On Thursday 26 January a National Food Summit on healthy and sustainable food took place in The Hague, Netherlands, with the four Dutch ministers of Environment, Health, Economy and Agriculture attending. The renowned food journalist Mac van Dinther took a critical stand in the Volkskrant newspaper, referring to it as a ‘pre-arranged programme’ in which ‘main issues were avoided’. According to Van Dinther, the only one who ‘dug in his heels’ was Volkert Engelsman of the organic company Eosta / Nature & More.
During the summit, Volkert Engelsman, Managing Director of Eosta, an international distributor of fresh fruit and vegetables, argued strongly in favour of fair pricing in which the social and ecological costs of food are not transferred to future generations and the environment. ‘This summit has a wonderful ambition, but lacks the means to achieve the ambition. We can make progress only if we start accounting in an honest manner and redefine the revenue model’, according to Engelsman in The Hague.
An integrated approach
Afterwards, the founder of Eosta clarified as follows: ‘It is highly noteworthy that the Food Summit seeks an integrated view on food. Agriculture used to be considered a problem of Wageningen University, health as a problem of the medical establishment and sustainability as an issue for conservationists. Today everyone agrees unanimously that food plays a central role, and we acknowledge that farmers provide social services in the area of health, water quality, biodiversity, soil management, etc. But still society judges them by the kilos per hectare.’
Protein transition approach is lacking
‘The summit expressed a wonderful ambition for the protein transition, which really means that we choose fruit and vegetables. But if you fail to indicate how you plan to realise this, the entire idea constitutes a toothless tiger. The major Dutch supermarkets Jumbo and Albert Heijn have sold even more meat at bottom prices last year than the year before, and it was already clear then that meat is bad for the environment and health. A tax on meat would be a logical instrument, and the fact that Minister Van Dam has taken the meat tax off the agenda after the very first protest from the meat industry does not give off a strong signal.’
Affordability is deceptive
According to Engelsman, sustainable ambitions have no chance of succeeding as long as calculation takes place in an incorrect manner: ‘People keep saying that food has to remain affordable. If you go to the supermarket, you see heaps of affordable food, mainly heavily processed products containing large amounts of sugar, soy bean oil and palm oil in order to increase margins. This means that high external costs are hidden behind these products. And yet they are more affordable than fresh fruit and vegetables, so something is clearly wrong.’
True Cost Accounting
The externalisation of costs has to stop, says Engelsman: ‘If you refuse to establish tax regulations with breaks and penalties in order to create a fair playing field, you have to at least start calculating in a fair manner.’ The entrepreneur considers True Cost Accounting as an important solution. ‘Main accountants such as EY, KPMG and PWC, the National Capital Coalition, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the FAO, VNO/NCW (Dutch national employers’ association), EA are all involved in this. Where were they?
Nature & More is the ‘trace & tell’ brand for organic fruit and vegetables of Eosta, international distributor of fresh fruit and vegetables, established in Waddinxveen. Also refer to www.natureandmore.nl and www.eosta.nl.
Information, images and requests for interviews: Michaël Wilde, Communications and Sustainability Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, T +31 (0)180-635563, M 06-20535063.