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A new resource on the global food system

Is there enough food for the future?

That’s just one of many crucial questions explored in a dynamic new online resource on the global food system, one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the world today. Published by the Institute on the Environment, Environment Reports is a collaboration among an international group of scientists, writers and designers to create incisive narratives about environmental challenges, backed up by cutting-edge data.

The site is intended for use by public and private sector professionals as well as those in academia who influence or educate environmental decision makers. It will provide several primers and useful visuals covering key aspects of the global food system, including projected future demand and yield trends, environmental sustainability, diet, food waste, climate change and more.

The first topic, “Food Matters, has just gone live, with three features on the future of food. A new feature will be published each month. Current features include “Is There Enough Food for the Future?,” “Change Your Diet, Change Our Destiny?” and “Waste Not, Want Not?”

Is There Enough Food for the Future?

  • To feed those who are currently hungry — and the additional 2 billion-plus people who will join us on the planet by 2050 — crop production will need to increase between 60 and 100 percent by most reliable projections.
  • “Business as usual” could lead to a doubling of demand for agricultural production. If the world meets future crop demand as it has in the past, this would mean that annual CO2 equivalents would rise from one gigaton per year in 2005 to three gigatons in 2050. A two-gigaton (2 billion metric ton) rise in yearly CO2 equivalents would be greater than the annual emissions from every car, train and plane in the U.S.
  • Increasing crop production is part of the solution, but can’t be the only one. Just four crops — maize, rice, wheat and soybeans — provide two-thirds of the calories we harvest from fields. In many parts of the world, though, the yields for these crops are not rising.

crop calorie demand drivers

Change Your Diet, Change Our Destiny?

  • Since World War II, as people — from the U.S. to China, Brazil to India — make more money, expectations for meals have risen. Our personal food choices not only affect personal health, they indirectly affect the health of the planet.
  • The U.S. could feed nearly three times more people than it currently does from the calories produced by major crops.
  • Meat, dairy and eggs greatly affect the world’s present and future food system due to their high need for land. The good news is that simply shifting from one kind of meat to another can dramatically reduce the impact of our diet on the environment.
  • Dietary changes don’t have to be extreme to considerably reduce the impact on the environment. The more feed crops needed to raise an animal, the more greenhouse gases are emitted from the fertilizer (nitrous oxide) and transportation (carbon dioxide) required to grow the feed. In addition, ruminants like cows and sheep emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as they digest their food. Considering all of these emissions together, some meat, like beef, can have up to 250 times the emissions of a plant-based protein like legumes.  Emissions from producing eggs, dairy, poultry, and pork, however, are much lower.

Healthy Diets Infographic

Waste Not, Want Not?

  • Roughly one-quarter of the calories of the world’s food crops are wasted. That’s enough calories to feed 1.9 billion more people the diet the World Health Organization says is needed to be healthy and satisfied.
  • The impact of waste amplifies significantly when we consider the crops that livestock animals consume during their lifetimes. The total cropland used to grow food that is never eaten almost equals all cropland in Africa. Reducing consumer waste of just six commodities in the U.S., China and India alone could save enough calories to feed about 413 million people per year.
  • We could realistically reduce global food waste by half — and people are leading the way. For example, one French supermarket chain responded with an “inglorious fruits and vegetables” campaign, selling imperfect food at a discount and seeing store traffic rise. Supermarkets across Europe are following suit.

Two Stories Infographic

Charts and graphs courtesy of Environment Reports

Barrett Colombo

Lead Education & Communications Platform Development

colom008@umn.edu

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