News

10.11.2017 |

Industrial meat and dairy is creating a climate crisis, report

Cattle
Cattle pens (Photo: bit.ly/RTpeat, bit.ly/2CCBYNCND20)

The world’s three largest dairy and meat companies are emitting more combined greenhouse gases than all of France and nearly as much as some of the biggest oil companies. According to research released by the non-governmental organisations GRAIN and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) as well as the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, business as usual growth of meat and dairy production would make meeting the Paris climate goals impossible and climate catastrophe inevitable. The researchers estimated corporate emissions from livestock, using a comprehensive methodology created by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). They found that the five biggest meat companies – JBS from Brazil, the U.S. corporations Cargill, Tyson and Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra Group from New Zealand – together emitted 578 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2016. This is more than the total emissions of the United Kingdom (507 MtCO2e in 2015) or France (464 MtCO2e) and more than the climate footprint of oil companies such as Exxon or Shell, which emitted 577 MtCO2e and 508 MtCO2e in 2015 respectively. With 932 MtCO2e in 2016, the top 20 meat and dairy companies together even emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these 20 companies were a country, they would be the world’s 7th largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The organisations stress that they are not blaming free range beef ranchers, or sustainable poultry farmers, or small and mid-size family dairy farmers and that they are not talking about pastoralists and livestock holders across the world, who feed themselves and the communities surrounding them. “It’s the corporations who own, run and profit from factory farms and confined animal feed operations that are the culprits,” they write. “These are landlords of a system so powerful that it is, in large part, determining land-use patterns worldwide, driving protein production and consumption globally and changing cultural dietary norms, all in the name of expanding markets and profits.” The authors warn that by 2060, if growth in meat and dairy production continues as projected by the FAO, emissions from this sector will take up the entire budget of global emissions, making it impossible for global temperatures to stay below the 1.5 degree increase targeted under the Paris Agreement.

The publishers highlight that is time to stop the dairy and meat giants from destroying the climate and shift our support to making our small farmers, herders and ranchers resilient. “If we are serious about feeding the planet while fighting climate change, the world needs to urgently invest in a transition to food systems that hinge on small-scale producers, agroecology and local markets. These systems provide for moderate levels of meat and dairy, but they do so in a way that regenerates soils, provides livelihoods to rural and urban communities and makes crops and animals resilient to the vagaries of an unpredictable climate.” The authors also outline how to achieve this. The first measure is to redirect public money from factory farming and agribusiness towards small-scale agroecological family farms. Governments should also use their buying power to support small producers, helping them to build jobs and markets for local products. As numerous cities make energy choices to tackle climate change, so too should municipalities invest in farm-to-hospital and farm-to-school programs that deliver healthier food and strengthen rural communities while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. (ab)

06.11.2017 |

Surge in agrifood mergers threatens farmers and consumers, report warns

Feld
Agrifood mergers are driving industrialisation along the whole food chain (Photo CC0)

Ever-fewer, ever-larger corporations are concentrating control at every stage of the food chain, from field to fork, a new report shows. According to the Agrifood Atlas released by Friends of the Earth Europe and two German political foundations, this could have dire consequences for future food production. Between 2015 and 2016, five of the largest 12 mergers between publicly-traded companies came in the agrifood sector, with a total value of almost US $500 billion, the report found. “Takeovers and mergers like Monsanto by Bayer, Kraft with Heinz and Dow with DuPont are just the tip of the iceberg,” the authors write. “A spate of corporate marriages is concentrating control at each link in the value chain.” They warn that in many parts of the agrifood sector, individual corporations have gained so much market sway that they have the ability to shape markets and policies. “The increasing size and power of agri-food corporations threatens the quality of our food, the working conditions of the people producing it, and our ability to feed future generations,” said Mute Schimpf, campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe.

