Fernando Collantes is Senior Lecturer in the area of History and Economic Institutions in Oviedo University, as well as member of the Agrifood economy, globalization, economic development and environment (19th – 21st centuries) research group.
As a member of this group, what is your work focused on?
There are a lot of different lines in the group, but we study food consumption, agricultural change, environmental involvements of production systems, wáter management, food trade…
How has the food scheme changed in Spain?
Spain has evolved really well because we have left scarcity behind. Looking back , in the post-war period, hunger was still there and there were real scarcity problems, but we have developed a food scheme which i sable to provide population with food at reasonable prices, even in the hardest economic crisis such extreme situations have never been reached.
What challenges is it facing now?
Nowadays the problem is that in the last 30 years of abundance, we have started to produce, consume and eat too much, and, in addition, this is done with wrong products, which have high fat or sugar levels… People don’t starve any longer, but other nutritional problems, such as obesity or diabetes, have arisen. Besides, this food scheme we base on and meets our needs has an environmental sustainability problem, due to the amount of production, production chains, distribution…
We are coping with a situation in which starvation has disappeared but, we other negative impacts on health an environment are being generated. We should lead this impact to be positive to consumer society.
In addition, we come from a decentralized system, with relatively balanced markets to a system in which industry and supermarket chains have a strong power in the food scheme. This has been useful for improving food productions in terms of product quality and safety, but there is one question: Should these groups be given total freedom, will contribute to the progress of society? Necessary rules and measurements must be set to encourage and lead energies for distribution groups to be able to improve environmentally, boosting a more sustainable and fairer model for farmers.
What could be the relevance of ecological production regarding this matter?
It is a key, because businesses’ energies must be focused on that. We don’t need more food byproducts, more industrial pastry either. What we need now is to reduce environmental impacts and to produce in a cleaner way.
The problem is that this is perceived as something very expensive.
However, consumers are willing to pay a bit more. In one of my studies on dairies consumption, it is proved that consumers, in the last years have been willing to pay a little more for each consumed calorie in this kind of products?
Aren’t consumers concerned enough about this issue?
Surveys show that which we are concerned about is quality, and consuming safe and good products, but what we do is really different from what we say. Actually what the consumer is worried about is spending the least possible money to have more money to spend on other things rather than to eat more healthily.
Most of Spain’s organic production is exported to other European Union countries, because they are more sensitive to this matter. In Spain the demand is low, organic and non-organic quality distinctions have niche market, but it is still very small.
¿What would the growth of that niche mean for the food scheme?
It could mean that certain types of producers, primary and industrial, whicha are away from the mainstream, could be more visible, but research on this matter in countries where the rate of a more sustainable and balanced consumer is higher the weight of supermarkets has reinforced.
It is not stated that this change is going to benefit small producers, but we shouldn’t emphasize changes in consumers’ behaviour. Conventional actors have nothing against ecology and health because they seek their profits wherever they are. It is State and European Union policies what is needed to erase problems such as low prices and encourage more sustainable production.