Food Industry Social Responsibility: Real?

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Food corporations are pushing corporate social responsibility (CSR) as hard as they can. This seems like an oxymoron to me, but here's what they say:

CSR #1: Nestlé (no relation to me) says it is creating shared value by "optimizing water use and productivity" in Italy.

In the Piacenza and Parma region of Italy, in recent years, water has become scarcer, especially during the summer. Nestlé Italia decided to engage more closely with its tomato suppliers, to secure its supply of tomatoes and significantly reduce the amount of fresh water used for irrigation.

The three-year project with Consorzio Interregionale Ortofrutticoli, a cooperative of tomato farmers, aims to maximise tomato production and optimise irrigation in 10 pilot farms with differing soil conditions, by using solar-powered CropSense Soil Moisture Monitoring technology. Data at root level is collected daily and used to provide the exact amount of water needed to optimise crop revenue and water use.

Data collection will continue into 2011, and additional farmers are already keen to join the project based on the initial results: yields have nearly doubled, the tomato quality (sugar content) increased by 15% and the water used to produce one tonne of tomatoes fell by 45%.

    • Watch Nestlé's film: "Optimising water use and productivity, Italy."

    • Read more in Nestlé's report, "Creating Shared Value."

Anti-CSR: For an antidote, try Corporate Accountability International's campaign called "Think Outside the Bottle," and watch Annie Leonard's video, "The Story of Bottled Water."

CSR #2: FoodNavigator has a new collection of commentaries on CSR. Here's a sample:

"Food industry well-respected for CSR efforts"
The food industry is one of the most well-respected industries in terms of social responsibility, according to a new survey from research-based consultancy Penn Schoen Berland.

"Top line responsibility messages from manufacturers"
Corporate responsibility is now accepted as a major part of doing business, even when the economic climate is less than ideal. FoodNavigator.com rounds up the main messages of some of the world's biggest food and beverage companies.

"The ethical approach to research"
Science is fundamental to the food industry, from supporting claims in the health and wellness sphere to tasting panels to evaluate a new product, but scientists can never forget the ethical implications of their experiments.

"Unilever comes out top in corporate responsibility rating"
A new ranking of major food and beverage companies by their corporate social responsibility is published today, with Unilever, Nestle and Danone occupying the top three spots.

"Developing a sustainable food industry: The what, why and how"
Developing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy offers huge scope for innovation and revenue-building—but there is no one-size-fits-all approach, according to a US supply chain management professor.

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Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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