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Acknowledging complexity in food supply chains when assessing their performance and sustainability

Kirwan, James, Maye, Damian, Brunori, Gianluca
Journal of rural studies 2017 v.52 pp. 21-32
climate change, cognition, food supply chain, nutrition
Food supply chains (FSCs) over recent years have been epitomised by a range of concerns such as food and nutrition security, the distribution of value and a growing awareness of the threats posed by climate change. Taken together, these pressures have created a sense of urgency to re-examine the performance, equitability and sustainability of FSCs. This paper argues for the need to acknowledge and access the multiple, contested meanings that are attributed to FSCs. Taking its lead from post-normal science, the approach developed aims to understand the different contexts and account for the ‘multiple realities’ that exist. Key to this has been the development of a range of attributes of FSC performance that are common across narratives of sustainability and yet framed in various ways by different categories of actors, examined across a range of national contexts and within four spheres of influence. In so doing, this approach has the potential to more widely legitimise knowledge claims regarding FSC performance. This is critical if producers, policy-makers and consumers are to have the cognitive tools to enable them to make informed decisions about the broader impacts of the different FSCs they engage with.