JAN 11, 2018 6:14 PM PST

From the farm to your fridge

Do you believe your grocery stores when the products they’re selling say “organic” or “sustainable”? And whether you believe them or not, are companies who say that they’re committed to improving sustainability in their food chains actually credible? A new study published in Global Environmental Change aimed to answer this question. The researchers, coming from Stanford, focused on the agricultural supply chain of Woolworths Holding Ltd. (Woolworths), one of the five largest supermarket chains in South Africa as a case study.

"If indeed these company-led policies are effective and able to transform their entire supply chains, then they can potentially transform land-use practices worldwide and have a very positive impact on the environment," said study co-author Eric Lambin, the George and Setsuko Ishiyama Provostial Professor in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth). "Having this kind of evaluation done by independent researchers increases the confidence of the public in these private programs."

The team found that Woolworths Farming for the Future program stimulated farmers to practice more environmentally-friendly methods on farms. Considering that agriculture is one of the more heinous of the pollution systems out there, that’s a big deal. But of course, the researchers were committed to dive deeper into the whole picture and find out if these touted sustainability efforts were real or just superficial “greenwashing”.

Have you ever thought about how your food gets to you? Photo: Pinterest

Author Tannis Thorlakson conducted over 90 interviews with auditors and farmers working in Woolworths Farming for the Future program throughout October of 2016. According to Thorlakson, these interviews largely showed the value that farmers place on long-term partnerships with their buyers.

Farms in this program are evaluated annually on different criteria such as soil management, water use, biodiversity, waste disposal, pest management, carbon footprint and environmental laws. The program has seen that the practice of using auditors (trained scientists) who visit the farmers every year with the intention of tailoring feedback to the individual’s needs is paying off.

"The auditors are building relationships and helping farmers improve their practices," Thorlakson said. "For example, conventional farmers are now using cover crops, which is a really hard practice to get farmers to take up but which creates long-term environmental benefits. We're seeing big shifts in farming practices, which is really exciting."

From these in-depth investigations, the researcher team determined that Woolworths' large-scale fruit, vegetable, and flower growers use more environmental management practices than your average GLOBALG.A.P. certified farm (GLOBALG.A.P. is the food industry's global environmental standard for farm management). The researchers hope that this study will motivate other companies to improve their environmental standards and commitment to helping the farmers in their food supply chains.

Sources: Science Daily, Global Environmental Change

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
SEP 01, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Coral reefs diagnosed with osteoporosis
SEP 01, 2020
Coral reefs diagnosed with osteoporosis
New research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters contemplates the impact that ocean acidification ...
SEP 18, 2020
Earth & The Environment
What does 0.5°C more mean?
SEP 18, 2020
What does 0.5°C more mean?
What is 0.5°C warmer anyway? It doesn’t sound like that much…right? Wrong. When the United Nations Fram ...
OCT 09, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Plastic-Eating Cocktail Could Help Establish Infinite Recycling
OCT 09, 2020
Plastic-Eating Cocktail Could Help Establish Infinite Recycling
There's no doubt that the current recycling system isn't efficient enough in handling the plastic wastes our soc ...
OCT 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Using AI to map carbon storage in isolated trees
OCT 16, 2020
Using AI to map carbon storage in isolated trees
Mapping over 1.8 billion trees takes time. But with the help of supercomputers and machine learning algorithms, a team o ...
OCT 20, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Why the Weddell Sea is warming five times faster than the rest of the ocean
OCT 20, 2020
Why the Weddell Sea is warming five times faster than the rest of the ocean
New research published in the Journal of Climate finds that the Weddell Sea in Antarctica is warming five times fas ...
OCT 27, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Bird abundance falling in remote parts of the Amazon
OCT 27, 2020
Bird abundance falling in remote parts of the Amazon
A new study published in Ecology Letters has documented a consistent fall in biodiversity in the Amazon. The scient ...
Loading Comments...