The organisations behind the report fear that the growing consolidation in the food chain could lead to less consumer choice as increased monopolies are putting the food chain into fewer hands. They say almost half of all food sold in the EU comes from just ten supermarket chains while 50 food processing companies account for half of all global food sales. In addition, the concentration also has a negative impact on jobs and working conditions: “Agrifood corporations are driving industrialization along the entire global value chain, from farm to plate. Their purchasing and sales policies promote a form of agriculture that revolves around productivity,” the report reads. “The fight for market share is achieved at the expense of the weakest links in the chain: farmers, and workers. The price pressure exerted by supermarkets and food firms is a major cause of poor working conditions and poverty further back in the chain.”

The authors highlight that mergers and market concentration in the agricultural sector are also promoting the onward march of industrial agriculture and its associated effects on the environment and climate. The loss of soil fertility and biodiversity, marine pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases are all partly due to the spread of industrial farming. “As a result, global biodiversity and the variety and independence in our food chain are at risk. Activists fighting for the right to access to water, land and seeds are met with ever more violent public or private repressions all across the world,” according to Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. The publishers highlight that the report comes as the European Commission faces a crunch decision on whether to authorise the Bayer-Monsanto mega-merger, and after Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan's announced intention to rein in supermarkets' outsize buying power. “The EU can play a leading role in rejecting these consolidations. An alternative food system is possible and is being built by local food producers and citizens across Europe,” adds Mute Schimpf. (ab)

01.11.2017 |

Agriculture can help close "alarmingly high" emissions gap, UN says

Soil
Soil carbon sequestration can help to close the emission gap (Photo: NRCS, bit.ly/NRCS_HS2, bit.ly/4_CC_BY_2-0)

There is an urgent need for action if the goals of the Paris climate agreement are to be met. A new UN report says that current state pledges cover no more than a third of the emission reductions required to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, creating a dangerous gap. The agricultural sector could help close this gap with measures such as soil carbon sequestration and the reduction of food loss and waste. According to the 2017 edition of UN Environment’s “Emissions Gap Report”, released on October 31, as things stand, even the full implementation of current unconditional and conditional pledges countries have made would not be enough to keep global warming well below 2°C. Temperature increases of at least 3°C by 2100 are very likely. the UN has warned. Emissions in 2030 would still be 11 to 13.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level required to meet the 2°C goal. In order to attain this target, emissions of all greenhouse gases should not exceed 42 GtCO2e in 2030. The gap in the case of the 1.5°C target is 16 to 19 GtCO2e. Should the United States follow through with its stated intention to leave the Paris Agreement in 2020, the picture could become even bleaker, the authors warns. “One year after the Paris Agreement entered into force, we still find ourselves in a situation where we are not doing nearly enough to save hundreds of millions of people from a miserable future,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.

However, the report also presents practical ways to slash emissions through action in the agriculture, buildings, energy, forestry, industry and transport sectors. Significant potential for emission reduction exists in the agricultural and forestry sectors, the report highlights. “Carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere can be an important strategy: “Land-based carbon removal options, including forests, wetlands and soils have been managed by humans for many years and as such, there is a wealth of knowledge that can be readily applied today with confidence,” the report says. “In addition, these approaches present opportunities to meet other global sustainability goals, such as improved water quality, ecosystem restoration, biodiversity preservation and improved crop yields.” The report argues that soil carbon sequestration uses agricultural and land management practices that are generally well known by farmers and land managers, and for the most part, does not require additional machinery or infrastructure. It therefore represents a readily available option to be implemented.

