environmental aspects compared to organic farming. 

"It is possible to develop cereal cultivation in a more ecosystem-friendly direction by reducing the use of chemical pesticides with the help of sensors, AI and precision agriculture. By providing a small shower exactly where a weed is located instead of spraying an entire surface, the use of pesticides can be reduced by up to 90 percent. 

Replacing today's bigmachines with several small autonomous vehicles can in the future lead to a more varied agricultural landscape at the same time as profitability can increase,” Ulf Sonesson believes.

The result: Projects that create economic drivers to transition 

To take into account all aspects, RISE maintains interdisciplinary approaches. The result is projects that create economic drivers for sustainability. Sonesson exemplifies with a project that aims to reduce a major player's climate impact in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. RISE contributes with life cycle analyses and other calculation data to quantify the actor's future production system. In the next step, a product and concept development is done to create added value that consumers want to pay for. 

"I usually say that we are a guide in the transition jungle. It is possible to build the food system of the future on today's knowledge.” But we must learn to use the knowledge smarter. Here, parts of the meat and dairy industry are forerunners. Many companies in that sector today see the transition as a business opportunity. 

Ulf Sonesson

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Ulf Sonesson


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