Is gluten-free good for the planet?
The Guardian has recently published an article that questions the sustainability of the growing demand of ‘free-form’ produce. The current challenge opened by the increasing market for alternative diet products is that it has put a strain on the environment and social structures, especially fair working and wages for suppliers around the world, usually located in lesser developed countries where a spikes in global prices can affect their ability to purchase the products they grow.
According to calculations from retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel, one in every five people in the UK are now buying from the ‘free-form’ market.
“So what happens when 25% of UK consumers start swapping out their daily loaf of bread for gluten-free, and how can we ensure that the grains we’re getting are sustainable?”
The article addresses the conundrum regarding quinoa producers in South America, after figures from 2013 showed that local growers could not afford to buy quinoa anymore due to the increase in price. However, “studies have shown that farmer’s livelihoods in countries such as Bolivia and Peru have actually improved“.
“Many quinoa farmers were now better off as a result of higher quinoa prices and that increased exports were not at the expense of reduced domestic consumption, which has been rising slightly and had always been at a low level following colonial-era restrictions,” says Dr Adam Drucker, senior economist at Bioversity International.
Others also show that the increase in income for farmers in Peru and Bolivia allowed for a more varied and healthy diet including meat, and vegetables as well as grains.
The impact has not only been on local populations, the land itself is now suffering the consequences of higher demand. Farmers have not given time for the soil to recover and are using land in sloping valleys that could potentially interrupt the ecosystem’s balance. “Over time, the soil becomes eroded, pest and diseases spread and yields decrease“, explains Drucker.
How to make sure that the ancient, gluten-free grain movement provides economic and environmental sustainability? Consumers should demand for locally-produced products, and at most, for their suppliers to guarantee fair and sustainable trade. “It’s worth considering that higher demand, leading to higher prices, can create conditions that enable investments in environmental sustainability and greater protection for workers”.
To read the original article (in PDF format), click here.