Cette synthèse constitue un compte rendu des interventions lors de la conférence « Relever le défi du développement durable dans le secteur agroalimentaire : perspectives françaises et néo-zélandaises » organisée par l’ambassade de Nouvelle-Zélande et l’Iddri à l’hôtel Le Royal Monceau à Paris, le 12 octobre 2011.

Article :

Sustainability concerns all human activities including our agri-food sector. The sustainability of our agri-food sector is determined by the way we produce and consume our food, and all the steps in between. This sector is facing increasing challenges to deliver healthy and secure diets while mini- mising its environmental impact (be it locally through water pollution or biodiversity loss or globally through greenhouse gas emissions).

In October 2011, IDDRI and the New Zealand Embassy in Paris joint- ly organised a seminar on how the agri-food sector is rising to the sustainability challenge. The seminar brought together experts from academia, government, civil society, agricultural production, agro-in- dustries and retailers to share both New Zealand and French perspec- tives and discuss joint collaboration at company and industry levels. Discussion centred on whether current approaches to develop con- sumer awareness and responsibility schemes are sufficient for ad- dressing sustainability challenges, what scope there is for environ- mental efficiency improvement within existing supply chains, and whether there are also different, more sustainable business models to explore. This paper summarises this discussion and identifies avenues for future discussion and research.


There is a growing consensus on the need to think beyond agricul- tural production and to embrace a more systemic view, bringing together all actors along product supply chains. Rosemary Banks, New Zealand Ambassador to France, noted that sustainability is a challenge for us all and stressed the need to work on it together. Laurence Tubiana, Director of IDDRI, responded that this call for a collective effort is warranted because contrary to the Green Revolution of the 20th century, whose drivers were located upstream from production with inputs suppliers playing a key role, the current sustainable revolution is increasingly driven by downstream actors: agro- industries, retailers and consumers who influence production methods. In order to foster important changes to our food systems, we will need to bring all these actors on board.

Until recently, negotiations along supply chains were effectively reduced to purchasing negotia- tions, in which buyers’ main concerns were to re- duce costs. According to Olivier Jan, Executive Di- rector of BioIS, sustainable development schemes, and particularly approaches aimed at a better knowledge of the environmental impacts all along the supply chain, have succeeded in bringing to the table actors from the whole supply chain, and a change in the way they interact, moving from an opposition between buyer and suppliers to a coor- dinated and collaborative effort to provide a better end-product. This has resulted in a better under- standing of their respective roles and constraints. Similarly, former opposition between competing producers is moving to pre-competitive cooperation where it was determined that it was better to pool together efforts, for example, to measure the environmental impact of lamb production, rather than engaging in PR battles on which of lamb pro- duction models and origin is more environmentally friendly, a battle that could harm the whole industry. Beef + Lamb New Zealand, Interbev Ovins and Institut de l’Elevage presented joint research to develop a common GHG footprinting meth- odology for lamb production. Benefits include a reduced cost of research, expanded reach and the ability to measure and monitor the environmental performance of their industries.

It was acknowledged that there is room for im- provement of sustainability in all production sys- tems and that this improvement can go hand in hand with improvement in productivity. A more efficient supply chain, with less energy or waste is not only good for productivity; it also enhances resource efficiency and reduces the environmental impact of the production. For example, improve- ments in productivity through the maximisation of lamb per ewe, and of meat per lamb, has also ena- bled the New Zealand sheep meat industry to in- crease its resource efficiency. Nevertheless, it was noted that once currently realisable productivity improvements are achieved, the sustainability chal- lenge could necessitate further technological breakthroughs or a reassessment of existing mod- els of food supply chains


The seminar explored current methodologies used to quantify the environmental impacts of the sup- ply chain, in particular lifecycle analysis (LCA). The debate on LCA touched on two major issues: how and for whom LCA can be useful, including its potential to cover various environmental exter- nalities, and what are the limits of this approach.

