"Oscars of Food" Honors Visionary IPM Advocate at World's Largest Food Distributor

As the world’s largest food distributor, Sysco has the leverage to do great things. When Sysco began its Sustainability Initiative in 2005 letting buyers know they were buying premium-quality food, “premium” wasn’t about the size or visual appeal of the product. It was about environmental, economic, and social quality at every step of production.

These values recently won IPM advocate Craig Watson, Sysco’s VP for agricultural sustainability, a prestigious 2011 James Beard Foundation award.

The Foundation, among the world’s premiere culinary heritage organizations, has been bestowing highly coveted awards for the past quarter century. But this year the foundation spotlighted an entirely new group of recipients—health and sustainability advocates and pioneers—with its new Leadership Award.

When Sysco began developing their environmental standards and guidelines, they turned to resources such as the New York State IPM Program, the Northeastern IPM Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The IPM Institute of North America provides annual third-party validation.

For thousands of Sysco growers, these guidelines mean using strong, science-based IPM (integrated pest management) programs that emphasize least-toxic solutions to pest problems. Lures and traps, beneficial organisms, scouting and trap cropping, carefully timed low-impact treatments—IPM tactics like these not only help growers keep environmental risks low, but dramatically cut back on input costs.

Now nearly 800,000 acres are now enrolled in Sysco’s Sustainability Initiative. Six years into the program, Sysco reports a cumulative reduction of three million pounds of pesticides. In 2010 alone, suppliers trimmed fertilizer use by six million pounds, recycled 485,000 tons of materials, and diverted more than 41 million tons of processing water to irrigation.

Similar sustainable initiatives at Sysco support the locavore movement here and abroad, invest in small farmers wherever they live (be it North America, Asia, or South America), and champion the safety of farmworkers while making Sysco’s warehouses and trucking fleets far more energy-efficient.

Moving forward in tough times, Watson says, means investing in sustainable programs like IPM. “We know the reward is there, whether it’s stronger relationships with our customers and suppliers, a return on our energy savings, or a healthier planet for all of us.”

Often called “The Oscars of Food,” the Foundation’s awards have long honored the United States’ finest chefs, restaurants, and writers and broadcasters, and others. Watson and nine other food and health visionaries, including First Lady Michelle Obama, received the Leadership Award on October 16, 2011, at the second annual James Beard Foundation Food Conference in New York City.


The Northeastern IPM Center promotes integrated pest management for reducing risks to human health and the environment. If republishing our news, please acknowledge the source (“From Northeast IPM Insights”) along with a link to our website.