The report also gives options on the consumer side to reduce the emission gap. Efforts can be made to lower the carbon footprint of peoples’ diets. The impact of shifting food patterns to a diet recommended by the World Health Organization, which aims at reducing the consumption of animal products and fat, could decrease total greenhouse gas emissions by 0.37 to 1.37 GtCO2e per year in 2030, the report estimates. Another option is reducing food waste and loss. “Within the agricultural supply chain, significant losses can be identified when factors such as harvesting inefficiency, bad harvesting conditions, deterioration during storage, and consumer behaviour are considered,” the authors write. Estimates of total losses vary considerably between 30 to 50%. A 45 to 75% reduction in the amount of wasted food has the potential of saving up to 2 GtCO2e per year. The report estimates the basic emission reduction potential of agriculture at 3 GtCO2e per year in 2030. If measures which the report describes as uncertain are added such as biochar, peat-related emission reductions, and dietary changes, the agricultural sector could save a further 3.7 GtCO2e in 2030. This means that the combined measures in the agricultural sector alone could close almost half of the emission gap that needs to be filled in order to meet the 2°C goal. (ab)

27.10.2017 |

Food lost to drought could feed 81 million people, World Bank

Dürremais
Droughts reduce crop yields (Photo: CC0)

Droughts are responsible for the loss of enough food to feed 81 million people every year, or a country the size of Germany, the World Bank said on Tuesday. According to the report “Uncharted Waters: The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability”, prolonged periods without rain around the world have shockingly large and often hidden consequences for farms, firms and families. The World Bank describes droughts as “misery in slow motion” which have lasting effects on health and wealth of families, trapping subsequent generations in poverty and malnutrition. The authors write that between 2001 and 2013, enough calories to feed 81 million people every day on 2000 calories were lost to dry shocks each year. Specifically, total losses in areas that experienced droughts amounted to an average annual reduction of 59.2 trillion kilocalories over that time period. Regions that suffered large declines in production because of rainfall shocks include southern Mexico and Central America, northern South America, Western Europe, most of the Sahel and Southern Africa, Indonesia, and southern Australia. “Many of the affected regions overlap with areas that are already facing large food deficits and are classified as fragile,” the report said.

The report shows how rainfall shocks, coupled with water scarcity, affect farms, firms, and families. For families, the legacy of rainfall shocks can ripple through generations, harming not just the women who experienced them, but also their children. It finds that in rural Africa, women born during extreme droughts bear the marks throughout their lives, growing up mentally and physically stunted, undernourished and unwell because of crop losses. Their suffering is often passed on to the next generation, with their children more likely to be stunted and less healthy, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty. On farms, droughts have a significant impact on crop yields, with even moderate dry shocks reducing productivity. Repeated years of below-average rainfall also forces farmers to expand into nearby forests as they try to recoup productivity losses by increasing the amount of land that they cultivate. Since forests act as a climate stabilizer and help regulate water supplies, deforestation further exacerbates climate change.

For firms, the report calculates the economic costs of droughts as four times greater than that of floods. The World Bank says that a single water outage in an urban firm can reduce its revenue by more than 8%. And if that firm is in the informal sector, as many are in the developing world, sales decline by 35%, ruining livelihoods and stagnating economic growth. “These impacts demonstrate why it is increasingly important that we treat water like the valuable, exhaustible, and degradable resource that it is,” said Guangzhe Chen, Senior Director of the World Bank’s Water Global Practice. “If water is not managed more prudently - from source, to tap, and back to source - the crises observed today will become the catastrophes of tomorrow,” he writes in the foreword to the study. Report author Richard Damania also warns that if the deepening water deficits that climate change will bring are not taken seriously, water scarcity might spread to new regions of the world, potentially exacerbating issues of violence, suffering, and migration.

But the report also offers proposals for how to tackle these challenges. “Avoiding this misery in slow motion will call for fundamental changes to how water is managed”, the authors write. They recommend constructing new water storage and management infrastructure. Irrigation infrastructure has the potential to buffer crops against drought-related losses, and eliminate the need for farmers to expand into forests. But the authors also point out that in arid areas, free irrigation water can induce maladaptation, whereby farmers grow water-intensive crops that increase their vulnerability to drought. Crop productivity could then suffer badly in times of drought as a result of the unmet extraordinary water needs, and impacts are worsened. The report also noted that when flood and droughts turn into economic shocks, safety nets must be put in place to protect the most vulnerable people. In rural areas, this could take the form of crop insurance schemes, while in cities, affordable access to clean water needs to be ensured. (ab)

