Earth Day 2021: Foodprint

Talking about climate change is important. It’s always been perceived as an issue rather irrelevant because of its slow-moving impact. We tend to respond to immediate threats; it’s hard to respond to something that doesn’t impact you right away. It feels distant, therefore, it takes effort to allocate our attention to that matter.

The main indicator for climate change is the concentration of greenhouse gases emitted from human activities. These greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for a long time hence making the earth warm. Based on data from the meta-analysis by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek (2018), published in Science, food production is responsible for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

It’s essential to know which food production emits the biggest greenhouse gasses. For instance: producing one kilogram of beef compared to one kilogram of pea creates a significant difference in greenhouse gas emissions. These greenhouse gasses are generated from every phase in the supply chain. For most food, the largest emitter comes from land use and farm stage. Farm stage emission includes methane production and the application of fertilizers.

The technique used to quantify the impact of products, in this case: food production, is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA includes the land-use change, farm stage, transportation, waste disposal, etc. Meanwhile, carbon footprint focuses on one environmental impact: greenhouse gas emission (CO2).

Based on the Food and Agriculture Organization, meat, being a low contributor for global food wastage in terms of volumes (less than 5%), contributes 20% of the carbon footprint of total food waste which comes from fertilizer used for the production of feed, emission from manure management, and methane emitted by ruminants. 

On a global average, per capita food wastage footprint on climate in high-income countries is significantly higher than in low-income countries. This leads us to a food wastage reduction scenario and climate change mitigation as stated clearly in SDG 12: “Ensuring sustainable consumption and production pattern”. The assumption made in the “agricultural production” and “processing” is a 5% reduction of 2011 food wastage in developed countries and a 15% reduction in developing countries. The “post-harvest handling and storage” phase assumed a 5% reduction in developed countries and 54$ reduction in developing countries. Lastly, the “distribution” and “consumption” phases need a 50% reduction in all regions. The proposed scenario would reduce the carbon footprint of food wastage by 38% or 1.4GtCO2 eq per year. 

The food industry plays a big role in our life as it is one of our primary needs especially if one lives in an abundant state where it is not difficult to find and purchase food. Being conscious of our daily consumption will affect the supply and demand of the industry, yet what’s more important is pressing the food industry itself to pay more attention to the carbon footprint resulting from their production activity. We see more and more drought and other disasters caused by human activities, therefore actions have to be taken, and it can’t wait. 

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