A conversation with Tina Owens, regenerative agriculture consultant and part of the Nutrient Density Alliance (for Regenerative Agriculture), about the state of the nutrient density space, the research, why life cycle assessments are broken and a lot more.
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This episode is part of the Nutrient Density in Food series!
This series is supported by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of The Environment, which is a private foundation with a mission to protect and conserve the natural environment. The Grantham Foundation raises awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports organizations working to find solutions. Over the last few years, the Grantham Foundation has funded an extensive portfolio of projects focused on reducing emissions and removing carbon directly from the atmosphere.
We are at the telegraph stage of nutrition, and that means lots of opportunities for companies. What does it mean that only 1% of nutrition data is tracked on food labels? Does it mean we should wait until the science is completely clear? Or, is there a lot of space on which food companies, large and small, can already act and secure a leading role in a space that seems completely open at the moment?
WE ARE ONLY JUST STARTING TO UNDERSTAND NUTRITION
There are certain things we already know that matter for human health, says Tina.
”If we know 1% of nutrition, we’re not even at the rotary phone stage of nutrition. We’re at the telegraph stage of nutrition. But there’s still certain compounds that consumers and companies, marketers, researchers have been trained to focus in on. Let’s say protein, and wheat or antioxidants, and blueberries or omega three, six fatty acid ratios within meat, dairy, eggs, etc.” – Tina Owens
”In fact, antioxidants, polyphenols, omega three, they don’t even make it on the side panel, they’re usually front of pack or back of pack, and yet we as consumers know to seek those things out for purchasing. And so, the bare minimum, and this is what we’re after, we’re after this foundational step. It is if I have a regenerative wheat program, and so many growers in the in regenerative wheat have asserted something around the number of 40% higher protein in their wheat from regenerative practices…” – Tina Owens
WHY CURRENT PACKAGING OFFERS A LOT OF OPTION FOR SHARING NUTRIENT DENSITY INFORMATION
We actually recommend people to compare their nutritional outcomes on this 1% to the USDA standard, says Tina. So, if the standard for the entire market is x, and you’re seeing a 19% increase over the standard, talk about that, talk about the Delta.
”The companies that have these regenerative ag programs, even in wheat are not going back and seeing if they can segregate that wheat to create a specification specific to that protein level. And if they did, and they segregated it and had it go through into a single product, they can actually use the same specification and certificate of analysis process that all companies use today on all lots on all required testing within their specification process. And that would impact their side panel calculation.” – Tina Owens
”If that protein was higher, then you could say something on the back of the package like we practice regenerative agriculture practices, and those lead to meaningful outcomes in nutrient density. Check out our website to learn more about why there’s higher protein versus our competitors.” – Tina Owens
”In order to engage the consumer on the fact that soil health actually equals nutrient density. And it’s not a religion of food religion that we’re engaging them in. It’s just solid science, based on real outcomes that the UN FAO, -the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations-, has been asserting since the year the soils in 2015.” – Tina Owens
YOU ARE NOT ACTING SCIENTIFIC BY DEMONISING INDIGENOUS, REGENERATIVE, PERENNIAL, AGRO ECOLOGICAL AGRICULTURE
Last year, Tina was working with a climate scientist who helped draft the original soil carbon protocols. They were working on a project, which was reintroducing native, perennial grains, grasses and legumes back into the food system that were historically in this food, but have essentially fallen off in our commoditize central processing work.
”I was leading the lifecycle assessment on a perennial grain and on an organic cookie that it would have been used in, and I uncovered something that I still find just gobsmackingly shocking in a way that I’m the one that’s asking the questions about this for the industry and has since blown it up to some of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations to help engage them in the global conversation. Here’s where the gap is. The existing lifecycle assessment methodology, that the entire world and especially the food world is using as the baseline for their climate commitments and their understanding of what they need to do as companies, as Chief Sustainability officers etc., does not include full stop, does not include organic, perennial, regenerative or indigenous managed lands, which by the way, you add all of those together, you’re over 50% of the Food and Agricultural and land management systems on the planet, and they are the ones we actually need to sustain human life.” – Tina Owens
LIFE CYCLE ASSESSMENTS ARE BROKEN
The lifecycle assessment methodologies that are used today were originally created by the chemical industry in the 1960s, and they were then bolted on to the commoditized food system as a means of understanding the chemical and diesel fuel footprint and refrigerants and all the things. They were never meant for life giving food systems.
”So, what lifecycle assessment methodology capture is field passes, diesel use, sprays, transportation, manufacturing, refrigerants, storage, end of life, recycling, etc. What they do not cover is the difference between a GMO beet sugar and high annual tillage versus a date palm, which is a perennial planted once every two to three decades, that requires almost no inputs and also gives you sugar. The system is not set up to understand the inherent value of one versus the other, it treats them both as though they are the same.” – Tina Owens
”So, continuous living cover, soil organic matter, climate change mitigation, above and below ground biodiversity. These metrics impacting human life, these metrics that are actually critical for climate change mitigation and human health mitigation, are not included in the baseline systems that the food system globally is using on decision making around mitigating climate change.” – Tina Owens
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Tina also talked about:
- Molecular mapping of food
- How do institutional investors get involved in regenerative investing
- The scurvy argument and its relevance to human health
- Nutrient Density Alliance
- Resources Page
- WSU nutrition research related to brands
- David LeZaks and Mandy Ellerton Report The Regenerative Agriculture and Human Health Nexus: Insights from Field to Body
- The Pentagon Report on Military Collapse due to Climate Change by 2040
- Why Apple’s New Phone doesn’t matter
- Samsung patent for embedded mass spectrometer
- Good Culture | Cottage Cheese
- Big Picture Foods
- Bright Seed
- The periodic table of food initiatives
- Nutrient density in food series
- Soil Builders, checking in with Zach Weiss on water cycles and a biodynamic baby food startup
- David LeZaks and David Strelneck – Why the USDA gave a $600K grant to figure out how to pay farmers for quality
- QA Webinar The Regenerative Agriculture and Human Health Nexus: Insights from Field to Body
- Mariko Thorbecke – Let’s focus on making agriculture fossil fuel free
- Toby Kiers, the Jane Goodall of fungi and mycorrhizal networks on being an underground astronaut
- Victor Friedberg, 30m available for food moonshots
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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.