22.10.2017 |

Rural areas are key to eradicating hunger and poverty, FAO says

Area
Rural areas need to be connected to urban markets, an FAO report says (Photo: A. Beck)

Rural areas are key to the eradication of poverty and hunger and economic growth in developing countries, according to the 2017 State of Food and Agriculture report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. And with the majority of the world's poor and hungry living in these areas, achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will depend on unlocking this vast potential, argues the report. It states that the transformation of rural economies has been credited with helping hundreds of millions of rural people lift themselves up out of poverty since the 1990s, but progress has been uneven. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are still lagging behind. The prospects for eradicating hunger and poverty in these countries are overshadowed by the low productivity of subsistence agriculture, limited scope for industrialization and above all explosive urbanization, the report warns. Another challenge is rapid population growth, especially among young people. Between 2015 and 2030, the number of people aged 15-24 years is expected to rise by about 100 million to 1.3 billion. Most of that increase will take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Rural people who relocate to cities will likely run a greater risk of joining the ranks of the urban poor, instead of finding a pathway out of poverty. FAO says that the solution can be inclusive rural transformation.

Targeted policies and investment to rural areas are required to achieve inclusive rural transformation and build vibrant food systems. The report makes the case that a major force behind rural transformation will be the growing demand coming from urban food markets, which consume up to 70% of the food supply even in countries with large rural populations. The value of urban food markets in sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow from US$150 billion to US$500 billion between 2010 and 2030. “Urbanization thus provides a golden opportunity for agriculture. However, it also presents challenges for millions of small-scale family farmers,” writes FAO’s Director-General José Graziano da Silva in the foreword to the report. He warns that more profitable markets can lead to the concentration of food production in large commercial farms, to value chains dominated by large processors and retailers, and to the exclusion of smallholders. Urban demand alone will not improve production and market conditions for small farmers.

The report therefore outlines three lines for action to achieve rural transformation. First, supportive public policies and investments are required. “To ensure that small-scale producers participate fully in meeting urban food demand, policy measures are needed that: reduce the barrier limiting their access to inputs; foster the adoption of environmentally sustainable approaches and technologies; increase access to credit and markets; facilitate farm mechanization; revitalize agricultural extension systems; strengthen land tenure rights; ensure equity in supply contracts; and strengthen small-scale producer organizations”, da Silva writes. The second line for action is to build up the necessary infrastructure to connect rural areas and urban markets. The report says that in many developing countries the lack of rural roads, electrical power grids, storage facilities, and refrigerated transportation systems is a major bottleneck for farmers seeking to take advantage of urban demand for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy. Third, rural areas need to be connected to small urban centres. Half of the total urban population in developing countries, or 1.45 billion people, live in cities and towns of fewer than 500,000 people. “Territorial networks of small cities and towns are important reference points for rural people, the places where they buy their seed, send their children to school and access medical care and other services,” da Silva adds. Transformed rural economies won't necessarily be a silver bullet solution to stop migration to the cities and tackle poverty and food insecurity, but it could generate much-needed jobs and contribute to making migration more of a choice, rather than a necessity, the report concludes. (ab)

19.10.2017 |

Warning of ecological Armageddon: 75% decline in insects over 27 years

beees
Flying insects such as butterflies are declining at an alarming rate (Photo: CC0)

The loss of bees, butterflies and other flying insects has been more severe than previously feared, new research reveals. The total biomass of flying insects in German nature reserves has decreased by more than 75% over the past 27 years, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE on October 18th. The gradual decline of certain insect species has been known for some time. “However, the fact that flying insects are decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an even more alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, project leader at Radboud University in Nijmegen. One cause for this decline could be agricultural intensification in the areas close to the reserves. “Insects make up about two thirds of all life on Earth. We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon,” said co-author Prof Dave Goulson. “On current trajectory, our grandchildren will inherit a profoundly impoverished world,” he warns.

