True cost accounting in food and farming

Guest post by Ellie Dowding of Sustainable Food Trust

There is a new concept gaining momentum in sustainable food circles – ‘True Cost Accounting’. Our current industrial food system is not accounting for the ‘natural capital’ that our food system uses and abuses and the poor health it generates from processed foods. We need to start accounting for all the costs associated with food production that we don’t pay for when we buy our food.

For example, the cost of cleaning pesticides, nitrates and other agricultural residues out of our drinking water is part of what would be included in a true cost accounting of industrial food production. This cost is borne by citizens when they pay their water bill; that payment subsidizes the production of the crops on which these chemicals are used. The cost of cleaning the water is not paid by the farmer or food producer, so that food is cheaper than it would be if the farmer or food producer had to pay for the pollution they generate.

By taking on board these costs on behalf of the farmer, we make it more economically viable to farm unsustainably. By accounting for the true cost of the externalities of our current industrialized food system, we begin to create the space for sustainable food and farming practices to fairly compete and grow, and this way we will create sustainability for life.

But why do we as consumers need to understand the true cost of food? We’ve all become accustomed to paying less for our food. The cost of food has become a smaller and smaller portion of the household budget. However, the era of cheap food is ending. With pressure on food production increasing against a backdrop of climate change and the rising cost of fossil fuels it is important to push for changes in our food system that will prevent prices rising as much as they might otherwise do. Philip Clarke, the CEO of Tesco admitted recently that the coast of food is rising, the UN has predicted a 40% rise in the cost of food over the next decade.

Ensuring our food systems are sustainable could help mitigate rising costs by localizing food production, encouraging regional diets, and eliminating the onerous cost of fossil fuel based fertilizers and GM pesticides and herbicides that many industrial farmers are dependent upon.

This topic will be the focal point for the Sustainable Food Trust’s first public conference at the Royal Geographic society on Friday, December 6th, 2013.

There is an urgent need to create a broad public awareness around the critical importance of this conversation. The event brings together an impressive rosta of speakers including Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of FoodTank; Dr Pavan Sukhdev, McLuskey Fellow, Yale University; and Radio 4’s John Humphrys to discuss the economic, environmental and policy developments needed for a sustainable future.

The Sustainable Food Trust:

True Cost Accounting Conference details:

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  • bunklehat

    I hope you are not really intending to roast the speakers.

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