Consumers look for the sustainable label

Oct 27, 2010

Responding to consumer demand, grocery retailers are pushing growers to practice "sustainable farming," according to a feature in the Fresno Bee.

"This is not an issue that is going away, and it's one that more retailers will likely adopt," the story quoted Gail Feenstra, food systems coordinator with the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program at UC Davis. "It is best that farmers get out ahead of the game to the extent that they can."

Examples of sustainable marketing include:

  • Walmart's Oct. 14 announcement that it will train 1 million farmers and workers worldwide on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices

  • Sysco's online assertion that it offers products that come from suppliers that take care of the land

  • Del Monte Foods' formalization of its environmental goals in three key areas - waste, greenhouse gas emissions and water

Feenstra said climate change and high energy costs have caused retailers to take a harder look at how they do business, including their supply chain.

"The sustainability of their own operations relies on them getting products from farmers," Feenstra said. "And that isn't going to happen if the soil and air are contaminated."

Reporter Robert Rodriguez described the process undertaken by West Side farmer John Deiner to grow "certified sustainable" products. The farm is audited once a year by a non-profit certification group. Inspectors verify Diener's farming practices and assign points for using water-saving irrigation equipment, applying fewer pesticides and providing his 20 employees with health insurance and a retirement plan.

"You could say that you don't want to go through something like this," Diener was quoted in the article. "But then who will you sell to? In some cases, we don't have a choice."

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist