• Program 2009-10

Can 'Big Food' Embrace the 'Sustainable Agriculture' Movement


December 08, 2009


6-8 pm


RiskMetrics Group, One Chase Manhattan Plaza, 44th Fl.,
New York, NY

Capital-intensive and chemical-intensive agricultural methods have been widely adopted by Big Food companies because of their ability to increase production as well as profits. The long-term economic and environmental sustainability of conventional large-scale agriculture, however, is increasingly being called into question. A counter trend of community-based local food production, including growing demand for local and organic products, rising number of farmers markets, CSAs and urban agriculture initiatives has taken hold around the country in recent years. The Obama administration has helped extend growing public interest for fresh, local and sustainably grown food through official appointments at the Department of Agriculture and the unofficial cultural cache of a White House organic garden. This 'civic agriculture' movement, however, focuses on small farmers and food producers but neglects the role that global agribusinesses, food manufacturers and retailers must inevitably play in feeding the world's growing population.

How can we reconcile the innovation and progress made on a small scale in local communities with the necessity of large-scale farming and distribution? Is it possible or desirable for Big Food companies to circulate resources at the local level and replicate community-based models when catering to national and international markets?What would spur corporations to provide incentives to farmers to improve sustainable crop production methods? Efforts to develop voluntary national 'Sustainable Agriculture' standards are currently underway; is developing a "sustainable agriculture" label even a good idea for Big Food?


Linda-Eling Lee, Sustainability Research, RiskMetrics Group


Michael Doane, Agricultural Economics and Sustainability, Monsanto; Ani Gulati, Assistant General Counsel and Sustainability, General Mills; Chip Jones, SVP Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Dean Foods; Jake Baker, Climate Change Investment Research, Deutsche Bank; Tensie Whelan, President, Rainforest Alliance; Josh Viertel, President, Slow Food USA