CHALLENGES surrounding sustainability dominated early discussions at Freshcare’s National Assurance Summit, as industry stakeholders work to future-proof Australia’s horticulture industry.

While the definition and criteria for ESG (environmental, social & governance) remains in its infancy here in Australia, globally its implementation has been varied with individual nations interpreting it in their own way.

ESG has existed since the 1960s when it began as a ‘socially responsible’ investment practice before gaining prominence when introduced by the United Nations in 2006. In today’s terms, it’s poised as the ‘social license’ to do business and is likely to place technical barriers for market entry if its criteria is not met.

Despite the need for a greater understanding and national strategy, there was a broad consensus among panelists that there would be no escaping the regulatory framework once it was introduced. 

Perfection Fresh’s Andrew Redman, speaking at the Freshcare Australian Assurance Summit

Andrew Redman is the Chief Technical and Sustainability Officer for Perfection Fresh, one of Australia’s largest fresh produce suppliers. 

The company operates across all states and territories on the domestic market, as well as exporting fresh produce overseas.

Redman said it was likely smaller grower operations would need a framework in place and support to work towards the implementation of ESG.

“I think there’s a vast array of different knowledge points at this stage and it’s going to depend on the scale of the organisation,” Redman said. 

“The reality is for small growers it’s still very much a thought bubble at best. 

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“And I think it’s incumbent on the industry to bring everyone along as quickly as we can to get to a good outcome. 

“I suspect where this goes from certification and a regulatory framework is going to evolve and it’s going to evolve much more rapidly than I think any of us thought it will.”

Redman drew parallels with the introduction of the GFSI (Global Food Safety Initiative) certification standards and hoped ESG would result in a similar ‘internationally recognised passport’.

The notion Australia could no longer rely on its ‘clean and green’ reputation to maintain trade deals has also as also mentioned throughout the conference, with many panelists pointing to sustainability and the ability to give credible assurance to consumers as ‘the new norm of doing business’.

Freshcare Australia Assurance Summit in Sydney

Craig Reucassel, known for his award-winning War on Waste documentary, provided delegates with data-driven insights on Australia’s energy consumption, food wastage and possible ways to lift the nation’s sustainability credentials.

Believing climate change was the single largest threat, Reucassel said the global push for a sustainable future provided ‘huge opportunities for agriculture and horticulture that can really add up’. But it came with a caveat – industry assurance.

“From an ag perspective, it’s probably less mitigation than it is adaptation,” he said.

“Agriculture has been slammed by increasing floods, increasing droughts, fire, higher temperatures. 

“Climate change is really just trying to find the best solutions.”

In 2050, the global population is expected to grow to 10 billion. The United Nations predict the world demand for food will have increased by 70 per cent in the same year largely due to rising consumer incomes in regions such as Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Reucassel said the solution to feeding more people was tied directly to solving business inefficiencies that exist today, adding events like Freshcare’s were necessary to push national conversations to the point of implementation.

“We throw out so much of our food that’s edible,” he said.

“It’s not necessarily that we don’t create enough food to feed everyone – the problem is we don’t distribute it properly and we dispose of so much of it. 

“So dealing with that food waste question is the answer a lot of that problem, really.”

Stop Food Waste’s Melissa Smith, speaking at the Freshcare Australian Assurance Summit

A collaboration between Stop Food Waste Australia and Freshcare was announced during the first day of the conference, which will see the two organisations collaborate on a program to make available to growers.

Stop Food Waste Australia’s Horticulture Lead Melissa Smith said this new certification work was a result of its findings from the recently published ‘Horticulture Sector Action Plan’.

“One of our banana growers said ‘when I measure my waste I reduce my waste’, said Smith.

“We don’t really measure much food waste in Australia, it happens in an ad hoc way.

“We’re working on a food interim loss standard in Australia, it’s with Standards Australia and is based on ISO Food Standards.

“We’re using that to build our certification for food loss and waste.”

*Freshcare kindly covered travel and accommodation costs to enable Country Caller to report on the Assurance Summit.

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