Sustainable Food Production (FOOD 21)

SUSTAINABILITY FROM FARMER TO CONSUMER IS PROFITABLE The FOOD 21 research programme focused on the whole food chain, to show options and ways forward for Swedish agriculture. The aim was […]

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The FOOD 21 research programme focused on the whole food chain, to show options and ways forward for Swedish agriculture. The aim was to succeed in combining stringent requirements concerning environmental impact and animal care with product quality and good profitability for farmers and the food industry.

The lesson from the programme is that it is possible to produce food sustainably while preserving biodiversity and, at the same time, achieving ample profits. FOOD 21’s broad approach called for interdisciplinary research and analyses of the environmental and economic impact of, for example, modified cultivation methods and animal husbandry.

‘Collaboration in the Sustainable Food Production (Food 21) programme has benefited the whole sector, including primary production, the food industry and the consumers.’
Agneta Dreber, Chief Executive of the Swedish Food Federation and member of the board of Food 21 in 2003–05.


Concrete research results that have had a practical impact relate to the following: how genes affect growth or undesirable behaviour in animals; natural leaching of nutrients in the soil; how water protection and environmental management are implemented in practice; which areas are subject to the risk of phosphorus leaching; the similarity between home-made and processed food in terms of environmental impact; and the fact that keeping calves and heifers together longer is advantageous in terms of both financial gain and animal protection.

The research has also included social-scientific aspects relating to consumers and farmers. Many consumers were found to disregard environmental aspects in their purchasing, and to be hard to influence with information and labelling systems. Sustainable food production also calls for satisfied farmers with faith in the future, and they proved to be considering both financial and ‘soft’ values in their decision-making.

The research also demonstrated that farmers have a great deal to gain from far-reaching collaboration. Joint sourcing of the means of production and also a joint encounter with the market strengthen profitability, but also afford social gains for an occupational group who carry out a great deal of solitary work.


An active dialogue between research and the food chain’s various stakeholders has emerged in the programme to focus work on relevant issues. The results from Food 21 have engaged and provided important knowledge for all the stakeholders in the course taken by food from field to table: farms, the food industry and the retail sector, public agencies, interest organisations and consumers.

The programme concluded with a synthesis phase in which thematic reviews of knowledge and practical experience were compiled in the areas of sustainable animal feed, alternative plant protection, minimisation of cadmium, a competitive food industry, food labelling and more highly developed animal care. Sustainable paths to development were analysed and both opportunities and conflicting objectives were revealed.

The research results have been disseminated by such means as large-scale seminar activity and through factsheets and reports that address everyone capable of helping to transform the food chain. Moreover, some thirty postgraduate students who have done interdisciplinary work in the programme have obtained their higher degrees and are now working for various stakeholders. At their respective workplaces, they are continuing to apply the comprehensive view of the food chain that characterised work in Food 21.