Our Fall 2014 Frontiers in the Environment event series kicked off last week with a lively discussion about new ways to boost food safety. Here are five things we learned from the presentation by Matteo Convertino, IonE resident fellow and assistant professor, School of Public Health; and Craig Hedberg, Professor, School of Public Health:
- Roughly 1 in 5,000 meals results in a foodborne illness. What does this tell us? We may have come a long way in research, but there is still a lot that we don’t know. Foodborne diseases are the result of dynamic interactions between the environment, agents and hosts, and this complexity provides many challenges in studying food safety.
- Computer modeling is useful for predicting outbreak sources. Traditional work on foodborne diseases focuses on surveillance, with an attempt to identify a problem and act when possible. Computer modeling may help predict threats earlier and provide a more efficient way to approach threats to food safety.
- There may another reason to eat local. Computer modeling has shown that longer supply chains make food more vulnerable to diseases. That means local foods, which rely on shorter supply chains, may be less susceptible to foodborne illness. However, consumer preferences have made changing to a more localized supply chain difficult.
- Uncertainty is good. Contrary to popular belief, uncertainty in modeling and research can be beneficial because it allows a critical exploration of the system. Fluctuations in the environment and supply chains show natural system variability. Learning from this variability will allow for better prediction, detection and attribution over time.
- Enough is not enough. As global population grows, a looming global concern is finding enough food to feed everyone. While this is critically important, it is equally essential to ensure that the food people have access to is safe from disease.
Like to learn more? Watch a video of the presentation.
University of Minnesota ecologist and IonE resident fellow David Tilman has received a 2014 Balzan Prize in recognition of his outstanding scholarly contributions in ecology. The international award comes with an $800,000 prize, half of which is to support young researchers working with Tilman.
According to a release by the International Balzan Prize Foundation, Tilman received the distinction for his “huge contributions to theoretical and experimental plant ecology, work that underpins much of our current understanding of how plant communities are structured and interact with their environment.”
The Balzan Prize recognizes achievements in the humanities and natural sciences, as well as in advancing peace among humanity. The foundation varies the fields it recognizes each year with an eye to uplifting innovative research across disciplinary boundaries. Tilman was one of four scholars from around the world to receive the prize this year. Past recipients of the award include Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Meeting the growing demand for food and other agricultural products is one of the most daunting challenges we face today. At the same time, clearing forests and grasslands for farming releases carbon into the atmosphere, fueling climate change, a similarly alarming and expensive problem.
A study published today by University of Minnesota researchers in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that limiting agricultural expansion to several key global regions could meet the predicted need to double food production by 2050 while preserving nearly 6 billion metric tons more carbon than would be safeguarded with unguided expansion. Preserving this much carbon is worth approximately $1 trillion in terms of climate change mitigation. Continue reading
The Office of the President of the United States announced a significant expansion of the White House Climate Data Initiative yesterday in Washington, D.C. Through a partnership with the Kellogg Company, the Institute on the Environment’s Global Landscapes Initiative will support this effort by providing maps and data showing the potential impacts of climate change on global agriculture.
“Through his Climate Data Initiative, President Obama is calling for all hands on deck to unleash data and technology in ways that will make businesses and communities more resilient to climate change,” said John P. Holdren, President Obama’s Science Advisor, in a press release. “The commitments being announced today answer that call by empowering the U.S. and global agricultural sectors with the tools and information needed to keep food systems strong and secure in a changing climate.”
Feeding a growing human population without increasing stresses on Earth’s strained land and water resources may seem like an impossible challenge. But according to a new report by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, focusing efforts to improve food systems on a few specific regions, crops and actions could make it possible to both meet the basic needs of 3 billion more people and decrease agriculture’s environmental footprint.
The report, published today in Science, focuses on 17 key crops that produce 86 percent of the world’s crop calories and account for most irrigation and fertilizer consumption on a global scale. It proposes a set of key actions in three broad areas that that have the greatest potential for reducing the adverse environmental impacts of agriculture and boosting our ability to meet global food needs. For each, it identifies specific “leverage points” where nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, businesses and citizens can target food-security efforts for the greatest impact. The biggest opportunities cluster in six countries — China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia and Pakistan — along with Europe.
Four Institute on the Environment–related research projects won grants from MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures, a state-funded grant program. Four IonE resident fellows, as well as IonE’s managing director, are named as co-investigators on projects that seek to develop holistic and integrated approaches to ensuring a sustainable, safe and resilient food system.
MnDRIVE – Minnesota’s Discovery, Research and Innovation Economy – is a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the state of Minnesota, administered through the University’s Office of the Vice President for Research. Funding is intended to foster discoveries in four of the state’s key and emerging industries: robotics, sensors and advanced manufacturing; global food ventures; advancing industry, conserving our environment; and discoveries and treatment for brain conditions. Continue reading
Between the seemingly interminable June rains, ground was broken and crops began to sprout in the Allen and Freda Pederson Garden near the U of M Crookston campus.
