News

2014-07-24 |

Beef’s environmental impact 10 times that of other meat

Beefburger Beef is bad for the environment (Photo: Charles Henry/flickr)

Beef is around 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists from the US and Israel analysed how much land, water and nitrogen fertiliser was needed to produce dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs, using data from the US Department of Agriculture among other sources. They found that beef production required on average 28 times more land, 11 times more irrigation water, and 6 times more nitrogen per consumed calorie than other animal-derived calories. Cattle are also responsible for releasing five times more greenhouse gases. The environmental impact of dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs were mutually comparable. Even when pasture resources were excluded, beef still required far more land than other meat and dairy products. When compared to the three staple plant foods potatoes, wheat, and rice, the environmental costs of beef per calorie are even worse, requiring 160 times more land, 19 times more nitrogen and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. One reason is that cattle make far less efficient use of their feed. While it has already been known that beef has a greater environmental impact than other meats, the researchers say that their study is the first to quantify the scale in a comparative way. By highlighting the meat product with the highest environmental resource burden, the authors wish to empower consumers to make dietary changes that mitigate some of these impacts. The results could also show government agencies the directions corrective legislative measures should ideally take, the authors said.

2014-07-22 |

UN working group adopts proposal for Sustainable Development Goals

Women Goal 2 focuses on agriculture (Photo: Jan Beniest/flickr)

The UN General Assembly's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its final session on Saturday, adopting the outcome document by acclamation. The proposal contains 17 goals and 169 targets which are to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, including 62 targets on means of implementation. After multiple readings and overnight negotiations, the delegates adopted the proposal on Saturday at noon. Goal 2 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. There was broad agreement on the first target of ending hunger by 2030 and ensuring “access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round”. Target 2.2 is “by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five.” While previously agreed language listed types of malnutrition, such as obesity and overweight, the final version omits this. However, it lists groups whose nutritional needs should receive special attention. Target 2.3 is to “double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers” through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, and markets. Target 2.4 focuses on sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, help maintain ecosystems and improve land and soil quality. Many delegates stressed the need to include that productivity must be increased in a sustainable way. Target 2.5 is “to maintain genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species”. The issue of food loss and waste, despite calls for a target under Goal 2, was eventually shifted to Goal 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). The target is to halve by 2030 per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains including post-harvest losses. The OWG’s proposal will now be submitted to the UN Secretary-General and the General Assembly for consideration at its session in September before intergovernmental negotiations will start. A summit in September 2015 is expected to adopt the final post-2015 development agenda.

2014-07-17 |

New study on the effects of glyphosate on soil organisms

earth Glyphosate reduces the activity of earthworms (Photo: Will Merydith/flickr)

Herbicides containing glyphosate can have negative side effects on soil organisms such as earthworms and symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Austrian scientists from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna (BOKU) investigated the effects in a model ecosystem using pots with soil, earthworms and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that were planted with white clover. They applied the weedkiller Roundup at the recommended doses as used in agriculture and private gardens. The scientists found that the herbicide significantly decreased root mycorrhization. Herbicide application also led to reduced earthworm activity; the earthworms were heavier and less active at the surface. Earthworms improve soil fertility because they redistribute organic material in soils and increase the soil penetrability for roots. Mycorrhizal fungi are also important components of ecosystems which help plants to absorb mineral nutrients. The scientists highlighted the need for further research into the side-effects of glyphosate-based herbicides on key soil organisms.

2014-07-15 |

New study: more antioxidants and fewer pesticides in organic crops

Organic Fewer pesticides in organic food (Photo: SalFalko/flickr)

Organic food has more key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops and lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides, according to new research from Newcastle University published on Tuesday in the British Journal of Nutrition. The study analysed 343 peer-reviewed studies, focussing on the compositional differences between organic and conventional crops. The researchers found that concentrations of antioxidants were between 18-69% higher in organic crops, an amount equivalent to one to two of the five portions of fruits and vegetables recommended for daily consumption. Antioxidants have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases and certain cancers. The study also shows significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals in organic crops. The concentration of cadmium was on average 48% lower than in conventionally-grown crops. “The organic vs non-organic debate has rumbled on for decades now but the evidence from this study is overwhelming - that organic food is high in antioxidants and lower in toxic metals and pesticides”, says Professor Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University, who led the study. Nitrogen concentrations were found to be 10% lower in organic produce, nitrate was 30% and nitrite 87% lower compared to conventional crops. Pesticide residues were four times more likely to be found in conventional crops than on organic food. The findings contradict those of a 2009 UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) commissioned study which said there were no substantial differences or significant nutritional benefits from organic food. The FSA study based its results only on 46 publications covering crops, meat and dairy. “The main difference between the two studies is time. Research in this area has been slow to take off the ground and we have far more data available to us now than five years ago”, explains Professor Leifert.

