January 14th 2016, Berlin/Waddinxveen – At a crowded Green Week in Berlin, the international organic umbrella organisation IFOAM and organic food distributor Nature & More jointly introduced the True Cost of Food initiative. It promotes the idea that food prices should reflect the true cost of food, including hidden environmental and social costs. Consumers have a right to be informed. While international policymakers are still discovering the promise of full cost accounting and writing reports, Nature & More will take True Cost to the market. The True Cost of Food transparency initiative shows consumers the true cost of organic vs conventional products. Berlin-based retailer BioCompany was selected as launching partner.
Food has never been cheaper. Still, each food item brings ecological and social costs with it that are unaccounted for. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the hidden costs of conventionally produced food amount to 2100 billion USD in environmental damage and 2700 billion USD in social costs; together 4.8 trillion USD*. If prices of food products were to reflect the true costs, organic products would be significantly cheaper than conventional products. That is the main message of the True Cost of Food campaign that Nature & More has launched at a press conference at Green Week in Berlin today. Nature & More is geared up to provide consumers with true cost information at point of sale for products such as grapes, pears, and pineapples.
The True Cost of Food campaign was started as a joint effort together with the FAO, who recently published a groundbreaking full cost accounting study. The campaign enjoys the support of IFOAM and Stiftung Ökologie und Landwirtschaft. At the launch, former German minister of agriculture and Green politician Renate Künast stated that the externalisation of environmental and social costs is a subject that has been on the international food agenda for decades now. “Enough talking now,” she said. “Making these costs transparent at point of sale is a revolutionary step and a food revolution is just what we need.”
Volkert Engelsman, CEO and founder of Nature & More/Eosta, is the initiator of the campaign. In 2015 he successfully led the international Save Our Soils campaign that raised awareness about the dangers of worldwide soil degradation and the urgent need to shift to soil-conserving agricultural methods. Two hundred NGOs and VIPs – including the Dalai Lama and Julia Roberts – lent their support. Engelsman explained why the soil campaign needed to develop into a True Cost campaign: “We wanted to put a monetary value to soil degradation and compare organic products with conventional products. While we were working on that, FAO along with scientists published new models to calculate other externalised costs of food production including water pollution, loss of biodiversity, climate change and the impact on health and livelihoods. So we decided to go the full monty.”
Volkert Engelsman continued: “If you look at the numbers, it becomes crystal clear that conventionally produced food should be considerably more expensive than organic food. We can now show how big the difference really is. What are the environmental and social costs that we are pushing on to our children, grandchildren, and nature? To make this transparent, we developed a communication tool, the True Cost Flower of Nature & More. This allows the consumer to see it at a glance.”
During the press conference, Markus Arbenz, director of co-host IFOAM, stressed the need for internalising costs: “Our government now has to purify drinking water contaminated with nitrates, farmers become impoverished, the animals reared for meat consumption suffer, and many species are driven to extinction. Nobody wants that to happen, but it keeps happening. The only way to solve the deadlock is to let the polluter bear the costs instead of putting the burden on taxpayers, farmers, future generations, or the environment.”
Felix Prinz zu Löwenstein, president of the German Association of Ecologic Agriculture BÖLW, added: “The transformation has already begun. Organic farmers, organic food processors and retailers show, together with consumers, where the future of sustainable food production lies. However this will only work across the board if the prices of our food products actually convey the truth.”
BioCompany is the first grocery retail chain to take the message into stores. CEO Georg Kaiser said: “We are thrilled to be the first food store in the whole of Germany to communicate the real costs of food. The first results confirm the choice we have made: organic is the way to go.”
About Nature & More: Nature & More is the consumer trademark of Eosta, a leading European distributor of organic fresh fruits and vegetables. Its “trace & tell” system allows consumers to track the origin of products back to the producer and has received multiple sustainability awards. More information: www.natureandmore.com and www.eosta.com.
* We have previously erroneously communicated the lower number of 1.6 trillion USD, based on an FAO report from 2014; but that is the number for wasted food only; the number for the total food production is actually estimated to be three times larger.