The role of LCA as both a Business to Business (B2B) and a Business to Clients (B2C) tool was discussed. There was a consensus that LCA was a powerful B2B tool to identify the margins for progress along each step of the supply chain. A common measurement tool enables comparison, and benchmarking, helping industries to identify where to focus efforts to achieve improvements. Olivier Jan observed that primary agricultural pro- duction tended to contribute from 40-70% of the final footprint of an agri-food end-product. There- fore food transformers and retailers keen to reduce their products’ footprint need to work with farm- ers, contributing to a redefinition of the relation- ship between farmers and agro-industries called for by Louis-George Soler, researcher at INRA.

Other uses of LCA were more debated. Marc Voinnesson, Director of Sustainable Projects and initiatives Department, Casino, presented the retailer’s new environmental indicator, incorpo- rating carbon footprint, water consumption and aquatic pollution data which , enables consumers to compare the ecological footprint of products. Assessed under the French government environ- mental labelling trial, the indicator signals the impact of 100g of product compared to the mean impact of a French adult’s daily food basket. Ca- sino intends to progressively incorporate further information, e.g. biodiversity impact. However, Casino’s efforts were not primarily motivated by B2C considerations but by a desire to contribute to the development of environmental indicators that are accessible to consumers. By making this information homogenous, comparable and visible in each stores, Casino hopes to foster a virtuous cycle among its suppliers, and to encourage them to adopt measures reducing the environmental impact of manufactured goods. Regarding B2C impacts, Véronique Discours-Buhot, former sus- tainable development director of Carrefour, un- derlined that we still had a long way to go before mainstream consumers start weighing environ- mental impacts into their buying decisions.

Three limitations of LCA were identified. Firstly, the methodology for LCA, while quite strong for GHG emissions, is still debated regarding other en- vironmental indicators, where the importance de- pends on local conditions (e.g. high water in-take in a dry area vs. in a water-rich land), or where it is hard to measure (e.g. biodiversity impact). Secondly, building a multi-criteria LCA that pools these different indicators would require their pri- oritisation, which would be a difficult process. Thirdly, even a multi-criteria LCA does not encom- pass all dimensions of sustainable development: a product, and its production method, is not neces- sarily sustainable just because it has a small envi- ronmental footprint, as this footprint does not take into account issues related to social or economic development.


According to Louis-George Soler, the agro-indus- trial process has evolved over time, in answer to growing societal demands of off-season supply, food safety and low prices, and due to technolo- gical progress (e.g. refrigeration), towards a pro- cess that first separates primary agricultural pro- duction into basic elements and then reassembles them to make a finished product. Traditionally the French food transformation sector has followed the same evolution with separation of these two stages (fragmentation, and reassembling), and the specialisation of companies in each stage. As a result, the food supply chain has gained in length and complexity over the last 40 years. Never- theless, since the 1990s, French agro-industries have seen their productivity gains stagnate to around 0.2% a year, putting at risk their econo- mic sustainability. The environmental impacts of a chain in which products change state many times (dehydration, rehydration, at great costs of water and energy) are high. Confronted with the com- plexity of the sustainability challenge (including food security, nutrition, the environment), the solution cannot lie solely with resource efficiency, and this questions the very design of the industrial and technological processes underpinning the modern food industry.

Soler proposed that it may be necessary to ques- tion the separation and specialisation in the two steps of fragmentation and reformulation : it could be useful, for instance, to develop simpler process chains better able to incorporate variety in prima- ry production, forming new relationships between primary producers and actors further down the supply chain, which could also shift back some added value to the primary producers. This calls for innovation and exploration of how product va- riety could be delivered from biodiversity of crops and animals.

