Just food system from a milk producer’s point of view

News 2020-05-11 at 9:55
Juha Nousiainen speaks for the just food transition. © Valio Ltd

The Just food project investigates the views of milk producers concerning the fairness of the ongoing food transition. This is done in cooperation with Valio, a major dairy and food company in Finland. The transition to a sustainable and climate-smart food system also means changes in production. The fairness of the changes takes a key role in the acceptability of the transition.

“In this case study, we will study the position of milk production in the food transition. From a research perspective, it is particularly interesting what kinds of opportunities and barriers milk producers see in the transition”, says Antti Puupponen, researcher at the University of Jyväskylä.

From Valio’s point of view, the food transition is seen as a change in consumption habits, increasing requirements for sustainability and, in particular, transition to a low-carbon food system.

“The changes taking place in the food system have both a financial and social impact on our shareholders, Finnish milk producers. We want to support the transition so that it would be equally just, or fair, to all operators in the food system”, says Juha Nousiainen, SVP Carbon Neutral Milk Chain at Valio.

What does the just food transition mean to the producer?

Valio hopes that the just food transition will lead to a resource-efficient milk value chain minimising climate and other environmental impacts. It would also safeguard the well-being of animals and quality of products as well as provide sufficient livelihood to food producers.

From the producer’s point of view, fairness can practically mean that emission reduction measures do not cause additional costs or that there is some sort of compensation for the costs incurred.

“Finnish milk farms must be able to be proud of their own production and be appreciated”, Valio’s Nousiainen also stresses.

Fairness also concerns decision-making processes – whose voice is heard in them? “One of the objectives of the case study is to ensure that as many groups as possible are listened to in the discussion on the transition and the policy implementing it. Milk producers are one such group,” Puupponen says.

Driving force of the private sector

Agricultural policy and the government’s carbon neutrality objectives are not the only forces driving changes into production methods. Valio is a trailblazer in the private sector by pursuing a carbon-neutral milk chain by 2035. Utilizing manure for energy, reducing emissions from peat soils and increasing the efficiency of sequestering carbon into the soil, i.e. implementing the so-called carbon farming methods among all producers are at the spearhead of the means.

The Just food project research delves into these measures; what opportunities and barriers are there to adopting them? Or is it a win-win situation, with benefits to the environment also generating economic benefits to the farmer?

According to Nousiainen, a just food transition can also provide farms with new opportunities. “Manure can be turned from waste into a valuable product, and grass production into an agricultural practice that mitigates climate change.”

Within this case study, Valio’s milk producers and other actors along the milk chain will be interviewed. This will provide better insight into how farmers experience the measures of Valio’s Carbon Neutral Milk Chain programme.

“Our goal is to explore the acceptability of measures mitigating climate change among farmers and increase understanding of how the just food transition can also be promoted by the means of the private sector,” says Annika Lonkila, researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute.

© Kai Widell

Making the producer’s voice heard

The researchers of Just food expect that the research cooperation will help to see guidelines for future milk production and the policy guiding it.

Valio is excited about the multidisciplinary project in which researchers from different fields review the food system from the point of view of justness. The big picture is built with a keen ear to different parties.

“The project cooperation will make milk producers’ voice heard, and we will also get new ideas for developing sustainable milk production. We expect open discussion and brainstorming to implement the fair food transition from the project,” Nousiainen confirms.

More information

  • SVP Carbon Neutral Milk Chain Juha Nousiainen, Valio Ltd, firstname.lastname@valio.fi, tel. +358 50 384 0242
  • Researcher Antti Puupponen, University of Jyväskylä, firstname.h.lastname@jyu.fi, tel. +358 40 805 4181
  • Researcher Annika Lonkila, Finnish Environment Institute, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi, tel. +358 29 525 2032