1st Edition

True Cost Accounting for Food Balancing the Scale

    316 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    316 Pages 22 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book explains how True Cost Accounting is an effective tool we can use to address the pervasive imbalance in our food system.

    Calls are coming from all quarters that the food system is broken and needs a radical transformation. A system that feeds many yet continues to create both extreme hunger and diet-related diseases, and one which has significant environmental impacts, is not serving the world adequately. This volume argues that True Cost Accounting in our food system can create a framework for a systemic shift. What sounds on the surface like a practice relegated to accountants is ultimately a call for a new lens on the valuation of food and a new relationship with the food we eat, starting with the reform of a system out of balance. From the true cost of corn, rice and water, to incentives for soil health, the chapters economically compare conventional and regenerative, more equitable farming practices in and food system structures, including taking an unflinching look at the true cost of cheap labour. Overall, this volume points towards the potential for our food system to be more human-centred than profit-centred and one that has a more respectful relationship to the planet. It sets forth a path forward based on True Cost Accounting for food. This path seeks to fix our current food metrics, in policy and in practice, by applying a holistic lens that evaluates the actual costs and benefits of different food systems, and the impacts and dependencies between natural systems, human systems, agriculture and food systems.

    This volume is essential reading for professionals and policymakers involved in developing and reforming the food system, as well as students and scholars working on food policy, food systems and sustainability.

    Foreword: Why True Cost Accounting?
    Guillermo Castilleja

    Introduction: The Urgency of Now
    Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Lauren E. Baker, Paula A. Daniels

    Section One: The Power and Potential of True Cost Accounting

    1. From Practice to Policy: New Metrics for the 21st Century
    Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Carl Obst

    2. Cotton in Egypt: Assisting Decision-Makers to Understand Costs and Benefits
    Helmy Abouleish, Thoraya Seada, Nadine Greiss

    3. Upstream, Downstream: Accounting for the Environmental and Social Value of Water in the Andes
    Marta Echavarria, Margaret Stern

    Section Two: Thinking Systemically

    4. Methods and Frameworks: The Tools to Assess Externalities
    Harpinder Sandhu, Courtney Regan, Saiqa Perveen et al.

    5. Health Impacts: The Hidden Costs of Industrial Food Systems
    Cecilia Rocha, Emile Frison, Nick Jacobs

    Section Three: From the Field

    6. Harmonizing the Measurement of On-Farm Impacts
    Patrick Holden, Adele Jones

    7. Incentives to Change: The Experience of the Organic Sector
    Gábor Figeczky, Louise Luttikholt, Frank Eyhorn, et al.

    8. Transforming the Maize Treadmill: Understanding Social, Economic, and Ecological Impacts
    Francisca Acevedo Gasman, Lauren E. Baker, Mauricio R. Bellon, et al.

    9. Fostering Healthy Soils in California: Farmer Motivations and Barriers
    Joanna Ory, Alastair Iles

    Section Four: For the Public Good

    10. The Real Cost of Unhealthy Diets
    Sarah Reinhardt, Rebecca Boehm, Ricardo Salvador

    11. True Cost Principles in Public Policy: How Schools and Local Government Bring Value to Procurement
    Paula A. Daniels

    12. Embedding TCA Within U.S. Regulatory Decision-Making
    Kathleen A. Merrigan

    13. International Policy Opportunities for True Cost Accounting in Food and Agriculture
    Barbara Gemmill-Herren, Zoltán Kálmán, Alexander Müller

    Section Five: Through the Value Chain

    14. The Business of TCA: Assessing Risks and Dependencies Along the Supply Chain
    Tobias Bandel, Jan Köpper, Laura Mervelskemper et al.

    15. Investing in the True Value of Sustainable Food Systems
    Tim Crosby, Jennifer Astone, Rex Raimond

    Section Six: To the Table

    16. Trade-Offs: Comparing Meat and the Alternatives
    Kathleen A. Merrigan

    17. Dining Out: The True Cost of Poor Wages
    Saru Jayaraman, Julia Sebastian

    18. True Price Store: Guiding Consumers
    Adrian de Groot Ruiz

    Conclusion: Mobilizing the Power and Potential of True Cost Accounting
    Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Carl Obst, Kathleen A. Merrigan et al.


    Barbara Gemmill-Herren, until she retired in 2015, was Delivery Manager, for the Major Area of Work on Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). She was previously Executive Director of Environment Liaison Centre International, an international environmental non-governmental organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. She is an Associate Faculty in the Masters of Sustainable Food Systems Program at Prescott College in Arizona, USA, and a Senior Associate of the World Agroforestry Centre, Kenya.

