In the climate debate over food, everyone seemed to want to take on some responsibility, but no one seemed really ambitious. The consumer must continue to be able to choose.
Professor and fact-checker Eric Mathijs immediately opened the discussion with a new account. Traditionally, food has been estimated to account for 10 percent of Belgium’s greenhouse gas emissions. But Mathijs says that’s an underestimate. Emissions from packaging such as cans are also included. This way he gets twice what he gets: food is responsible for 20% of emissions. It only increases the responsibility of the food sector.
Hendrik Vandamy, chairman of Algemeen Boerensyndicate, an organization previously on a collision course with the environmental movement, was the most disarmed. “As a sector, we have to look carefully at how we are progressing, so as not to lose the support of the community.” He hopes to become more sustainable in many areas. During the Corona crisis, we have learned once again the importance of local food. We need to focus more on that, at fair prices. Retail chains will have to stop the price battle of basic foodstuffs. He made a clear reference to Stefan Gotthart, the managing director of Colruyt Group, who was sitting next to him. He replied that although Colruyt is in line with competitors’ lower prices, it gives farmers a fixed, long-term price. Van Damme was also vigilant about the precarious financial situation of agricultural companies.
Guthart listed all the actions Colruyt takes, but the group clearly does not want to offend its customers. Colruyt has grown thanks to our lowest price guarantee. We stick to that, even when it comes to meat. Colruyt fundamentally believes in enticing customers and informing them about sustainability. We will continue to sell meat, but there will be more meat alternatives. We have also recently introduced an ecoscore for each product. Building on the success of Nutriscore promoting healthy food products, we believe this will lead to more sustainable consumption.
Cleansing palm oil
Deborah van der Zee, Vice President of Foods Benelux Unilever, sounded a little more realistic. “Climate change also threatens the food industry and therefore also our company. After all, we depend on agricultural crops. Moreover, the world population will grow to 10 billion people in 2050 and they will all have to eat. As van der Zee recounted some Commitments Unilever is now the world’s largest consumer of palm oil, and this is controversial. By 2023, the multinational will no longer want to extract palm oil on farms that have recently been deforested. At the moment, this already applies to 90 percent of production. Responding to criticism from NGOs that Unilever is not very committed to its commitments: “We will also be able to prove it.” By 2030, all of our production sites should be, and by 2039, the entire chain should be climate neutral. This goes from the farms to the refrigerator we sell ice cream in. Van der Zee also emphasized the importance of eating less meat. We want to offer a greater selection of vegetables as an alternative to meat. More vegetables are good for health, but also for farmers’ soil.
Jos Claeys, CEO of the Belgian Pork Group – 3.8 million pigs slaughtered annually – introduced the hottest figures in the debate. “The pig is the thrift animal par excellence” and “I don’t know a single pig that has eaten soy before. They eat soybean meal, which is waste. Although Claeys is also partly involved in the sustainability story. His company also produces meat substitutes and wants to grow in them. Want to To make its slaughterhouses climate neutral. On the other hand, it adheres to the highly criticized export model of shipping pigs from Flanders to Asia. We export parts of pigs we don’t like here. This is transported in containers that would otherwise return to Asia empty.
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