Building Sustainable Food Systems: A Role for Investors

Evidence is mounting that the world’s food systems are under immense stress. The global population is set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050. Competition for land from biofuel production and urban development as well as the environmental impacts of climate change, droughts and soil depletion has placed greater pressure on agricultural production. Efforts to increase agricultural productivity through approaches such as monocropping and technologies such as genetic modification have been associated with potential negative ecological impacts. These include biodiversity loss, soil depletion and in some cases increased application of pesticides leading to water contamination and the weakening of beneficial species such as pollinators.

At the same time, rural communities, farmers and farm workers are struggling to sustain their livelihoods, to protect their land and fishing rights and to improve working conditions. Alongside these challenges, we are seeing unprecedented rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which have been linked to consumption of foods and beverages high in fat, sugar and sodium. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, climate change, chronic disease and food shortages are among the top risks facing the world economy.

A new report to be released by SHARE on Thursday, October 16th on the occasion of World Food Day is drawing attention to these environmental and social challenges and considers the associated risks and opportunities for Canadian investors. The report, Building Sustainable Food Systems in Canada: A Role for Investors, outlines the negative impacts that corporate activities across the food value chain can have on food system sustainability. It also identifies ways that investors can be catalysts in improving corporate policies and practices through shareholder engagement.

“Our research suggests that Canadian institutional investors have an enormous opportunity to engage with food companies, particularly those at the ’top’ of the food value chain,” says Shannon Rohan, author of the report and SHARE’s Director of Responsible Investment.  “By incorporating standards into purchasing and supply chain management practices and by making public commitments to product transparency and healthier food product choices, retailers and food product manufacturers can contribute to greater food system sustainability. For shareholders, greater sustainability means more reliable long-term returns and lower risks.”

Meritas SRI Funds is already taking steps to address food issues and, with support from SHARE, is engaging with Canadian food companies on their approach to genetically modified organisms in the food products that they manufacture and retail, including each company’s approach to ingredient traceability, reduction and/or elimination of GMO ingredients and labelling of food products containing GMOs.

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