For the study, insect researchers in Germany collected data between 1989 and 2016 in 63 different places within nature reserves, embedded in a landscape dominated by agriculture. Flying insects were trapped in so-called malaise traps throughout the season (March through October) and the total biomass was then weighed and compared. Researchers from Nijmegen, Germany and England then analysed the extensive data set. They found that the total insect mass declined by an average of 76% between 1989 and 2016. In the middle of summer, when insect numbers peak, the decline was even more pronounced at 82%. “All these areas are protected and most of them are managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred,” said Caspar Hallmann from Radboud University who conducted the statistical analyses. The scientists admit that the exact causes of the decline are still unclear and cannot be attributed to changes in the weather, landscape and plant variety alone. “Part of the explanation could therefore be that the protected areas (serving as insect sources) are affected and drained by the agricultural fields in the broader surroundings,” they suspect. According to the authors, increased agricultural intensification may have aggravated this reduction in insect abundance in the protected areas. “The research areas are mostly small and enclosed by agricultural areas,” Hallmann added. “These surrounding areas attract flying insects and they cannot survive there. It is possible that these areas act as an ‘ecological trap’ and jeopardize the populations in the nature reserves.”

The researchers hope that their findings will serve a wake-up call and prompt more research into the causes and support for long-term monitoring. “As entire ecosystems are dependent on insects for food and as pollinators, it places the decline of insect eating birds and mammals in a new context,” said Hans de Kroon. “We can barely imagine what would happen if this downward trend continues unabated.” For example, 80% of wild plants are estimated to depend on insects for pollination, while 60% of birds rely on insects as a food source. The ecosystem services provided by wild insects have been estimated at $57 billion annually in the US. “The only thing we can do right now is to maintain the utmost caution. We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and prevent the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers," de Kroon said. “But we also have to work hard at extending our nature reserves and decreasing the ratio of reserves that border agricultural areas.” (ab)

16.10.2017 |

Peasant farmers will feed a warming world, ETC Group says

Farmer
Small-scale producers feed the world, using resources more sustainably (Photo: CC0)

Today is World Food Day. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the world produces enough food to feed everyone. But who produces this food and who will feed us in the future, the industrial food chain or small-scale farmers? A new report from ETC Group, a Canadian-based international civil society organization, shows that in fact it is a diverse network of small-scale producers that feeds 70% of the world, including the most undernourished and marginalized people. The authors argue that those small-scale producers, dubbed the “Peasant Food Web”, which includes farmers, livestock-keepers, pastoralists, hunters, gatherers, fishers and urban and peri-urban producers, have the diversity, resilience, and light footprint needed to successfully adapt to climate change and to feed a growing world population.

The report, which is now already in its third edition, compares the industrial food system with peasant farming, collecting data and statistics and drawing on most recent research. “We are told that it is big agribusiness, with its flashy techno-fixes and financial clout, that will save the world from widespread hunger and malnutrition and help food systems weather the impacts of climate change,” reads the press release announcing the publication of the report. “Industrial farming gets all the attention (and most of the land). It accounts for more than 80% of the fossil fuel emissions and consumes over 70% of the water supply used in agriculture, but it actually produces only about 30% of the world's food”, the researchers found. The Peasant Food Web on the other hand uses less than 25% of agricultural lands to grow the food that nourishes more than 70% of the world population. In addition, it also produces about 70% of the world’s available food, in calories and weight. ETC estimates that those small-scale producers use only approximately 10% of agriculture’s fossil energy and no more than 20% of agriculture’s total water demand, with far less damage to soils and forests than the industrial food chain.

