Execs: Unity needed to achieve sustainability goals | TheFencePost.com

Execs: Unity needed to achieve sustainability goals

-The Hagstrom Report

From left, Jim Barham of the USDA Rural Development Innovation Center, Brad Figel of Mars Incorporated, Chris Adamo of Danone North America and Brandy Brooks of Progressive Maryland.

Corporations that want to make a difference in sustainability and community activists need to work together if they are going to achieve their goals, two key executives whose companies are part of the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance said at the recent Chesapeake Food Summit.

Too often "policy advocates are in corners," said Chris Adamo of Danone North America, which has joined with Mars Inc., Nestlé USA; and Unilever United States to form the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, an organization that says it is focused on "driving progress in public policies that shape what people eat and how it impacts their health, communities, and the planet."

"We are looking to bring cross-cutting sectors together, we are looking to work with all of you," Adamo said to an audience of activists, farmers and restaurant owners brought together to discuss the food sector in the Chesapeake region.

"A big role will be convening and sitting down and listening," Adamo added.

Brad Figel of Mars. Inc. said that "until 2016 it was a really fun time to be in the industry," with the Obama administration in power and the Food and Drug Administration "foot forward" on progressive food policies.

But Figel said the four companies that formed the alliance "found ourselves lobbying against others in the food industry that were against us" — a veiled reference to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which has been plagued by differences among member companies in recent years and the loss of members.

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"This alliance is being formed so we can drive issues that are critical to us," Figel said.

Neither Adamo nor Figel talked about specific policies, but the alliance has focused so far on conservation programs in the farm bill, consumer transparency, food safety, nutrition and diversity.

Sharing the stage with Adamo and Figel were Jim Barham of the USDA Rural Development Innovation Center and Brandy Brooks of Progressive Maryland.

Barham noted that USDA is sponsoring more than 400 food hubs that help 25,000 farmers with their marketing and distribution, and he urged the attendees to think about connections at the regional level.

"Instead of the economics of scale, let's talk about the economics of collaboration," he said, to build "a robust, resilient food system that is decentralized but well coordinated."

Brooks, an organizer working on community systems in Boston and in the Chesapeake region (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) said she grew up in a middle-class family that was part of the Great Migration north.

Brooks said she never saw a fresh collard green growing until she was 30, even though she ate them her whole life. For people who have moved, she said, "there has been displacement from the food culture."

If a food system is not centered on restoration and reparations, "then we will not build a food system that is just. A food system has to be centered on dignity, equality and sovereignty."