The latest Food Dialogues discussion panel held by the United States Farmers and Rancher’s Alliance (USFRA) kept the discussion focused on sustainability, a controversial concept that panelist Steve Peterson has built his career around.
Peterson is the former Director of Sourcing Sustainability at General Mills, with 28 years of experience in the company, and a lifelong farmer. He operates a crop and beef farm in central Minnesota, and has served on the board of several sustainability-related non-profit organizations, including Field to Market, and the MN AgriGrowth Council. His work on sustainability with General Mills extended not only throughout the US supply chain, but allowed him to influence producers overseas, in Africa and Asia. He is very respected throughout the food industry, and is considered an expert on sustainability.
Peterson sat down for an interview after the discussion, which was held during the 2016 Dairy Strong Conference. He elaborated on several topics brought up throughout the discussion, with a focus on the skewed public perception of the important role business plays in sustainability.
“There’s a common assumption that ‘local’ and ‘small’ and ‘organic’ are all so good and that anything ‘big’ is bad when it comes to businesses, and that’s just not the case,” Peterson said. “Big is not bad, and in fact, big is really good. It brings affordability, and it brings safety. The cost of food in the US is less than 10 percent of our disposable income, I think it’s around 7 or 8 percent, which is the lowest of anywhere in the world, and we take that for granted. My father always said that we need a good food shortage in the United States, and then people will appreciate what they have.”
Peterson also highlighted a few of the valuable roles that large businesses play surrounding the concept of sustainable food production.
“A man named Jason Clay, one of the directors of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), was one of the first to say that we realistically just can’t go to millions of farmers around the world, but we can go to a handful of companies, and influence them to take their own influence to help move the dial on sustainability,” he said. “What’s really been exciting for companies like General Mills is that this push towards sustainability has brought us closer to producers.”
Listen to Lizzy’s full interview with Steve here:
Interview with Steve Peterson, Sustainability Expert