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Wake up New Zealand agribusiness, real changes in societal thinking in Europe, North America and Asia is clearly showing that the ordinary consumer really wants to eat sustainably produced food.

Many sustainability requirements, often different and often driven from a retailer’s perceived marketing advantage, may seem outlandish to us, but it is clear the next industrial revolution is coming to the world — the sustainable revolution.

A recent KPMG agribusiness green paper says it is unlikely that there will be anything more than a base commodity market available for a product if we fail to take our customer’s concerns seriously.

The world’s piecemeal approach to sustainability being adopted by businesses comes with a number of significant concerns, including:

• European retailers (in particular) that have, and continue to respond to pressure to increase local sourcing on the grounds of enhancing the sustainability of their supply chains could be having a detrimental environmental and economic effect through their actions. (e.g. the food miles argument doesn’t stack up comparing NZ versus UK production)

• Overseas retailers’ requirements for sustainability are at best based on scientific work undertaken overseas and at worst are based on an initiative that a marketing department believes will play well with consumers. The need for producers, and the wider NZ industry, to have regular and comprehensive dialogue with customers to ensure that they understand our production systems and the science driving them has never been more important. We need to demonstrate the sustainability of our agricultural systems to customers to mitigate the risk of unilateral measures being imposed on our producers, increasing cost without a demonstratable benefit to the environment, and it is important that relevant NZ science is brought into these discussions

• The increasing separation between urban and rural populations means the realities of agricultural production become ever more difficult for townies to accept. Retailer brands are being designed to minimise being linked to the more ‘unsavoury’ aspects of agricultural production in the media. The onus falls on the rural sector to ensure that they are engaging and educating the urban population on where their food comes from to mitigate the impact of incremental compliance requirements

The report says there is likely to be a time when a tipping point is reached which will see the sustainability of a product being given equal weighting to more traditional buying factors.