    Lauren Baker is Senior Director of Programs with the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, where she focuses on the intersections between food systems and health, climate change, agroecology and true cost accounting. Previously, Lauren led the Toronto Food Policy Council, and was the Founding Director of Sustain Ontario. Lauren teaches in the Global Food Equity program at the University of Toronto, and at Ryerson University, Canada.

    Paula Daniels is Co-founder and Chair of the Center for Good Food Purchasing. She is a lawyer and public policy leader in environmental, food, and water policy, and has extensive experience in government through several appointed positions, including as Senior Advisor on Food Policy to Mayor Villairagosa of Los Angeles. She has been a faculty member at UCLA, Vermont Law School, and UC Berkeley.

    "Our economic system – particularly business accounting processes do not (yet) include a mechanism for recognizing the invisible value of people and nature. True Cost Accounting provides a method for including these values in business internal decision-making metrics and processes as well as reporting to financial markets. In today’s operating environment, business more than ever needs to demonstrate a purpose beyond maximizing financial value creation for shareholders. This purpose should include generating social, human, and natural capital value for all stakeholders." — Peter Bakker, President and CEO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development

    "True Cost Accounting for Food provides in-depth analysis of the environmental, health, and social costs of food systems that are rarely captured in the price of food today. This valuable collection breaks new ground and offers important insights into how these externalities can be better accounted for in ways that contribute toward positive change in food systems." — Jennifer Clapp, Professor and Canada Research Chair, University of Waterloo

    "True Cost Accounting is the starting point for any serious conversation about reforming food systems. This is no coincidence: prices shall continue to lie, until social costs are incorporated and set the right incentives to guide the choices of both producers and consumers. This book provides therefore more than a state of play: it’s an essential tool for future advocacy efforts." — Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights and Co-chair, International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food)

    "Those who wish to help move the world towards a sustainable planet and offer the next generation a chance to enjoy the wonders of its biodiversity and benefit from its ecosystem services should embrace the tools and lessons from this book to help transform our food systems from farm to plate."Braulio Dias, Associate Professor of Ecology at the University of Brasilia and Former Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity

    "This book addresses a critically important topic: the need to open up the ‘hidden costs' of current food systems. This compelling need is not being adequately considered by dominant policy makers or mainstream thinkers in the agriculture sector and food industry. The present volume serves to illuminate the issue from multiple perspectives and can serve to inform international negotiations on food systems, agroecology and biodiversity for more comprehensive policies." Mohammad Hossein Emadi, PhD, Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Iran to FAO, WFP and IFAD and Chair of the UN Committee on Agriculture

    "The vision and core tenets of the Land and Justice Party I founded in Vanuatu in 2010 are in the principles behind True Cost Accounting in Food. This book will make a significant contribution to the international discourse needed to advance a just transformation of our food system, which reaches beyond monetary dimensions to include measures of progress for the social, cultural and environmental dimensions of life."Ralph Regenvanu, Member of Parliament and President of the Land and Justice Party, Vanuatu

    "Since 2012, we have been committed to advancing True Cost Accounting (TCA) as a powerful tool for food systems transformation. In that time, TCA has evolved from a radical concept to a scientifically validated approach, driving policies and practices that create and sustain healthy, equitable, and resilient food systems. With this new book in hand, governments, farmers, corporations, investors, and others, can break away from the status quo and use TCA to make better decisions about the future of food."Ruth Richardson, Executive Director, Global Alliance for the Future of Food

    "It is more than time that we rebalance the scales, making the cultivation of biodiversity and the consequent health of soils, plants, and people as the organizing principle of our food systems. This book offers many perspectives on how a genuinely honest valuation of the contribution of people and nature can bring about such changes."Vandana Shiva, Navdanya International

    "Our food systems are not delivering the social, environment and nutritional outcomes we need to enable human prosperity. True Cost Accounting is one of the critical capabilities we need to build food systems that are equitable, healthy, and sustainable. By developing this capability our policy and legislative decision makers can help create the food system we all desire and deserve. This book creates the foundation for that work and is an important first step on that path."Dr. Roy Steiner, Senior Vice President of Food at the Rockefeller Foundation

    "This book is a must-read for anyone interested in how to fix our food systems. We can only manage what we measure and this inspiring and instructive collection of examples informs how we, as a global community, can advance this crucial work."Pavan Sukhdev, lead author of the United Nations report on TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity), CEO of GIST Impact, and President of WWF International