ETC Group also blames the industrial food chain, dubbed the “Chain”, for wasting food. “The Chain produces vast quantities of food that can’t just disappear. How is it that it feeds less than 30% of the population?,” they ask. According to the report, 44% of the chain’s crop calories are ‘wasted’ in meat production: more than 50% of the Chain’s crop calories are used as livestock feed, but only about 12% of those calories (or 6% of total calories) are then converted into food for people. ETC Group estimates that another 9% of the Chain’s crop calories go to biofuels or other nonfood products and at least 15% of the Chain’s calories are lost in transportation, storage and processing while about 8% of the calories are wasted in households. In total, this means 76% of the Chain’s total calories are wasted before making it to the plate, and only 24% are eaten by people.

The report concludes that food sovereignty through the Peasant Food Web is the basis for the world’s food security, and supporting those small-scale producers is our only realistic choice in the face of climate change. “But ‘peasants as usual’ are not an option,” ETC Group warns. Peasants will not be able to feed all people without major changes in a warming world. But they argue that with the right policies, land and rights, peasant-led agroecological strategies could double or even triple rural employment, substantially reduce the pressure for urban migration, significantly improve nutritional quality and availability and eliminate hunger while slashing agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 90%. The report names six policy areas in which changes are needed in order to enable the billions of peasants worldwide to continue feeding themselves and others. Policies are needed that would firstly ensure agrarian reform including the right to territories (land, water, forests, fishing, foraging, hunting), secondly restore the right to freely save, plant, exchange, sell and breed seeds and livestock and thirdly remove regulations that block local markets and diversity. According to ETC Group, it is also necessary to reorient public research and development to respond to peasants’ directions, to establish fair trade determined by peasant-led policies and to establish fair wages and working conditions for food and agricultural workers. (ab)

10.10.2017 |

Industrial food and farming systems harm human health and the environment, report

Food
A shift away from food systems that result in harm is urgently needed, says IPES-Food (Photo: CC0)

Industrial food and farming systems are taking a heavy toll on human health and the environment, leading food experts have warned. According to a report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), launched on October 9 at the UN Committee on World Food Security in Rome, decisive action needs to be taken to build healthier food systems. “Food systems are making us sick. Unhealthy diets are the most obvious link, but are only one of many pathways through which food and farming systems affect human health,” said lead author Cecilia Rocha, Director of the School of Nutrition at Ryerson University (Toronto). “We must urgently address these impacts wherever they occur, and in parallel we must address the root causes of inequitable, unsustainable and unhealthy practices in food systems,” she added.

The report outlines five reasons for negative impacts on human health and well-being linked to food systems. First, people are getting sick because they work under unhealthy conditions: Farmers, agricultural labourers, and other food chain workers suffer physical and mental health impacts as a result of health risks in the field, factory or workplace, such as acute and chronic pesticide exposure risks. Second, health impacts arise because people are exposed to contaminated environments “downstream” of food production, via the pollution of soil, air, and water resources or exposure to livestock-based pathogens (e.g., contamination of drinking water with nitrates, agriculture-based air pollution, anti-microbial resistance). Other dangers to human health are caused because people eat certain unsafe or contaminated foods, because they have unhealthy diets resulting in obesity and non-communicable diseases or because they are not able to access adequate and acceptable food at all times. The report found that many of the severest health conditions afflicting populations around the world - from respiratory diseases to a range of cancers - are linked to industrial food and farming practices, i.e. chemical-intensive agriculture, concentrated livestock production, the mass production and marketing of ultra-processed foods, and the development of long and deregulated global commodity supply chains.

The expert report also gives details on the huge economic costs of these impacts and warns that they are likely to grow. Malnutrition costs the world $3.5 trillion per year, while obesity alone is estimated to cost $760 billion by 2025. “When all of these health impacts are considered collectively, the grounds for reform are compelling. And when health impacts are placed alongside social and environmental impacts, and the mounting costs they generate, the case for action is overwhelming,” said IPES co-chair Olivier De Schutter. The report also found that those without power or voice, for example small-scale farmers in the Global South, are often exposed to the greatest health risks in food systems, meaning that these impacts often go unseen, undocumented and unaddressed. “Here as elsewhere”, De Schutter added, “political disempowerment and marginalization goes hand in hand with risks to lives and livelihoods.”

