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Sustainability standards in global agrifood supply chains


Agrifood supply chains contribute to many environmental and social problems. Sustainability standards—rules that supply chain actors may follow to demonstrate their commitment to social equity and/or environmental protection—aim to mitigate such problems. We provide a narrative review of the effects of many distinct sustainability standards on different supply chain actors spanning multiple crops. Furthermore, we discuss five emerging questions—causality, exclusion, compliance and monitoring, excess supply and emerging country markets—and identify directions for future research. We find that, while sustainability standards can help improve the sustainability of production processes in certain situations, they are insufficient to ensure food system sustainability at scale, nor do they advance equity objectives in agrifood supply chains.

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Fig. 1: Proliferation of sustainability standards.


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This research was financially supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG; ME 5179/1-1) and German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL; 2219NR144).

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E.-M.M., C.B.B., H.C.M., M.Q., T.R. and J.S. developed the research idea. E.-M.M. drafted the paper. All other authors commented on and contributed to writing the final version of the paper.

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Correspondence to Eva-Marie Meemken.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Yixian Sun and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Meemken, EM., Barrett, C.B., Michelson, H.C. et al. Sustainability standards in global agrifood supply chains. Nat Food (2021).

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