On Food Day, Are We Asking The Right Question?

"What are we having for dinner?" could very well be the most asked question around the globe this evening.

Celebrating World Food Day this year is an opportunity to look beyond our own table to examine the critical issues of providing food for every living person on the planet every day of the year. Those in the food system typically tackle this problem by figuring how much more grain can be grown on an acre of soil or how much more food can be processed and preserved in an hour.

We're using the wrong equation as a starting point.

Before crunching numbers on food waste or efficiency, the food system must ask if its processes are sustainable and ethically grounded.

The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) has conducted extensive consumer research and found that many people are uncomfortable with modern food production systems and the size and scale of today's farming operations. Our research routinely finds that consumers believe large farms and large food companies are more likely to put their interests ahead of consumer interests.

Why does this perception matter when it comes to reducing food insecurity? Because when a company or an industry segment loses consumer trust, they also lose the social license to operate. This atmosphere further squelches innovation and ultimately erodes the ability to produce healthy, affordable food.

We know innovation and technology help farmers produce more using fewer resources, which is critical in order to feed a growing global population. But, if the public doesn't trust the use of innovation and technology in the food system, producers can say goodbye to their social license.

That's why it's so important to begin a discussion about sustainability by ensuring ethical grounding in all aspects of the food system. In fact, CFI's sustainability model has three parts. Sustainability requires ethical grounding first and foremost, then scientific verification and economic viability. In other words, the food system must first earn trust, which then opens the door to the science. Of course, an entity won't be sustainable if it is not economically viable.

Everyone understands ethics, but understanding how to demonstrate them in a way that builds consumer trust can be challenging. CFI has conducted some of the most extensive research to understand how to build consumer trust and we help our members put it to good use every day. It involves personal engagement, honest dialogue, throwing open the doors of transparency and much more.

Our research and real-life experience guiding our members leave little doubt that this antidote to the erosion of consumer trust in the food system really does work. More and more farmers, processors and retailers are taking important trust-building steps each day. We applaud them for it. After all, to produce enough food to feed the estimated 780 million people who go hungry in the world today, in addition to the growing population, the food system must operate in a manner that earns and maintains trust.

Their social license depends upon it. So everyone can have something for dinner tonight.