Food, Agriculture, Hunger and the Earth
- Introduction and Overview of Issues
- Arable Land Management and Feeding the Earth
- The Health and Environmental Impact of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
- Global Environmental Impact of Agriculture and Food
- Beyond Common Sense
1. Introduction and Overview of Issues
Agriculture is key to many aspects of our lives:
- Food is a bare necessity for subsistence of all the people on Earth, and leads to hunger by creating dependence of vulnerable populations by making staples rely on global trade
- The quality of food is key to our health and well being
- Food production through agriculture impacts directly our environment and health through the sanitary and phytosanitary products used
- Food production through agriculture impacts indirectly our environment and health through global impact, such as global warming, generated waste (both by the industry and end products packaging), and the dwindling of resources
2. Arable Land Management and Feeding the Earth
Arable land, that is, land on which food can be produced, is limited on our Earth. As we can see in another section, trying to increase this arable land be deforestation is ill-advised and is bound to lead to dramatic fall of land yields because of global warming. As we can see in yet another section, increasing land yields through phytosanitarian products is a danger to our health, and intensive agriculture using phosphorus extraction will end at some point.
When putting all of those facts together, we see that the only way forward to feed the worlds (growing) population is a more sustainable management of the available arable land. This means precisely that we have to find ways to increase the amount of food with valuable nutriments available for humans on a globally limited area of land, with a sustainable management of resources. Attention must be paid to fossil resources such as phosphorus (which are limited in quantities globally), and water resources, which become increasingly sparse in many parts of the world, to an important extent due to global warming. This implies that intensive agriculture cannot be a solution
2.a. Meat Production
A very compelling example of suicidal use of arable land is the current trend of meat consumption. It can be seen that the direct and indirect arable land used for production of 1kg of meat, especially for large animals (such as for beef and porc production) is much higher (a multiple) than the arable land required to produce 1kg of vegetable (possibly starchy foods such as whole grains or legumes) food. The water resources use for cattle breeding is also a major issue.
The absurdity of this trend is all the more compelling when we see the health impact of overconsumption of meat, including increased cancer risk , and the indirect risks due to body weight and a generally imbalanced diet due to disproportions in food intakes.
2.b. Processed Food, Subsidies, Seed Patents and Hunger
Another related issue is the failure of agrobusiness to reduce hunger in developing countries, in particular through dependence of local population to global trade speculation, patents on plants and seeds
The disruption of local food production systems and dumping based broadening of subsidised processed foods by developed countries worsens this dependency on global trade for developing countries and vulnerable populations. See the example of dairy imports into sub-Saharan Africa .
3. The Health and Environmental Impact of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures
Sanitary and Phytosanitary products impact our health and environment in a number of ways:
- Chemicals such as growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides have many biological effects on our body, from basic toxicity of residues present in the food, to dwindling availability and efficiency of antibiotics for human healthcare, as well as endocrine hormonal regulation disruption
- Toxic chemicals such as glyphosate (the underlying the roundup lead product of Mosanto, now owned by the Bayer AG group), the toxicity of which is widely known, and cause sanitary disasters for populations in the vicinity of use, especially where it is massive for soybean and corn production for cattle feeding (including in developed country
- Pesticides, glyphosate contaminate underground water, bottled water, as well asin tap water.
Constant lobbying techniques are ongoing to deny or minimize those issues by the whole agrobusiness industries. Those include bullying of scientists, as illustrated in the recent exposure of the Mossanto Papers.
4. Global Environmental Impact of Agriculture and Food
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Uses (AFOLU) accounts, directly or indirectly, for one fourth (about 25%) (see Figure SPM.2 on page 9) of all the Green House Gases emissions which is the root reason for the human caused global warming. This includes the destruction of green house gases sinks through deforestation to create more arable land.
4.a. Global Impact of Processed Foods
With respect to green house gases emissions, processed food clearly has far worse food miles that raw local products (or even than regionally moved raw products).
Food processing accounts for an important source of industrial waste. The packaging in processed foods is also a huge contributor to plastic and other waste, which contribute to huge garbage quantities in oceans. Organic and sanitary products in oceans also lead to proliferation of seaweeds (see the example of sargassum). See also the direct impact of processed food on our health.
Some very common ingredients in processed foods are handy and cost effective, but come with a high cost for the consumer's health, for the global environment, and for the producing countries' social and labour conditions. A prominent example is palm oil, which, among other kinds of oil, undergo industrial processes such as hydrogenation, with most detrimental effects on health.
4.b. Improving the Impact of Raw Foods
Note that many packaging and containers for raw foods can be made reusable with reasonable efforts.
At last, note that the different kinds of raw edible products, some have a worse impact on global warming than others. Here again, red meat, lamb meat, as well as fish and crustacean obtained by aquaculture, show much higher green house gases emissions than most other foods (see also vegetable sources for proteins and calcium).
5. Beyond Common Sense
5.a. Vegetable Proteins and Calcium Sources
Many people consider that intensive meat production as it is practised today is ethically unacceptable, not only because it create global hunger, unsustainable fossil resources management, and irreversibly damages the environment, but also because animal condition in plant is unacceptable.
It should be noted that there are alternative sources for proteins and calcium, which are most often argued to require foods from animal origin. A combination of whole cereal grain (and their derivatives such as whole bread/pasta) and legumes is generally considered a very healthy way to bring a complete profile of proteins
Permaculture is a known and proven way to substantially increase the yields of arable land, by an increased use of human labour, which is based on the design of of complete ecosystem of each piece of land.