Our current global economic system fails to incorporate the hidden social and environmental impacts of food production in food prices. This represents the single greatest barrier to a global transition to more sustainable food and farming systems.

True Cost Accounting (TCA) is the discipline of measuring the impact, in our case, of agricultural practices on the environment and public health. This has been a key focus of the Sustainable Food Trust’s work over our nine years of existence, the aim of which has been to improve the profitability of sustainable food production and the affordability of healthy and sustainably-produced food.

This work began in Kentucky in 2013, when we hosted the first gathering on this topic, and the term ‘true cost accounting’ emerged as the most accessible means of describing the process of calculating and internalising the un-costed external impacts of food and farming systems, otherwise known as ‘externalities’.

Two conferences organised by the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT), with a focus on true cost accounting, then took place: the first, True Cost Accounting in Food and Farming, in London in December 2013, followed by the True Cost of American Food, held in San Francisco in 2016. Both of these events brought together global leaders in the field to explore the process of valuing externalities and the subsequent policy and market mechanisms that could result in ‘polluters’ becoming more accountable for the damage they cause, and in turn creating a more favourable economic environment for sustainable alternatives.

The SFT has also been involved in research, publishing the Hidden Cost of UK Food report in 2017, as well as serving on the steering committee for the TEEBAgriFood project, which set out to evaluate the positive and negative impacts of our current food and farming systems on a global scale.

The SFT is delighted to be named as one of the organisations leading the dialogue in the field of TCA, in the newly published literature and initiative review from The Johns Hopkins Centre for a Liveable Future. This report provides an invaluable resource by bringing all the relevant work that has been done on the subject to date together, as well as making the case for what should come next – a shared goal and common terminology for TCA.

This is a vision shared by the SFT and is something we have been considering from farm-level perspective with our work on harmonised metrics, looking to facilitate the emergence of an international common framework for measuring and valuing on-farm sustainability.

Analogous to the financial accounting standards, if we had a high-level common framework for assessing sustainability and valuing externalities, it would allow all the actors within a food system to start singing from the same hymn sheet. Importantly, it would also provide a platform for funnelling collective and complementary support to help move everyone in the right direction.

This will be an ongoing focus for the SFT, and we look forward to working with organisations and individuals all over the world to make this happen.

Thanks again to the Centre for a Liveable Future for publishing such an interesting and timely report which pulls all this vitally important work together.

Click here to read the review.

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