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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.

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