Furthermore, the health impacts of food systems are caused by many agents, and exacerbated by climate change, unsanitary conditions, and poverty – factors which are shaped by food and farming systems. At the same time, the unequal power of food system actors means that powerful actors set the terms of the debate and influence policies, promoting solutions such as the biofortification of food without addressing the root causes of ill health and the role of industrial food and farming systems in driving health risks (e.g., by perpetuating poverty and climate change).

The expert panel makes an urgent case for reforming food and farming systems. “The complexity of health impacts in food systems is real and challenging, but should not be an excuse for inaction. Urgent steps can and must be taken to reform food system practices, and to transform the ways in which knowledge is gathered and transmitted, understandings are forged, and priorities are set,” Rocha said. IPES-Food identified five key leverage points for building healthier food systems and suggest a series of steps: to reconnect the worlds of food production and food consumption; to reconnect the different problems with each other and with their underlying drivers; to rebalance power and bring all health impacts to light; and, to institute more democratic and more integrated ways of managing risk and governing food systems. „In other words, a new basis of understanding and a new basis for political action are required in order to unravel the food-health nexus and pave the way for healthier outcomes,“ the report concludes. (ab)

02.10.2017 |

Eating less meat can help cut antibiotic use in farm animals, study finds

Pig
We must discourage livestock rearing practices that depend on antibiotics (Photo: CC0)

The overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming is fueling a global health crisis in antibiotic resistance. A new study, published in the journal Science, says that limiting meat consumption and introducing regulatory caps and user fees on veterinary antimicrobial use could significantly slash farm antibiotic use. “The large and expanding use of antimicrobials in livestock, a consequence of growing global demand for animal protein, is of considerable concern in light of the threat of antimicrobial resistance,” the study warns. Almost 80% of all antibiotics used in the US are given to animals, mainly for growth promotion. Global antibiotic use in food animals outweighs human consumption by nearly three times. In 2013, more than 131,000 tons of antibiotics were used in food animals. The study projects that by 2030, the figure could reach more than 200,000 tons if left unchecked. “This scale up in antibiotics, primarily as a substitute for good nutrition and hygiene in livestock production, is simply unsustainable and will be devastating to efforts to conserve the effectiveness of our current antibiotics,” said senior author Ramanan Laxminarayan. “We already face a crisis, but continuing to use medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals is like pouring oil on a fire.”

The authors offer three recommendations on how to curb antimicrobial consumption in farm animals. The first measure is introducing regulations that set caps on the use of antibiotics in farm animals. The scientists calculated that a cap of 50 milligram of antimicrobials per year per kilogram of animal product could lead to a 64% drop in antibiotic use. If that cap was only applied to China and the member countries of the OECD, the global consumption in 2030 would already be reduced by 60%.

„A second solution to reduce antimicrobial consumption in animal production may be to promote low-animal-protein diets,” the study found. „Limiting meat intake worldwide to 40 g/day – the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person – could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66%. “In the United States, people eat on average 260 grams of meat per day,” said lead author Thomas Van Boeckel of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “Reducing the meat consumption to 165 grams of meat per day – or four standard fast food hamburgers per person – would reduce the global consumption of antimicrobials by more than 20%.” The study points out that China has recently revised downward its nutritional guidelines for meat intake to 40-70 g/day, which is roughly half the current consumption level. “If followed, this measure could have an indirect but substantial impact on the global consumption of veterinary antimicrobials,” the authors predict.

