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Reducing The Carbon Footprint Of Food

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) says that reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is central to limiting climate change. And to help to ensure food security, farmers across the globe will probably have to switch to cultivating more climate-hardy crops and farming practices. But there is more that we can do.

Using estimates from 2005, 2007 and 2008, the researchers found that agricultural production provides the lion’s share of greenhouse-gas emissions from the food system, releasing up to 12,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year — up to 86% of all food-related anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions. Next is fertilizer manufacture, which releases up to 575 megatonnes, followed by refrigeration, which emits 490 megatonnes. The researchers found that the whole food system released 9,800–16,900 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere in 2008, including indirect emissions from deforestation and land-use changes. Once we are biocharing wherever possible, and using biochar instead of fertiliser, we can begin to make cuts. We can cut refrigeration costs to near-zero by lining our freezers and chillers on transport and at home with Starlite, and Firepaste. Increases in deforestation can be cut when we eradicate slash and burn and replace it with biocharing the new agricultural land so that we can farm the land for generations instead of for the highly wasteful one season. Population in the Third World can be stabilised by the “Buxton Gap,” a phenomenon where child birth rates drop when there is access to plentiful water supplies, brought about by the digging of water wells. We still have the problem of increasing wealth leading to increasing demand for more exotic meats, Chinese demand for pork is increasing, for example. Education about vegetarianism and eating meat with a smaller carbon foot print would be one method. Beef has a three times higher carbon footprint than pork, and six times that of chicken because it takes longer to get to the table, and the greater CO2 emissions from ruminants.

The statistics that I used in my self-funding near-zero CO2 plan did not mention the percentage of UK CO2 emissions caused by food production, but they can be cut down. (I am at present getting updated figures under the Freedom of Information Act).Long range food transport CO2 emissions can be cut by 50% by mixing transport fuel and water with an ultrasonic dibber, and I am attempting to get Universities in the UK to do so. Sewage from both livestock and humans can be cut by 50% by biocharing it, for use as soil improver. (As can the deceased, and I have campaigned on the rights to this after death). Food waste from both food production, and consumption can also be biochared. We can also eat food that is produced nearer to home, or at home to cut down on transport costs, and home grown food is fresher, so generally tastes better.

We can biochar all organic material, which can be sorted out by automated rubbish dump sorters, with biocharing equipment being on site. The metal and plastic can then be recycled.

“Move for Hunger” says that a third of food produced is wasted. While food loss happens mainly at the production stage due to insufficient skills, natural calamities, lack of proper infrastructure and poor practices, food waste occurs when edible food is intentionally discarded by consumers after they fail to plan their meals properly and store food till it spoils or goes past the expiry date. At times, food waste can also happen due to oversupply in markets. Retailers also tend to reject a lot of food because it doesn’t conform to their quality and aesthetic standards. A 2013 FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report, which was the first study to analyse the impacts of global food wastage on the environment, says that nearly one-third of all food produced in the world for human consumption does not find its way to our tables.


Impact of food waste on the environment


More than 50 percent of the waste occurs during “upstream” or the production, yield handling and storage phase and the remaining happens during processing, distribution and consumption stages or the “downstream” phase.

The FAO report was also able to discern a clear pattern in food waste at the global level. While middle and higher income regions showed greater food loss and waste during the downstream phase or at the consumption level, developing countries were more likely to lose or waste food at the upstream phase due to lack of proper harvest techniques and infrastructure.

It goes without saying that the later food is wasted along the chain, the greater is its environmental impact, because then we also have to take into consideration the energy and natural resources expended in processing, transporting, storing and cooking it. If included in a list of countries ranked according to their greenhouse emissions, food waste would come in the third spot, right after USA and China.

With agriculture accounting for 70 percent of the water used throughout the world, food waste also represents a great waste of freshwater and ground water resources. It is said that a volume of water roughly three times the volume of Lake Geneva is used just to produce food that is not eaten. By throwing out one kilogram of beef, you are essentially wasting 50,000 litres of water that were used to produce that meat. In the same way, nearly 1000 litres of water are wasted when you pour one glass of milk down the drain.

If you look at land usage, around 1.4 billion hectares of land, which is roughly one-third the world’s total agricultural land area, is used to grow food that is wasted. Millions of gallons of oil are also wasted every year to produce food that is not eaten. And all this does not even take into account the negative impacts on biodiversity due to activities like monocropping and converting wild lands into agricultural areas. It has been found that Third World countries that do not monocrop as the World Bank says are more resilient to disaster than those that conform.  

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