Mindset change needed to tackle food security

The food industry needs to move away from a short-term mentality if it is to tackle issues surrounding food security, an industry leader has warned.

Speaking at the City Food Lecture this week, Paul Polson, MD of Unilever, told the audience his company had stopped announcing quarterly results and was telling investors looking for short-term gains to look elsewhere. “We have made it clear to investors that if they are looking to make a quick return, then maybe Unilever is not the best place to put their money. If, however, they are investing for the future and are prepared to stay with us over the long term, then we will deliver for them good, predictable and sustainable returns.”

In the lecture, entitled Food Security in a Changing Climate, Polson said Unilever was aiming to fully decouple its business growth from its impact on the environment.

He said: “There is plenty of evidence that agriculture is contributing to the climate change problem. Eighteen per cent of greenhouse gases come from the meat and dairy sector.”

He proposed a number of points to help address climate change and food security issues, including the widespread adoption of sustainable farming, ending market-distorting subsidies, greater government investment in agriculture and global free trade.

He criticised the subsidy system, particularly in relation to biofuels, which saw businesses encouraged to divert food crops away from consumption and into fuel production
He said for the food industry to deliver food security without destroying the planet,  big companies like Unilever needed to develop “new business models”.

• The City Food Lecture is an annual event organised by the seven City Livery Companies whose roots are in the food industry – Worshipful Companies of Butchers, Bakers, Cooks, Farmers, Fishmongers, Fruiterers and Poulters.