Last night I attended a panel discussion sponsored by Africa Geographic and Nedbank Green Affinity. The topic was Eating the Environment – what our food choices are doing to the environment. The panelists were Johan Ferreira, head of food technology at Woolworths; Aaniyah Omardien, manager of the WWF Living Waters Marine Programme and Mark Botha, conservation director of the Botanical Society of South Africa. There was also an additional speaker who gave an overview of the GreenChoice project which I will give more details about just now.
After a very interesting short presentation from each of the panelists, the audience was given an opportunity to direct questions at one or more of the panelists. The first presentation was regarding GreenChoice, a project of WWF and Conservation International. Here are some extracts from the GreenChoice booklet:
GreenChoice is an ambitious, integrated partnership created to support the development of a better way of producing and consuming the products from our natural environment.
GreenChoice’s message is simple enough and relevant to everyone; it’s about our choice of food, the products we buy, the traceability of these, and their benefits not just for us but for the environment and the local communities. It’s about working to make care for the environment inherent in all our products sold in South Africa. Also, it’s about recognising that the search for sustainable solutions is a journey and that there aren’t any perfect solutions, just increasingly better ones.
They have already made great progress with several projects: Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (more on that later), Badger Friendly Honey, Flower Valley Conservation Trust, etc. There are also many more projects in the pipeline. This is excellent work and I look forward to seeing the progress this project makes in the future.
Aaniyah Omardien then gave us a presentation on the WWF Living Waters Marine Programme which included some information on the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI). This programme has done well to create awareness about which fish we should and should not be eating.
Johan Ferreira then presented on the challenges faced by retailers and some of the successes that Woolworths has achieved thus far. One of the most interesting things he mentioned was packaging. Everytime you mention Woolworths as a responsible retailer, the response is always something about packaging. Johan informed us that they are aware of the packaging issue and are working on it but have to consider that we want our food to arrive in a saleable and consumable state. In other words, we want it to look good and to not have been exposed to toxins en route.
Mark Botha then gave a very interesting presentation on how eating meat also plays an important role in sustainable systems. While most people (including myself) have been advocating a switch to vegetarianism or at least a dramatic reduction in meat consumption, Mark illustrated how animals are the best way to conserve natural areas because they graze these areas effectively. He also pointed out that the main byproduct of every ecosystem is animal protein and we would be silly not to take advantage of it. He concluded by explaining how we need to move away from factory farmed meat to free range meat, lowering our consumption of beef and increasing our consumption of game.
The questions and comments of the audience were all interesting and revealed how everyone has a passion for different environmental issues and that there are a lot of people out there doing their bit for the environement. The panel responded to the questions well and the interaction was revealing and informative.
The evening was rounded off with a complementary dinner and drinks which afforded a nice opportunity for people to discuss the issues that had been raised. I found the event to be of a high standard. The venue was impressive, the quality of the presentations high and the catering good. I will definitely attend when the topic interests me again.