As a result, more food and beverage stakeholders are turning to the idea of regenerative production as a way to do more than just sustain resources – but to actually improve them. But to ensure this shift is more than just a semantic one and to protect the concept of regenerative from becoming as diluted as ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable,’ industry leaders are racing to develop and launch certifications that will protect the basic tenets of the term so that it can remain effective for the long haul.
One stakeholder that is stepping up is the Rodale Institute, which along with NSF International and several leading brands, is developing a Regenerative Organic Certification that it hopes to unveil in its final form next month at Natural Products Expo West.
In this episode of FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-To-Nuts podcast, Jeff Moyer, the executive director of the Rodale Institute, discusses how regenerative farming goes beyond sustainable farming. He also outlines what the Institute’s new Regenerative Organic Certification will entail. In addition, Taylor Collins, the co-founder of Epic, explains how regenerative farming is a cornerstone for his meat snack company and the different steps he is taking to support regenerative production, including piloting the Savory Institute’s new Land To Market certification for holistic management.
Moving beyond sustainable
On the surface buying sustainably sourced or produced products sounds like a responsible move for consumers who increasingly are preoccupied with the environmental and social impact of their purchasing decisions.
But as Moyer points out the power of the term sustainability depends largely on the quality of the system it supports, and on how marketers use the word.
“The word sustainable or sustainability may sound really good if you have got a great system, but if you were in Central Africa and parts of your population were starving, that is not a system you want to sustain. You want to improve your system,” which is what regenerative offers, he said.
“The word regenerative really has a connotation of continuous improvement and it has a connotation of improving the resources that you are using in a production system every day that you use them,” he said.
To clear up confusion about what regenerative organic agriculture means and to protect it from greenwashing, the Rodale Institute is creating a program by which companies can become Regenerative Organic Certified.
Moyer explained that certification is not an attempt to reinvent the wheel by redefining organic. Rather, he says, the new certification builds on USDA’s Organic and as such any product that wants to be Regenerative Organic Certified, must also be USDA Organic certified.
Moyer notes the new certification has three pillars: Social fairness, soil health and animal welfare.
While Rodale is still working out a few kinks in the certification, Moyer said the institute soft launched the certification at Natural Products Expo East last September and received a lot of positive response from industry stakeholders. It hopes to launch the final requirements at Natural Products Expo West and start rolling out products by the end of 2018.
Savory Institute’s Land To Market Program focuses on livestock
Rodale is not the only organization working on a certification for regenerative farming. The Savory Institute is also creating a Land to Market Program that it says “will enable consumers to identify food and fashion items derived from livestock managed through practices verified to enhance water, soil and climate.”
The soft launch for this certification is slated for this summer, but it has already caught the attention of early adopters, including Epic.
Collins explains he is drawn to Savory Institute’s work in part because it is outcome based on measurable elements, compared to other verifications that are practice based models.
Collins also explains why he is drawn to regenerative practices more broadly and why he made them a cornerstone of Epic.
“Regenerative agriculture is important to our brand. It is one of the pillars on which our company was started and so those pillars were allowing animals to express their natural behaviors, putting them in environments they were biologically intended to live in and we believe that animals in that situation … will create healthier foods,” he said.
How Epic is supporting regenerative farming
Given the fundamental connection of regenerative farming to Epic’s identity, the brand is taking steps beyond certification to promote the practices and improve the environmental impact of the products it makes.
For example, last year it purchased 500,000 pounds of regeneratively managed animal protein, and it created a point system to incentivize suppliers to adopt regenerative practices.
It also bought more than 700 animals that it is leasing to small family farms to be managed holistically so that they can help repair the land. Those animals then will be used to make Epic’s meat snacks, Collins said.
But Epic isn’t stopping there – it also is taking steps to educate consumers and policy makers about regenerative farming by outlining its values in a recently published Impact Journal and inviting people out to a farm to see the results first hand.
Ultimately, with so many pieces in play, it is hard to tell how regenerative farming and certification will shake out in the coming years, but it likely will have a major impact on consumer purchasing patterns, potentially similar to organic.