Today’s food systems are broken: 800 million people are hungry, and many more suffer from malnutrition. Simultaneously, two billion people are overweight or obese. Food production largely drives climate change, water scarcity and biodiversity loss, while many smallholder farmers, who are the foundation of food production, live in extreme poverty. Food prices for consumers are low, reducing barriers to access food, but health services, the environment, farmers and farming communities often bear the cost of cheap food in terms of its impact.

Our food systems cannot go on like this, but what are the systemic levers that can help drive change? What about taking into account the full costs – and, by default, the true value – of the food system?

Today, FReSH’s True Cost of Food initiative is launching a discussion paper that looks at how to improve the contribution of food systems to sustainability and human health by increasing economic efficiency and full cost accounting. We find that together with aligned policies and civil society interventions, market dynamics based on true cost accounting (TCA) have the potential to our transform food system.

In the paper we identify the methodological and data gaps that need to be filled to make TCA more robust, consistent and user-friendly. We also explore what is required to establish true cost approaches in the business environment, moving TCA from corporate sustainability teams to the desks of CEOs and CFOs. These organizational dimensions are especially critical in making TCA a core tool of strategic business decision-making.

Finally, we discuss how to work with NGOs and policy experts to integrate aspects of true cost in long-term planning and implementation, either directly through taxes, incentives and subsidies, or through softer approaches such as public purchasing guidelines. Ultimately, these policy levers could drive widespread and systemic changes in the production and consumption of food – TCA can help us achieve the common goal of healthy and sustainable food systems for all.

To learn more or to get involved in our True Cost of Food workstream, please contact Emily Grady (grady@wbcsd.org).