Biodiversity award winners show food industry what’s possible

By Jess Halliday in Madrid

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Biodiversity, Food

Unilever and Coop Switzlerland’s efforts to promote conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity serve as positive examples and can help push biodiversity up the agenda of the food industry, says the Union for Ethical Biotrade following the first Biodiversity Awards for the food industry.

The awards scheme was first announced at the FIE trade show in Frankfurt last year, and the winners announced at HIE in Madrid on Tuesday evening. The scheme is a joint venture between the Union for Ethical Biotrade and United Business Media.

Rik Kutsch Lojenga, executive director of UEBT, told in Madrid that the aim is to get biodiversity higher on the agenda of food companies. Topics such as organic and fair trade are better known, but “biodiversity does not jump at you”​ he said, but awareness, and entries were certainly boosted by 2010 International Year of Biodiversity.

Unilever was awarded for its Allanblackia project, as it is working with rural producers and local biodiversity in Africa with the aim of bringing to market a new vegetable oil. Named after 19th century Scottish botanist Allan Black, oil from the seeds is composed almost entirely of triglycerides of stearic- and oleic fatty acids.

The oil was granted a positive novel foods opinion by the European Food Safety Authority in 2007 for use in yellow fat and cream-based spreads. Although it is not yet on being used in products, Unilever is involved in a public-private partnership in Ghana called the Novella Project to develop the supply chain.

Kutsch Lojenga told that the Allanblackia project tries to balance commercial interest with commitment to conserving biodiversity. When it comes to the market, it will have an impact and show companies that are sceptical now that a supply chain that makes sustainable use of biodiversity is possible.

Coop, the largest supermarket in Switzerland, was awarded in the leadership category for its commitment to regional produce, rare species, and its support for organic farmers. Kutsch Lojengan said the coop was also commended for its public awareness campaigns, such as handing out packets of seeds to customers to encourage them to see themselves as part of biodiversity.

The scheme was open entry, rather than being limited to companies attending the HIE trade show, and the judging panel drew up a shortlist of 11 from entries received from all parts of the world.

Other honourable mentions were Marks and Spencer for its company-wide biodiversity programmes and WWF collaboration, Lotus Foods for its work towards brining ancient rice species to market, and Colombian company EcoFlora which has developed a natural blue food colouring based on biodiversity and Ethical BioTrade principles.

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