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How Farmers Foster Sustainability in a Food System Under Pressure

Today’s food system faces immense pressure to meet consumer demands. Think non-GMO, antibiotic-free, cage-free, hormone-free and the like. An increasing number of consumers also want food produced in ways that are more sustainable.

Unfortunately, many consumers fail to recognize those “free-from” claims are often at odds with more sustainable farming.

Farmers know that the responsible use of genetically modified seed, animal health products like antibiotics and modern housing systems contribute to sustainability, making food safer, and animals and the environment healthier.

So what can farmers do when the food system makes decisions that may make consumers happy but are inconsistent with what farmers know to be sustainable?

Farmer frustration with free-from label claims is understandable. However, lashing out at the food system is not the answer.

A more strategic approach to promote true sustainability is providing information, resources, tools and support to help food companies and consumers make better-informed decisions.

Food companies, retailers and restaurants manage hundreds of issues every single day, and face dozens of competing priorities with the thousands of ingredients they purchase. They’re looking for guidance.

That’s the goal of The Center for Food Integrity Optimizing Sustainability framework, which provides free resources, including tools to map trade-offs on key issues, so the food system can evaluate the growing list of sustainability priorities and determine the impact of potential choices. It allows the food system to make decisions that align with their values and those of their stakeholders.

Farmers can play an important role, too. Have conversations with those in the food system to help them understand what agriculture is doing to balance the needs of people, animals and the planet – not just to maximize productivity and profit. Being proactive – not reactive – in engaging on sustainability is the key to agriculture doing its part to foster positive change.

Learn more about the Optimizing Sustainability framework, log on to

Charlie Arnot
CEO, The Center for Food Integrity