Redefining the Value of Food Systems

We Need a Commitment to True Cost Accounting at the UNFSS

To: The Secretary General
CC: Member State Ambassadors; Agnes Kalibata; Sustainable Food Systems Advocates
Date: September 13, 2021

Thank you for your commitment to food systems transformation, and your leadership in convening the UN Food Systems Summit. The potential for significant, transformational systems change is before us.

Our organizations, which collectively represent multiple sectors, governments, advocates, investors, CSOs, and individual producers worldwide believe that to bring about the change we must fundamentally redefine how we measure the real cost of our food. The UNFSS process must commit to measuring the true costs of food, and embrace a measurable systems approach with transparency and integrity. We write today to urge a full and unequivocal commitment to such an approach — “true cost accounting” and to redefine the value of food as an outcome of the UNFSS.

Food systems transformation is the most sweeping, and perhaps the boldest way to deliver on the SDGs. This is the decade of delivery — food systems transformation is the way to integrate, align, and cohere across issues that are inextricably linked.

We seek a systems approach in action, not just words, that recognizes the environmental, social, and health impacts of food systems policies and practices, and use this understanding to inform decision-making. This is the time to step away from old ways of working, break from the damaging status quo and build critical mass around a vision of food systems that are renewable, healthy, equitable, resilient, diverse, inclusive, and interconnected.

Business-as-usual is no longer an option.

Solutions like “True Cost”, “True Value” and “Impact” accounting are dynamic approaches that allow decision-makers to measure and assess the full costs and whole value of food systems. Going beyond outdated metrics like “yield-per-hectare”, they help improve the understanding of food systems more widely by revealing the invisible connections and interactions between agriculture and food systems, our health, the natural environment, and the treatment of workers and communities.

These approaches will provide transparent, consistent guidance for governments, investors, farmers, corporations, and other stakeholders. There are deep and damaging negative externalities of today’s food system that must be addressed, especially from industrial agriculture. These costs are ballooning: diet-related diseases, environmental contamination, carbon emissions, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases. We need to address these costs and work to uphold the value that is created when food systems are managed well.

To date, partners representing more than 400 multinational companies and more than 30 of the leading philanthropic organizations funding food systems, climate, hunger, and the SDG agenda have committed themselves to true value approaches. There is significant momentum building around redefining the value of food through true cost accounting -

But progress is not a given. Meaningful change can fall victim to inertia, greenwashing, and competing priorities. The complexity is real and challenging, but should not be an excuse for inaction. Necessary transformation is often viewed as too risky even though innovation is at the heart of growth. Let us be very clear: a system that measures the true costs and value of food systems creates a race to the top, where all competitors are measured by the same rules. In 2021 if an industry is causing harm to the environment or public health, that calls for change — not for delaying or deferring progress.

The UNFSS has already catalyzed much-needed conversation and action around food systems transformation. As a major moment on the path to COP26, COP15, CFS-49, UNFSS presents a unique moment where actors from multiple perspectives from across the world are coming together. It is time to accelerate progress. A UNFSS that does not redefine the value of food systems will not set us on a course for the decade of delivery. Without such systemic tools and approaches, we are flying blind in our decisions to build a better, healthier, equitable, and resilient future for all.

We are your partners — and commit to advancing True Cost Accounting after the UNFSS as a strong coalition of champions.

Our undersigned organizations urge you in the strongest possible terms to embrace the transformational change to our food system that we know is needed — and that your leadership has positioned us to achieve.


The Global Alliance for the Future of Food
Access Livelihoods
Agriluxe Marketing
Agropolis Fondation
ALOHAS Regenerative Foundation
AQAL Capital GmbH
Biovision Foundation for Ecological Development
The Capitals Coalition
CEEweb for Biodiversity
Comida do Amanhã Institute (Brazil)
CommonWealth Kitchen
The Common Market
Funders For Regenerative Agriculture
GRACE Communications Foundation
Ground Effect
IFOAM — Organics International
Integrated Capital Investing
Matriark Foods
Organic & Regenerative Investment Cooperative
Our Dynamic Planet
Partnership for a Healthier America
Planetary Health Alliance
R. Commandeur Advies
TMG — Think Tank for Sustainability
Department of Geography, Trinity College Dublin
Transformational Investing in Food Systems
True Cost Accounting Accelerator
Wagagi Ltd
World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Molly Anderson, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Food Studies & Academic Director of Food Studies, Middlebury College — Individual
Marie van Aken, Geen
Nina Bernecker, EOSTA
Lasse Bruun, 50x40
Sean Cosgrove, Principal, Ecologics Design
Tim Crosby, Principal, Thread Fund
Paula Daeppen-Dion, UN NGO representative
Fabien Delaere, Impact Valuation Director, Danone — Individual
Paul van Doremalen
Manuel Espinosa — The Phoenix Group
Rod Everett, Food Futures for North Lancashire
Stacey Faella, Woodcock Foundation
Emile Frison, biodiversity expert
Amb. Zoltán Kálmán, Former Permanent Representative of Hungary to UN; Member of the UNFSS Advisory Committee
Chris Koks, Greenpeace
Vijay Kumar, RySS/Community Managed Natural Farming
Patrick Holden, Founding Director, Sustainable Food Trust
Steven Lord, University of Oxford
Davide Marino, Associate Professor, Università degli Studi del Molise
Saskia Martins
Kate MacKenzie, Director, NYC Mayor’s Office of Food Policy
Samantha McCord
Kathleen Merrigan, Executive Director, Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems, Arizona State University
Danielle Nierenberg, President, Food Tank: The Think Tank For Food
Tanya Ploetz, WWF Germany
Isabella Proto, EOSTA
Kai Robertson, Senior Corporate Sustainability Advisor & Food Loss and Waste expert
Cecilia Rocha, Professor, Centre for Studies in Food Security, Ryerson University
Harpinder Sandhu, Federation University Australia — Individual
Errol Schweizer, The Checkout Podcast and Sustainable Food Entrepreneur
Nadia Scialabba, Swette Centre for Sustainable Food Systems
Tony Simons, CIFOR-ICRAF
Pavan Sukhdev, CEO, GIST
Betsy Taylor, Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions
Isabelle Vera, Policy Researcher
Gerda Verburg, Scaling Up Nutrition Movement

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We are a strategic alliance of philanthropic foundations working together and with others to transform global food systems now and for future generations.

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