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Daily Archives: January 12, 2019

Sustainable Development In the Food Industry – Food Security and Food Justice

Sustainable Development In the Food Industry – Food Security and Food Justice

Whether the food industry and food manufacturing are regulated according to the theory of sustainable development is closely related to economic, social, resource and environmental aspects. This essay investigates the current situation of the food industry, analyzes the problems in the food industry in society, economy and environment, and studies the needs of the food industry based on the theoretical framework of sustainable development proposed by the United Nations.

photo by Sarah Philips

Current Status and Problems In the Food Industry

With the development of social economy, most people’s demand for food quantity is not so strong. On the contrary, human demand for food quality is getting bigger and bigger. (Xavier Cirera and Edoardo Masset, 2010) Such a phenomenon directly leads to a serious problem facing today’s society — excessive waste of food, and excessive waste of food would affect global climate change. (Alex Saer, et. al., 2013) A kind of food from agricultural production, transportation, processing to food that can be directly eaten, the carbon dioxide emitted in the whole process is huge. First, carbon dioxide emissions from agricultural production processes account for 14% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and 70% of global freshwater consumption is spent on agricultural production. (Mattias, Eriksson, 2015) Although food production consumes a lot of resources, people do not cherish the hard-won food. According to statistics, one-third or more of the food is wasted every year. Behind this, the production of these foods consumes 4.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide. (Paul C. West, 2010) According to the report, Asian grain waste is a prominent problem that has a major impact on carbon emissions, water and land use. Rice production is particularly striking due to its high methane emissions and high waste. (Khai Lun Ong, et. al., 2017) The amount of meat consumed in the world is relatively low, but the impact of the meat industry on the environment is large, reflected in land occupation and carbon emission, especially in high-income countries and Latin America, where their waste accounts of all meat waste was 80%. (Kevin Hall, et. al., 2009) Similarly, in industrialized regions of Asia, Europe, South Asia and Southeast Asia, the massive waste of vegetables translates into a huge carbon emission in the sector. (J Gustafsson, 2013) Since carbon emissions from food have a great impact on the environment of climate warming, only greenhouse gases emitted by meat products account for 18% of the global total. Therefore, it is imperative to solve the problem of excessive waste of food.

Excessive waste of food not only harms the environment but also rapidly worsens global hunger. (D Cordell, et. al., 2009) According to the latest report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are still more than 800 million people in the world who are suffering from chronic hunger, which is almost equal to the total population of the EU and the United States. This means that one out of every nine people in the world is starving. Another factor that accelerates the deterioration of global hunger is the fast-growing global population. The world population now stands at 7 billion and is expected to increase to 9.6 billion by 2050. So we will need more and more food. (S McGuire, 2015) If we continue to waste food like this, I am afraid that the problem of hunger will continue to worsen, and the challenges brought about by climate change will become more and more serious.0

photo by FAO

Approaches to Sustainable Development Theory

On September 25, 2015, world leaders formally adopted the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and 17 sustainable development goals at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development. Among them, the 12th goal is “to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, and call for sustainable use of resources”. Among them, the 12.3 sub-goal clearly states that the global per capita food waste in the retail and consumer sectors would be halved and the food losses in production and supplying sector would be reduced by 2030. According to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the first consideration is to reduce food waste as a priority. In addition to reducing farm crop losses and further balancing production-demand relationships, the use of natural resources to produce unnecessary food should be avoided first. The best solution to the problem of oversupply is to reuse it in the human food chain, looking for secondary markets or donating excess food to feed the poor. If the food is not suitable for human consumption, the next best option is to use it as a feed for livestock, thereby saving resources that would otherwise be used to produce commercial feed. In the case where reuse is not possible, recycling should be tried. Recycling by-products and energy-recycling waste incineration could recover energy and nutrients from food waste, which is significantly better than dumping food waste into landfills. The leftover food rots in landfills, producing large amounts of methane, a highly harmful greenhouse gas. (MH Kim and JW Kim, 2010) Another cause of food waste is the waste of food transportation. Therefore, in order to solve this problem, it is necessary to develop better methods of grain harvesting, storage, processing, transportation and retailing. For example, there is a good method to reduce the waste of food transportation is called cold chain transportation. The fresh foods are kept at a safe temperature from harvesting or capture to processing, and from distribution to point of sale. (JC Kuo and MC Chen, 2010) Reducing the packaging of food could also play a role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Excessive or use of unsustainable packaging can increase the environmental cost of food. (K Marsh and B Bugusu, 2007) Therefore, only in the process of production, transportation, sales and recycling of food can be improved to truly achieve sustainable food development.