2014-07-11 |

OECD/FAO: Livestock and biofuels to grow faster than crop production

Wheat Bright outlook for cereal prices? (Photo: madlyinlovewithlife)

Global demand for agricultural products will increase steadily over the next decade although at a slower pace than in the past ten years, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Friday in a joint report. Cereals will remain central but diets will become richer in protein, fats and sugar in many regions of the world due to rising incomes and urbanisation. According to the Agricultural Outlook 2014-2023, livestock and biofuel output will grow at higher rates than crop production. Over the next decade, global meat consumption is expected to increase by 1.6% per year, resulting in more than 58 million tonnes of additional meat being consumed by 2023. Poultry will overtake pork as the most popular meat product. FAO and OECD estimate that around 160 million tonnes of additional feed will be needed by 2023. This will boost demand for coarse grains and oilseeds with production increasing by 20% and 26% respectively over the next decade. Global biofuel production is expected to increase by more than 50% trough the next decade, a slowdown compared to the previous 10 years when production more than doubled. Ethanol and biodiesel outputs are expected to reach 158 billion litres and 40 billion litres respectively by 2023. The FAO and OECD expect that prices of major crops will continue to decline over the next two years in response to bumper crops in 2013/14 before stabilising at levels above the pre-2008 period, but clearly below historical highs. This year’s outlook has a special focus on India, the country with the largest number of food insecure people. While Indians will remain largely vegetarian, diets will diversify and the consumption of milk and other dairy products will increase.

2014-07-10 |

Neonicotinoids linked to decline in bird populations

Bird Hungry for insecticide-free food (Photo: Alan Vernon/flickr)

Neonicotinoid insecticides blamed for the loss of bee colonies are also a key factor in the decline in farmland birds, possibly by killing the insects they feed upon, according to new research published this Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal “Nature”. Biologists at Radboud University Nijmegen and the Sovon Centre for Field Ornithology in the Netherlands analysed data on local population trends for 15 bird species, nine of them exclusively insectivore. The scientists then compared this datasets to measurements of imidacloprid concentrations in surface water, the most widely used insecticide in agricultural systems. They found that local bird populations decreased with high imidacloprid concentrations. At imidacloprid concentrations of more than 20 nanograms per litre, bird numbers declined on average by 3.5% per year. Additional analyses revealed that this spatial pattern of decline appeared only after the introduction of imidacloprid to the Netherlands, in the mid-1990s. ‘The decline in farmland bird species started before 1995, but the local differences in this decline that we have established after the introduction of imidacloprid are not seen in the counts made before that time,’ says Ruud Foppen of Sovon. According to Professor Hans de Kroon, who supervised the study, this is the first research that correlates imidacloprid to possible indirect harmful effects – via the food chain – for vertebrates. Insecticides explain the decline better than other factors, such as land use, he said. The researchers do not yet know precisely if the declines are caused by a lack of food because insecticides reduce the availability of insects or because birds eat contaminated insects. It is not clear whether breeding success is declining or mortality is increasing, or both, they said. For a few species, eating seeds coated with insecticide could be an explanation.

2014-07-07 |

New MDG report: Is the hunger target still within reach?

Child Malnutrition check (Photo: Russell Watkins/DFID)

More global effort is needed to achieve key targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), according to a UN report published on Monday. The “Millennium Development Goals Report 2014” presents the latest updates of global and regional progress towards the eight MDGs, which were agreed on by all UN member countries in 2000 and will run out in 2015. The report shows that despite progress towards some of the goals, member states will miss targets related to reducing child and maternal mortality and improving access to sanitation. Some targets, such as those related to reducing extreme poverty, increasing access to drinking water sources and achieving gender parity in primary school, have already been met, the UN claims. The UN is optimistic that the target of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of people who suffer from hunger can still be reached. “The hunger target looks within reach”, the press release says. However, the report admits that progress has slowed down in the past decade. The proportion of undernourished people in developing regions decreased from 24% in 1990-1992 to 14% in 2011-2013 - but 842 million people were still suffering from chronic hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment (25%), followed by Southern Asia (17%). Both regions will miss the hunger target. The report shows that progress has also been uneven for the second indicator of the target, the prevalence of underweight children under five. An estimated 99 million children, or 15% of the world’s children, were underweight in 2012 but in Southern Asia, 30% of the children were underweight. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 21% were affected but the total number of undernourished children even increased to 32 million. “We need bolder and focused action where significant gaps and disparities exist”, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in the foreword to the report. As Member States are currently “engaged in discussions to define Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will serve as the core of a universal post-2015 development agenda, our efforts to achieve the MDGs are a critical building block towards establishing a stable foundation for our development efforts beyond 2015”, Ban Ki-moon said.