John Hutchings, General Manager Sustainabil- ity of Fonterra, noted that sustainability calls for new, more collaborative business models. He ex- plained that at Fonterra (one of the main players in the global dairy industry), actions on sustain- ability took the form of both a quest for increased resource use efficiency (at farm level, in logistics and transformation), and a new model of indus- try-wide cooperation. Fonterra works with their suppliers (farmers) to foster resource efficiency by providing benchmarks, and investing in farms to- ward GHG efficiency. As a company, they decided to be more transparent and accountable, setting clear targets on sustainability (e.g. reducing car- bon footprint by 30% by 2030) and to report on their progress. They also integrated sustainability into the company internal culture. Yet, alongside these changes inside Fonterra, John Hutchings ar- gued that the greatest changes called for by sus- tainability are in how Fonterra relates to the rest of the world. Fonterra is a partner, with a range of stakeholders (including for instance Danone for which Fonterra is a priority supplier), sharing decision making, partnering on pre-competitive research (for example through the Global Dairy Platform, a collaborative organisation represent- ing a significant proportion of global dairy produc- tion), understanding customers’ needs and being prepared to make changes to accommodate these. He concluded that such an approach will make it possible to produce the “nirvana” of food, prod- ucts with high nutrient density and a low carbon footprint.

Véronique Discours Buhot, supported this need for collaboration but commented that such col- laboration does not necessarily result in an even share of benefits along the supply chain. Some links of the chain may have to reform more deeply than others, and the higher costs and or revenues linked to such reforms will not be automatically spread evenly among all actors. Sustainability may change relations between different links of the supply chain, but it does not erase power differ- entials and the distributive effects of negotiations.

John Hutchings and Veronique Discours-Buhot also pointed out that it was important that coor- dination on public policy and regulation occurred at the international level as if one country was to impose stricter rules unilaterally on its companies, this would harm those companies’ international productivity.


In this context of diverse private initiatives, two major points were made concerning the role of public intervention, other than ensuring that environmental externalities are effectively internalised: first on the need to ensure that sus- tainability schemes do not reduce market access, and second, a specific proposal for a set of inter- national guidelines to encourage transparency and non-discrimination of eco-labelling.

Ambassador Rosemary Banks called for sustain- ability measures to be scientifically robust to be sure that they are effective, i.e. do what they claim to do, and be least trade distorting.

Vangelis Vitalis, New Zealand Ambassador to the European Union, argued that the multiplica- tion of non-government initiatives on sustain- ability, including labelling, increasingly leads to a proliferation of norms and labels. Some of these become quasi-regulatory processes. Some retail- ers, for instance, decide on norms and if a product does not respect them it will not be shelved in their shops. We need to be wary that these initiatives, on grounds of sustainability or otherwise, do not create unwarranted trade barriers or otherwise discriminate against third country producers. Many such schemes adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ ap- proach and this may not be appropriate in all cir- cumstances. Cost may also be a factor. Indeed, subscribing to such schemes is costly, even for producers in developed countries, and can prove impossibly high for developing country producers who thus lose market ac- cess. These norms, because of their private origin, are outside the supervision of the World Trade Organisation, but they could be studied and discussed within the OECD, where interesting mechanisms like guide- lines for multinational enterprises have been established and are subject to regular peer review. Adopting similar guidelines on labelling may help encourage greater trans- parency and non-discrimination, thereby supporting both the environment and trade, with obvious sustainable development benefits.


Laurence Tubiana suggested that despite the growing consensus on the need for collaborative efforts to develop a more sustainable global food system, international negotiations on sustainabi- lity will need to address the hard questions: what are our visions of agriculture and food production, what global public goods do we want to foster, and if our views differ, how can we reconcile these? Genuine global debate is needed if we are to deve- lop a global sustainable food system. This seminar brought together actors with a range of interests and values but with a shared passion for food production. The seminar confirmed that there is a need and willingness to continue this kind of dialogue.

Anne Chappaz, Regional Director from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, concluded that sus- tainability of the agri-food sector will require us to “navigate media hype, faulty statistics, political game-playing, the interdependence of economic and technological changes, and the interplay of a hierarchy of constraints”. This seminar has made a compelling case for collaborative efforts in un- dertaking such a journey toward sustainability: across competitors in pre-competitive ways, across whole supply chains, and between public and pri- vate actors. Identifying areas for progress in all food chains is a first step that some sectors are al- ready taking. But there is a need for more imagi- nation in designing new sustainable food systems, delivering different products, and a need for more ambition, in reopening the international debate on agriculture and the values we are each willing to attribute to food production.

Télécharger la publication

PDF - 669.61 Ko

4 pages