Food System By The Numbers: Prepare To Be Startled: It’s time to align our diets with the environment, or face the consequences

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Read full article by Nidhi Joshi @OutlookPoshan Photo Credit: Outlook Poshan

By 2050, there will be more than 10 billion people on earth. Already, at the current population levels, there 820 million people who go to bed hungry each night, 2 billion are micronutrients deficient, and more than 2 billion adults are overweight. About 71% of global deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases. Our current food system is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of freshwater use, and 60% of terrestrial biodiversity loss, raising significant questions over the sustainability the system.

A close nexus exists between our environment, food systems, and diet. Climate change, energy use, land use, water, soil, biodiversity, and waste are directly and indirectly influenced by our diets and food system. The impact of diet and food production on the environment can be determined by indicators such as life cycle assessment, carbon footprint, ecological footprint, water footprint, food miles, and energy footprint.

The agriculture sector is the second-largest source of greenhouse gases globally. Methane and nitrous oxide are two major greenhouse gases emitted by the sector. Enteric fermentation in livestock and manure management contributes to nearly two-thirds of the total emissions. In terms of food groups, meat and dairy have the largest share in greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture sector.

In contrast, vegetables, legumes, and fruits tend to have a low environmental impact. However, cereals such as rice and quinoa have somewhat higher emissions. A significant claim on the planet’s water resources is made by the livestock sector. Beef production has the largest water footprint followed by sheep, pork, and poultry. More than 60% of our calories are derived from four crops namely, wheat, rice, maize, and potato. Only 5 livestock species alone account for 95% of our total food derived from animals. About 95% of global fish and shellfish production comes from only 31 species. This shows the immense impact of our food system on biodiversity and the environment. At the same time, climate change negatively affects agriculture and increases the vulnerability towards food insecurity.

Sustainability helps to align our well-being with that of the environment. Environment, economy, and society are the three pillars of sustainability. The concept of sustainable diets emerged in 1970. In 2010, FAO defined the term sustainable diets as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources”.


Posted on

May 6, 2020

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