Dan Svedarsky, director of the Crookston Center for Sustainability, says completion of the project is “due in no small measure to support of the garden suppers,” funded through an Institute on the Environment Mini Grant. Continue reading
Did you know that nearly half the American food supply gets neglected or outright rejected?
Love Letter to Food, the latest video from MinuteEarth, laments the myriad abuses suffered by food because the convenience of wasting it outweighs the cost. Continue reading
Our world is more connected than ever. It’s now easy to live in the United States, buy airfare to Europe, send money to Africa and eat food from Asia. And while this global connectivity comes with a slew of benefits, it also opens the door to the spread of disease and potential for worldwide epidemics.
Robert Wallace, visiting scholar with the Institute for Global Studies, discussed the need to rethink how we define “disease hot spots” from locations where outbreaks originate to global centers of capital that drive disease-causing practices in his Frontiers in the Environment lecture on April 16.
In his talk “Global Capital and Disease Hot Spots,” Wallace presented the concept of One Health, a new public health approach focusing on the transmission of diseases from animals to humans.
Institute on the Environment director Jonathan Foley today served up the first article in an eight-month National Geographic series on feeding the world without destroying the planet.
“When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner,” writes Foley in the opening paragraph. “But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.” Continue reading
A series called “Garden Suppers” launched in January on the Crookston campus of the University of Minnesota that aims to sow inspiration for a campus garden. The IonE-sponsored events, featuring guest speakers and brainstorming activities, seek to engage students, faculty and community members in the project.
Discussions have been underway at UMC for the last year to launch a campus garden that would provide produce to be served in campus food service. The garden might consist of smaller garden boxes or plots around campus and/or a larger plot. In addition, there has been interest in having garden plots around the Crookston community, perhaps in vacant lots where houses have been removed to make way for flood protection efforts. Continue reading
A global partnership led by Institute on the Environment researcher Jill Baumgartner will investigate the health and climate impacts of advanced cooking and heating stoves as part of a three-year study on clean household energy technology in rural China. Continue reading
Many of us do our best to make healthy food choices, but replacing that burger and fries with fruits and vegetables isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for the environment.
Emily Cassidy, an Institute on the Environment graduate research assistant, discussed the impact of global diet preferences on agricultural productivity and greenhouse gas emissions in last week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “Redefining Agricultural Productivity: From Stuff Produced to People Fed.”
When it comes to our food system, it seems everyone has an opinion on how we can eat healthier, feed more people and reduce our environmental impacts. But how can you separate food fact from food fiction?
That was the topic of last week’s Frontiers in the Environment lecture presented by Chris Lambe, director of social responsibility for The Mosaic Company - a crop nutrient production company based in Plymouth, Minn.
In “The Importance of Food Literacy,” Lambe discussed why it is imperative that consumers, producers and policy-makers alike have a basic understanding of how the food system works and the challenges facing food production around the world.
In 2008, Kathryn Draeger and her husband left their home in St. Paul for a 320-acre farm in western Minnesota to experience life on the rural landscape.
Draeger, statewide director of the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and an adjunct professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed her experience in her Frontiers in the Environment lecture, “The Land Grant University and Rural Resilience: A Minnesota Story” Oct. 23.
Paul Porter is a professor at the University of Minnesota, but you won’t always find him in a classroom. He has done much of his teaching from his bicycle, on tours through Africa, South America and, most recently, Minnesota.
Porter, professor of agronomy and plant genetics, discussed his experiences incorporating adventure learning into his educational work in his Oct. 16 Frontiers in the Environment talk “Aggregating an Agroecosystem: Novel Approaches to Teaching and Learning.”
Feeding the world’s growing population is shaping up to be the challenge of the century, but where does conservation fit into the equation?
Joe Fargione, senior director for The Nature Conservancy - North America Region, attempted to answer just that in last Wednesday’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation, “Peak Cropland: Saving Room for Nature While Feeding Humanity this Century.”
Think about your morning routine. You may take a shower or wash your face with soap. Afterward, you may sit down with a bowl of cereal, or perhaps you grab a granola bar as you head off to work or school. While you may not think about it, chances are you’ve used palm oil at least once before you make it out the door.
Found in everything from soaps to breakfast foods, palm oil is all around us and becoming even more ubiquitous. Kimberly Carlson, an Institute on the Environment postdoctoral research scholar, discussed the sustainability issues and opportunities of palm oil production in her Sept. 25 Frontiers on the Environment presentation.
The answer to some of the food system’s most difficult sustainability challenges is sprouting up on student farms nationwide.
That was the topic of “Crossing Institutional Silos for Sustainable Solutions,” last week’s Frontiers in the Environment presentation by Randel Hanson, an Institute on the Environment resident fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Sustainability isn’t simple, but it’s good for the bottom line as well as the planet, General Mills chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch told University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff and other community members last week as the first speaker of the Institute on the Environment’s Fall 2013 Frontiers in the Environment series.
Lynch discussed some of the sustainability challenges and opportunities the Twin Cities-based food business faces in his presentation, “Inside Food: How a Consumer Company Works Toward a Sustainable Food Supply.”