A third solution to cut antimicrobial use would be to impose a user fee, paid by veterinary drug users, on sales of antimicrobials for nonhuman use. “The idea – which is not new – is to make antibiotics more expensive so that farmers and veterinarians would only use them when necessary,” Van Boeckel said. “Imposing a 50% tax on antibiotics for food animals could decrease global consumption by more than 30%, and at the same time generate revenues from $1.7 to 4.6 billion, which could be invested into research for new antibiotics or improvements to farm hygiene.” He argues that there is no silver bullet solution to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals and points out that the recommendations are not mutually exclusive. But if the three measures were combined and fully implemented, this could reduce the antibiotic consumption by up to 80%. (ab)

26.09.2017 |

Transform food systems to tackle the global food crisis, says report

Cereal
During the crisis, global food prices soared (Photo: CC0)

The root causes of the 2007/2008 food crisis, which brought the number of hungry people in the world to a peak, are still there, according the “Right to Food and Nutrition Watch 2017”. The report, launched on September 26 by a network of civil society organizations and social movements, warns that today, despite some progress, many of the problems that led to the crisis in the first place persist. A decade ago, international prices of all major food commodities reached their highest level in nearly 30 years, pushing the number of people living in hunger to one billion. The authors emphasize that the crisis had been there all along. “The events of 2007/2008 simply brought the cracks of an unsustainable, broken food system into view, forcing policy makers to acknowledge its failures,” reads the preface. Featuring ten main articles, this 10th anniversary issue of the Watch takes stock of the past decade and looks at the challenges and opportunities ahead. The Watch sheds light on the intricacies behind the crisis, addressing climate change, unfair global trade rules, agribusiness mega-mergers, the role of women in transforming food systems and the right to food in emergency situations, just to name a few issues that are covered in the report.

The Watch says the ‘crisis’ – described by many as a multi-fold food, fuel, finance, climate and even a human rights crisis – was the result of a convergence of complex long- and short-term factors. The authors argue that for many, especially in the food sovereignty movement, the crisis did not come as a surprise: “It was the inevitable outcome of a model that prioritizes profit at the expense of everything else: our lives, our rights and our nature. The crisis was building for years and a billion people were pushed to hunger because of drastic food price volatility, and as a result of a multi-fold crisis that grew, squeezed and affected our food systems, climate and human rights.” The Watch exposes the conflictual dynamics between two opposing visions of life, production, and socioeconomic-ecological relations. In the preface, Bernhard Walter (Bread for the World - Protestant Development Service), Sofia Monsalve Suarez (FIAN International) and Marijke de Graaf (ICCO Cooperation) outline this conflict: On one side, there is the “vision of food sovereignty and vibrant local food systems centered on small-scale food producers who see food as a fundamental human right as well as the cornerstone of our identities, livelihoods, ecologies, biodiversity and sovereignty.” On the other side, “the homogenizing and hegemonic global food system, which is driven by increasingly concentrated transnational corporations and reduces food to a tradable commodity.” The pursuit of the right to food and nutrition is therefore a political struggle between opposing worldviews, they argue.

But there are also good news. The report highlights that the continuing food crisis has also served as a springboard for food sovereignty movements to advance alternatives. “Chief among these is agroecology,” write Sophia Murphy and Christina M. Schiavoni in the first chapter. “Standing in stark contrast to industrial models of production that require environmentally and economically costly external inputs while generating substantial waste and other social and environmental costs, agroecology now receives an unprecedented level of interest and visibility, including from some governments,” they argue. And social movements and civil society organizations all over the world are keeping up their struggle to transform food systems. “To have the wherewithal to feed ourselves into the future, we urgently need to build up resilient local and regional food systems and address the extreme concentrations of power in national and international markets,” Murphy and Schiavoni continue. In doing so, the central role and rights of small-scale providers and of women must be guaranteed. “The food price crisis of 2007- 2008 was an awakening. A decade on, with some powerful examples of food system transformation already at work, as well as some gains on various policy levels, there are still old habits to confront and many obstacles to overcome.” But the food sovereignty movement is ready for this challenge, the authors assure. (ab)

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