“Sustainable Development” is undoubtedly a very important goal in the food industry and even in human society at this stage. (KL Thyberg and DJ Tonjes, 2016) Sustainable farming ensures a stable source of food, and sustainable food processing further allows the ingredients to be used to the fullest, saving both resources and pollution. In today’s global integration, the harmonious coexistence of people and the environment and food is the common aspiration of all countries.

Cirera, X. & Masset, E., 2010. Income distribution trends and future food demand. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365(1554), pp.2821–2834.

Cordell, D., Drangert, J.O. and White, S., 2009. The story of phosphorus: global food security and food for thought. Global environmental change, 19(2), pp.292-305.

Eriksson, Strid & Hansson, 2015. Carbon footprint of food waste management options in the waste hierarchy – a Swedish case study. Journal of Cleaner Production, 93(C), pp.115–125.

Gustafsson, J., Cederberg, C., Sonesson, U. and Emanuelsson, A., 2013. The methodology of the FAO study: Global Food Losses and Food Waste-extent, causes and prevention”-FAO, 2011.

Hall, K. et al., 2009. The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact. PLoS One, 4(11), p.e7940.

Kim, M.H. and Kim, J.W., 2010. Comparison through a LCA evaluation analysis of food waste disposal options from the perspective of global warming and resource recovery. Science of the total environment, 408(19), pp.3998-4006.

Marsh, K. and Bugusu, B., 2007. Food packaging—roles, materials, and environmental issues. Journal of food science, 72(3), pp.R39-R55.

McGuire, S., 2015. FAO, IFAD, and WFP. The state of food insecurity in the world 2015: meeting the 2015 international hunger targets: taking stock of uneven progress. Rome: FAO, 2015. Advances in Nutrition, 6(5), pp.623-624.

Ong et al., 2017. Trends in food waste valorization for the production of chemicals, materials and fuels: Case study South and Southeast Asia. Bioresource Technology, 248(PA), pp.100–112.

Paul C. West et al., 2010. Trading carbon for food: Global comparison of carbon stocks vs. crop yields on agricultural land. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(46), pp.19645–19648.

Saer et al., 2013. Life cycle assessment of a food waste composting system: environmental impact hotspots. Journal of Cleaner Production, 52, pp.234–244.

Thyberg, K.L. and Tonjes, D.J., 2016. Drivers of food waste and their implications for sustainable policy development. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 106, pp.110-123.

Could GM crops end global food insecurity? – Food Security and Food Justice

Could GM crops end global food insecurity? – Food Security and Food Justice

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are organisms in which the DNA has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally. GM crops have been developed to have certain beneficial traits; including pesticide resistance and stress tolerance to improve plant survival, and enhanced nutritional values.

Some are taking advantage of the ability of GMOs to increase the yield of a more nutritious crop by growing them in developing countries to take steps to reduce food insecurity.

However, the use of GM crops is not completely accepted due to concerns over potential adverse health effects from ingesting the crops and the environmental impact of the plants.

Benefits of using GM crops

In 2017, 189.8 million hectares of GM crops were planted globally, with the most common crop choice being soybean, maize, cotton or canola. There are several other GM crops that are currently used as staple food sources, such as rice, potatoes and peas. Some argue that, with the population increasing at the current rate, these crops are vital to match the increased global demand for food as they produce a higher yield than non-GM crops.