2014-07-04 |

UN expert panel calls for action to reduce food loss and waste

Waste Wasted food (Photo: Andrea Leganza/flickr)

A new UN-backed report sheds light on the causes of food waste and recommends solutions and actions that could help reduce the 1.3 billion tonnes of food that is lost or wasted along the food chain each year. The report was presented on Thursday by the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Food loss and waste peaks at 280-300 kilogram per capita and year in Europe and North America. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of food produced in the United States is never eaten. “If food was as expensive as a Ferrari, we would polish it and look after it”, said Professor Per Pinstrup-Andersen, lead author of the study. But data on consumer food waste shows that every US citizen wastes food worth $370 per year while British households waste around $580 by throwing out food. In medium and high income countries, consumers “can afford the luxury of wasting food” and “exigencies in aesthetic or other standards” lead to the discard of food, the authors say. In low income countries, most losses occur at production and post-harvest level, for example due to the lack of storage capacity and poor transport infrastructure. Since reasons for food waste are different in each part of the world, solutions have to be local, the report concludes. “Successful reduction of food losses and waste will save resources and has the potential to improve food security and nutrition, goals shared with the Zero Hunger Challenge and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda”, Pinstrup-Andersen said. The report points out that action should be taken throughout different sections of the food chain, from the public and private sectors, civil society, individual producers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers. The experts recommended a better integration of production chains and data collection and knowledge sharing about food wastes, as well as developing effective strategies to curb this trend and achieve a better coordination of policies. This is the eighth report the HLPE has released, and was produced in response to a request from the CFS.

2014-07-02 |

UK's food self-sufficiency at risk, new report warns

Veg The UK relies on imported vegetables (Photo: Nike Knell)

The UK is threatening its long-term food security by depending heavily on imports given future challenges to food production arising from climate change and changing global demands, a report warned on Tuesday. According to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the UK is currently 68% self-sufficient in foods which can be produced in the country - a sharp decline from almost 87% in the early 1990s. Self-sufficiency in fruit and vegetables has decreased the most, to 12% and 58% respectively. The UK imported £8 billion of fruit and vegetables in 2012. MPs also expressed concern over the country's dependence on imported soybean for animal feed. Rising demand for protein in China and other countries could lead to competition. The government should “give higher priority to research to enable us to source more of our animal feed from within the EU” and “promote the growth of more legumes.” Friends of the Earth welcomed that the report identified the impact the UK livestock system has on the climate but said it failed to tackle the need to change diets. “Eating less but better quality meat would be healthier, help cut greenhouse gas emissions and free up land for other uses”, Food Campaigner Vicki Hird said. The report supports the concept of “sustainable intensification” - producing more food with fewer inputs in a sustainable way, noting that yield levels for the UK’s staple crops have not increased for over 15 years. Organic farming does not seem to be important to the authors since “organic yields are generally lower than those for conventional agriculture”. Soil Association disagreed with the focus on yields: “Rather than measuring agricultural output as yields per hectare, we need to measure how efficiently we produce our food. Looking just at yields masks the high levels of inputs with subsequent impacts on greenhouse gas emissions”, policy officer Louise Payton said. The report clearly backs genetically modified crops: “The Government should do more to inform the public about the potential beneficial impacts of growing GM crops in the UK” and “counter food safety fears about the consumption of GM”, the MPs concluded.

2014-06-26 |

New study: Vegetarian diet reduces greenhouse gas emissions

Veg Choice of vegetables (Photo: LollyKnit/flickr)

A vegetarian diet results in a more sustainable environment, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and increases longevity, according to new research from Loma Linda University School of Public Health. The study, which will be published in the July issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused on the dietary patterns of vegetarians, semi-vegetarians and meat eaters and analysed data from more than 73,000 participants. The aim of the study was to quantify and compare greenhouse gas emissions linked to the dietary patterns consumed in a large population across North America. The study found that greenhouse gas emissions were 29% lower for vegetarians and 22% for semi-vegetarians. Moreover, the mortality rate for meat lovers was almost 20% higher than that for vegetarians and semi- vegetarians. Reducing the consumption of animal-based foods can therefore be a feasible and effective tool for climate change mitigation and public health improvements, the researchers said.

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