<a href="https://www.greenlifestylemag.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Climate change and the food industry

Eating food

Credit: Clipart

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The food industry is likely to be on the front line in the battle against climate change.

The Financial Times reports that the amount of food we waste has an enormous environmental impact, with wastage being encouraged by cheap food, lifestyles, farming and retail practices.

Food production and consumption represents a massive part of every country’s carbon footprint.

A few years ago, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation put out a report saying that livestock were a bigger threat to the environment than cars.

“Livestock now use 30 per cent of the Earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture, but also including 33 per cent of the global arable land used to producing feed for livestock," the report notes.

"As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

"At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 per cent of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification."

It continues: "The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the Earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication [large increases in nutrient concentrations which can imbalance ecosystems] and the degeneration of coral reefs.

"The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilisers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed”.

What we need to see are businesses and consumers changing their behaviours when it comes to food. For shoppers, this means purchasing more wisely. For the industry, it means looking to innovative solutions surrounding waste. For example, as the Financial Times report cited above notes, some companies are now turning waste cooking oil into a diesel vehicle fuel substitute, and in Germany, farms are turning waste into electricity.

Australian Food News notes that farmers and the food industry need to become more efficient.

It quotes the CEO of market insight group IGD, Joanne Denney-Finch, as saying: “Most of the world’s fertile farmland is already in use, so we need to use it more effectively and sustainably because already about 40 per cent of the world’s farmland is categorised as degraded and the problem of over-fishing is even worse. Human water consumption has risen six-fold over the past century - more than double the growth in population. That can’t continue, because the water table is falling in many crop growing parts of the world and according to the UN, if this continues, we’ll lose a third of cereal production within 15 years.”

In Britain, the Guardian reports that the British Government has a plan to introduce labels on all products, showing the greenhouse gas emissions created by their production, transport and eventual disposal, similar to the 'calorie count' figures already seen on food packaging.

But don’t always rely on 'food miles'. Sometimes food brought in from overseas might have a lower carbon footprint than food produced here where a lot of energy is used.

We need similar labels on food products here so that people can make a choice. Consumers need to get used to this. At the same time, the food industry will need to make changes. In 10 years time, it might look very different.

What sort of changes are needed? What should food producers do? Have you changed your diet because of climate change? Or are you planning to?