Genetic modification can not only increase crop yield but can also produce plants with enhanced nutritional qualities. This can be seen as vital in a world where 815 million people are chronically undernourished. One example of this is Golden Rice; which has been modified to contain high levels of beta-carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. Vitamin A deficiency, as a result of malnutrition, is a serious but preventable condition that can cause blindness and premature death. Golden Rice can reduce the likelihood of developing vitamin A deficiency by simply increasing dietary intake. Other staple crops used commonly in developing countries, such as maize and wheat, have also been modified to have different health benefits to target the effects of malnutrition.

When we consider the definition of food insecurity as ‘when people lack access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food for normal growth and development and an active and healthy life’ then it can be argued that using GM crops will reduce the severity of this issue, as they are able to produce larger amounts of food that also has enhanced nutritional values.

Not only does the production of GM crops create larger quantities of food with enhanced nutritional values, it also increases the income of the farmers growing the crops. In 2016 alone, farmers in developing countries earned $9,962 million more through growing GM crops. Therefore, it has been found that, in Africa, GM crops have the potential to reduce poverty and improve food security by adding to the income of smaller farm households.

Arguments against the use of GM crops

However, not everyone is so keen on the use of GM crops, as there are a number of large corporations supported by some members of the public that oppose the development and use of GMOs.

Greenpeace are strongly against the use of all GMOs, arguing that they pose unknown risks and may have unforeseeable environmental, social and health impacts. The group has targeted Golden Rice specifically, commenting that the exact metabolic pathway it uses is poorly understood so the potential negative health effects are currently unknown.

There are also concerns over the impact of the unnatural introduction of genes into organisms, on both the environment and on humans; some questioning whether genetic modification causes mutations that could be passed on to humans. In the argument whether GM crops are safe to eat it is important to note that no ill effects have been reported and that there is little documented evidence that they are potentially toxic.

Public opinion on GMOs is often reported to be negative, especially within the European Union, however this can vary as there are many factors that can sway public opinion; the most important being an understanding of the technology. It has been found that people generally do not agree with GM technology because they do not understand it. This is supported by the fact that more educated people tend to be more approving of genetic modification.

So one of the biggest barriers to the use of GM crops to provide food security, in both academic and public opinions, comes from the possibility of unknown risks; meaning more certainty needs to be provided alongside the technology for it to become more widely accepted.

The future of GM crops

With such divided opinions it is difficult to know whether GM crops are the answer to global food insecurity, especially when neither side of the debate seems to have solid evidence to support them.

The arguments against the use of GM crops are valid, but, when it comes to food security then the ability of GMOs to produce higher yields of crops, that are designed to contain specific nutrients to reduce the incidences of diseases caused by malnourishment, cannot be ignored. Some even argue that unjustified regulations are blocking the potential to create more nutritious food in larger quantities to alleviate nutritional insecurity in developing countries.

With 8 out of 10 of the top GM crop producers worldwide being developing countries this shows that GMOs are being used to tackle food insecurity in poorer countries. However, more research needs to be done to prove the safety of GMOs and effort needs to be made to improve public understanding to promote global use.

Until the uncertainties surrounding GMOs are resolved there is not likely to be an answer to the debate anytime soon. With the appropriate use GM crops could make significant steps to end global food insecurity, but there is still a long way to go.

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Red Meat: On a World Driven by Environmental Sustainability and Health – Food Security and Food Justice

Red Meat: On a World Driven by Environmental Sustainability and Health – Food Security and Food Justice

Environmental Impact

A substantial 26% of the earth’s ice-free land is used by animals we breed to eat or milk. However, the impact of the meat industry, particularly cows, on the environment is not as clear-cut as it may be portrayed. Structural changes mean there is a slow shift into the industrialisation of breeding livestock. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) has freed parts of land from cattle and is now a key characteristic of the meat business. Without much concern, animals have been confined together in unventilated barns, and endure much suffering. Nevertheless, cheap meat continues to be a popular demand for people across the world.

