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12th European IFSA Symposium


3.1 Sustainability of food chains: contested assessments


The workshop will discuss the growing interest for sustainability assessment of products, processes and companies, and its impact on the governance of the food chain. Corporates increasingly adopt 'scientific' methods of sustainability assessment and use them as a competitive tool in the food market, and with this try to re-conquer hearths and minds of consumers who are increasingly attracted by the message of alternative food chains.


In the last two decades the corporate-based food system has been shaken by a loss of reputation, due to concerns about its sustainability. To respond or to anticipate an increasing demand of information about sustainability of products and processes, food businesses have addressed the sustainability issue seriously, investing in technologies, measurement tools, certification schemes, social reporting. This effort put some pressure on 'alternative food chains', that have introduced the issue among consumers by putting into light the vulnerability of the existing food system, and given consumers the opportunity of choosing alternative products and processes with a high sustainability reputation. An increasing number of scholars have developed sustainability assessment of food chains, and, surprisingly, a growing number of studies show that the superiority of local food chains with regard to sustainability is not to be given for granted. Methodologies with a high reputation of scientific rigour, such as LCA, tend to confirm these limits. However, there is more than a suspect that existing sustainability metrics are not appropriate to the characteristics of alternative food chains, and that when using them as instruments to influence consumers or policy makers they alter the balance of power in favour of corporates.

The working group aims at addressing these issues in relation to European as well as international contexts, and will accept papers from researchers, NGOs and business actors built around the following questions:

  • How is the sustainability performance assessment of food systems evolving?
  • How do assessment evolve in relation to the evolution of the meaning of sustainability? What is the impact of sustainability assessment on the governance of food chains?
  • What are the methodological differences implied in measuring sustainability of local and global food chains?
  • Can 'alternative food network' propose 'alternative sustainability assessment' metrics?
  • Are there avenues for collaboration between food movements and global players in creating a level playing field? What can alternative food networks learn from global players? What can global players learn from alternative players?
  • How can policies accompany the efforts of actors in the food chains to improve their sustainability performance.

Workshop Processes

Depending on the number of papers presented, the workshop will be organized in an interactive way, with posters presented in 5-10 minutes by each participants and discussion organized in rotating groups. The workshop will be introduced by a keynote speech and a closing summary speech will follow.


3.1 Meat alternatives compared: their pathways of change and sustainability

3.1 On the use of LCA indicators for the environmental assessment of food systems: the case study of the Mediterranean Diet

3.1 Long-term sustainability assessment of market-gardening farms involved in short supply chains: a case study in South of France

Lead Workshop covenor

Gianluca Brunori, University of Pisa

Other Covenors

Erik Matjis, University of Leuven
Dominique Barjolle, ETHZ
Mario Giampietro, UAB
James Kirwan, University of Gloucester
Damian Maye, University of Gloucester
Luca Colombo, FIRAB
Rudolf van Broekuizen , Wageningen University

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