Food Processing Industry: Issues and Developments

[op-ed of the day] The food industry’s role in sustainable development


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Agro-industries and SDGs

Op-ed of the day is the most important editorial of the day. This will cover a key issue that came in the news and for which students must pay attention. This will also take care of certain key issues students have to cover in respective GS papers.


Food crisis

  • Feeding a planet of 7.7 billion people is no easy matter. Every person on the planet needs, expects, and has the right to a healthy diet.
  • Over 820 million people are chronically hungry. Another two billion or so suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, such as a lack of vitamins or proteins.
  • Around 650 million adults are obese, an epidemic caused in part by ultra-processed foods that are stuffed with sugar, saturated fats and other chemical additives.
  • But the problems go far beyond hunger and diet.

Beyond hunger and diet

  • A growing number of food companies understand the challenge and want to forge a new direction that is consistent with human health and planetary survival.
  • The food industry is a powerhouse of the global economy and includes some of the best-known brand names, because we connect with them every day.
  • Solving the many intersecting food crises will be impossible unless the industry changes its ways.

Agro-industries are no less responsible

  • Today’s agro-industrial practices are the main cause of deforestation, freshwater depletion and pollution, soil erosion, and the collapse of biodiversity.
  • To top it off, human-induced climate change, partly caused by the food sector, is wreaking havoc on crop production.
  • With more warming and population growth ahead, the crisis will worsen unless decisive changes are made.

Need for a worldwide policy revamp

Both the SDGs and the Paris agreement require decisive changes in practices by the food industry.Each company must address four critical questions.

First, do products and strategies contribute to healthy and sustainable diets?

  • We know that the fast-food culture is literally killing us.
  • The industry has to change to promote healthy diets.

Second, are the company’s production practices sustainable?

  • Too many companies are engaged in chemical pollution, massive waste from packaging, deforestation, excessive and poorly targeted fertilizer use, and other environmental ills.

Third, are the company’s upstream suppliers sustainable?

  • No consumer food company should use products from farms that contribute to deforestation.
  • The destruction of forests in the Amazon and Indonesia—literally a scorched-earth process—underscore the need to barcode all food products to ensure that they are sourced from sustainable farms.

Lastly, is the company a good corporate citizen?

  • For example, aggressive tax practices that exploit legal loopholes should be avoided, as they deprive governments of the revenues needed to promote public services and thereby achieve the SDGs.

Failing on many fronts

  • While many companies purport to pursue sustainable development, too few report on the healthfulness of their product.
  • Too few recognize that they are part of the environmental crisis, either directly in their own production, or as buyers of products produced in environmental hotspots such as the Amazon or Indonesia.
  • In short, the food industry’s commitment to sustainability is still too often more high-minded sentiment than actual reporting and monitoring to ensure alignment with the global goals.


  • The food sector is a key part of a larger picture. World leaders gathered at the UN this week to review progress on the SDGs and the Paris agreement.
  • They must keep in mind one crucial fact: the world’s people are demanding change.
  • Most countries have the know-how and wealth to achieve a prosperous, inclusive and sustainable world.
  • The business sector must urgently recognize, acknowledge and act upon its global responsibilities.
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