The reputation livestock has received over its impact on the environment has been extensive. Whether it be direct, such as land compression by large herds, or indirect, such as the deforestation caused by growing food for CAFO.

Though, much rhetoric of the practices that occur in the meat industry ignores other substantial environmental issues. Methane, for example, is the second largest greenhouse-gas produced by the agricultural sector, and cows are commonly used as the scapegoat. Though research shows cattle methane production increases by low-quality food  (often used by CAFO), and measures can be taken to prevent this. On the other hand, rice-fields account for up to 20% methane production and CAFO requires stored anaerobic lagoons to treat animal refuse which has increased methane in the atmosphere. These man-made ‘sustainable’ alternatives have not resolved any issues but may have resulted in higher risks of air and water pollution.

Furthermore, animal feed needs to be transported, sometimes through multiple countries and has taken up 1/3 of the world’s agriculture produce as animals are no longer free to graze on land. The prior issue, where large herds of cattle caused land degradation and biodiversity loss, is shifting to livestock using resources that could be used to feed the hungry, environmental issues deriving from animal food transportation and an increasing worry of the health consequences for humans.

Red Meat & Well-Being

Meat offers a range of vital protein, nutrients, and minerals needed for our bodies, such as zinc, iron, and B-12. Research by archaeologists shows humans have been eating meat dating as far back as 2.5 million years ago and continues to be 1/3 of the world’s main source of protein.

On the other hand, the right to life for animals, environmental issues and healthy lifestyle promotions that are seen often in today, has propelled a surge in the number of vegetarians and vegans across the world. Not only this, but the increasing knowledge about multiple health risks red meat may cause has stretched this issue further. In developed countries, nutrient-based illnesses are not a commonality, whereas chronic diseases are. Mounting research has found correlations between red meat and non-communicable diseases, and also how eating little red meat has improved health benefits.

So, what should we do?… Researchers argue that reducing the amount of meat in diets will not majorly contribute to a healthy lifestyle without cutbacks on unhealthy fats and sugary foods. To improve health whilst supporting the conservation of the planet can be achieved by individual choice. For instance, eating locally produced food, according to what is available during seasonal changes and carefully choosing meat suppliers.

CAFO: Anti-Biotic Resistance

Ranging from birth defects and brain damage to depression and a growing fear of anti-bacterial resistance, CAFO meat is circulating serious health concerns to humans. Half of the world’s antibiotics are used on animals living in CAFO settings. This is so animals can recover from illness and infection quicker and promote growth, and so, larger profits.

While the use of antibiotics on animals passing on microbial contamination to humans has unclear data, there is a significant indication that it is a problem to human wellbeing. Research shows anti-bacterial resistance strains within animals is possibly pathogenic to humans. Multiple sources have concluded there is insufficient data on the matter and even though the phenomenon remains to be proved, its risk should not be brushed aside.

An option for change for the environment, our health and animal rights could be to reduce the production of meat and allow for organic meat industries to grow instead of CAFO. Though, in a profit-driven world alongside high demand, is this beyond the realms of possibility?

The Future of Meat Eating

Of course, there is much more to say about the impact of red meat on humans and the environment that can fit into a blog, nevertheless, the industry undoubtedly has a considerable impact on both matters. Taking this into account, being able to support environmental causes but also being able to eat meat safely is a possibility. Consumers need to be proactive in implementing changes to considerably improve on meat production and consumption matters politically and personally, for example:

The shifts in demography and urbanisation have fostered a change in demand, as well as diet across the globe. Agricultural industries are one of the most important livelihood contributors across the developed and developing world. It is important to raise awareness, knowledge, and information across all aspects of the meat industry whilst improving standards of living and meeting the needs of citizens. At the same time as, working on reducing the environmental impact and cultivating sustainable methods for the meat industry.  Cooperative policies in addressing agricultural meat and the problems it causes for the environment and health needs to be suited to respective states.

With a growing population concerned with health and global warming, is no red meat the answer?