Almost half of global food business leaders would reduce investment in sustainability during a period of recession, according to the findings of a new poll.

Of 159 senior food industry executives that responded to a questionnaire at the CIES World Food Business Summit in Munich last month, almost half (48%) said investment in areas including carbon offsetting, water security and alternative power would suffer during an economic downturn.

Respondents cited concerns over cost as a key problem facing businesses. While almost a third (30%) of respondents argued that sustainability offered certain benefits that equalled their costs, 33% said ploughing cash into green measures resulted in a net cost to the business.

Alternative power sources - such as wind, biomass and nuclear - were cited as the greatest opportunity for businesses to address in the future by 43% of delegates. Improving education and food production were also identified as vital componenets to a sustainable agenda.

Speakers at the summit, attended by German chancellor Angela Merkel, said businesses would need to adopt a more coherent sustainability strategy if economic and ecological disasters were to be averted.

But they warned that cost pressures could mean investment in sustainabilty was sidelined in the short term. Almost a third of delegates said a slowdown in consumer spending represented the biggest challenge to their growth plans, while 27% said the spiralling cost of raw materials would have a negative impact on growth opportunities.