2018-01-18 |

Norway steps up efforts to cut down on food waste

Food waste Bread in the bin (Photo: CC0)

In Norway, both the government and the food industry are stepping up efforts to reduce food waste. On January 9, the country’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products Tine announced that it would abolish the expiry date on its products in order to prevent consumers from throwing away milk and other dairy products which are still good. According to Tine, the aim is to raise awareness among consumers that “best before” does not necessarily mean that the products can not be consumed at a later date. With this step, the company will follow the example of other Norwegian companies like the dairy brand Q-Meieriene and egg producer Prior. The expiry date on milk cartons will be changed to “Best før, men ikke dårlig etter” - best before, but not bad after”. Lars Galtung, Tine’s Director for Communications and Corporate Responsibility, said that they will start with milk, sour milk, cream, juice, yogurt packs and school milk, with the aim of labeling all other products in this way in 2018.

Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced worldwide – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes – is thrown away by consumers and retailers, or is wasted due to poor transportation and harvesting practices. In Norway alone, 350,000 metric tonnes of perfectly edible food is thrown away annually. According to government figures, the average consumer throws out 42 kg edible food every year while food waste in the entire food chain represents 68 kg per person per year. In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One target of goal 12 is to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

But Norway decided to go a step further. On June 23rd 2017, five Ministries on behalf of the Norwegian government and twelve food industry organizations signed an agreement to halve food waste across the whole food value chain in Norway by 2030. According to Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen, this reduction target is “in fact a bit more ambitious because the goal applies to the entire food value chain from primary production to consumers.” The agreement is voluntary, but binding for the contracting parties. The Norwegian environmental organisation “The Future in our Hands” (Framtiden i våre hender) acknowledges the value of the agreement but it has also been critical of it for not being specific enough in addressing the main problem areas in food waste from supermarkets. A recent report by the organisation found that less than 50% of supermarkets currently donate food to charity, while waste containers outside supermarkets are full of edible food at the end of the day. France and Italy adopted laws to cut food waste in supermarkets while Norway opted for cooperation and collaboration. “We discussed a ban on food waste but it was decided legislation wasn’t enough,” Helgesen told the British newspaper The Guardian. “It could lead to the problem being pushed down the value chain. We are collaborating with all the actors in the food industry and we are encouraging people to smell and taste their food before throwing it away. We are setting targets and how the industry gets there is up to them,” he added. (ab)

2018-01-10 |

A quarter of the world’s land could become arid with global warming of 2ºC

Drought Aridification is a serious threat (Photo: CC0)

Over a quarter of the planet’s land surface could become arid if global temperatures rise 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, new research suggests. This would lead to droughts and wildfires, with a dramatic impact on agriculture. According to the study published January 1 in the journal “Nature Climate Change”, limiting global warming to under 1.5ºC would avoid extreme changes for most of the threatened areas. The international team of scientists, led by the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen China and the University of East Anglia (UEA), studied projections of 27 global climate models. They identified the areas of the world which will become substantially drier when compared to the year-to-year variations they experience now, as global warming reaches 1.5ºC and 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

The research team found that a global temperature rise to 2ºC would increase the risk of drought and wildfires. “Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity. It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires - similar to those seen raging across California,” said Dr Chang-Eui Park from SusTech, one of the authors. The study predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 per cent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2ºC. However, limiting global warming to under 1.5ºC would mean that two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification. “Early action for accomplishing the 1.5 °C temperature goal can therefore markedly reduce the likelihood that large regions will face substantial aridification and related impacts,” the abstract reads.

According to the authors, drought severity has been increasing across the Mediterranean, southern Africa, and the eastern coast of Australia over the course of the 20th century, while semi-arid areas of Mexico, Brazil, southern Africa and Australia have encountered desertification for some time as the world has warmed. “The areas of the world which would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5ºC are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia - where more than 20 per cent of the world’s population live today,” said Prof Tim Osborn from UEA. (ab)

2018-01-03 |

Americans will consume a record amount of meat in 2018

meat American meat consumption will hit a record high in 2018 (Photo: CC0)

Americans are set to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before. According to data published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), consumers are expected to eat 222.2 pounds (100.8 kilo) of red meat and poultry this year, up from 216.9 pounds per person in 2017. That will surpass the previous record of 221.9 pounds per person, set in 2004, Bloomberg reports. The predicted increase is ending a trend of falling meat consumption that began with the Great Recession in 2008. In 2014, the consumption of red meat and poultry was still down at 201.8 pounds per capita before it started to climb steadily, reaching 211.1 pounds in 2015 and 214.6 in 2016. The figure predicted for 2018 corresponds to a meat intake of roughly 10 ounces (or 280 grams) per day, almost double the amount recommended by government nutritionists. According to USDA’s Choose MyPlate nutrition guidelines, adults should not eat more than 5 to 6 ounces of meat per day.
The popularity of dairy products, for example cheese and butter, has also increased to an all-time high, the USDA figures reveal. Domestic meat production is on the rise as well. The total production of red meat and poultry is expected to reach about 103.5 billion pounds in 2018, compared with 97.6 billion pounds in 2016. (ab)

2017-12-29 |

2017 was a deadly year for land rights defenders, report

Phil The Philippines recorded the highest number of killings related to land (Photo: CC0)

At least 116 people were killed in 2017, defending their right to land and resources, with the Philippines leading the list of the most dangerous countries for land activists. According to a report, published by the non-governmental organization PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), this year saw continuing and intensifying attacks against rural communities that are asserting their right to land. For the report, the rights group regularly monitored news and articles and collected information from reports of partners and networks. PANAP has recorded 142 cases of human rights violations related to land conflicts in 21 countries from various regions, covering the period January 1 to November 30, 2017. These cases include politically motivated killings of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous peoples as well as activists and supporters who closely work with the affected rural communities. The recorded cases also include various forms of repression such as arrest, detention, legal persecution, threats, harassment, and physical assault, as well as displacement.

According to the report, the 73 cases of killings claimed the lives of 116 individuals, 71 of whom were farmers and farmworkers; 23 were land activists; and 21 were indigenous peoples. Of the total number of victims, 86% were men. The Philippines accounted for 61 victims, followed by Brazil with 22 victims and Mexico with seven victims. Land rights defenders were also killed in Peru, Colombia, India and Uganda, among other countries. In terms of threats, harassment, and physical assault, there were 17 cases and 45 victims monitored this year. Of the total number of victims, 14 were indigenous peoples, 26 were farmers and farmworkers, and 4 were land activists. There were also 52 cases of human rights violations, of which 25 cases or more than half involved mining companies while 15 cases occurred in plantations. State security forces – including the military, police, and paramilitary – have been implicated in seven out of every ten cases of human rights violations.

“Alarmingly, global and regional developments that create conditions for greater land and resource grabbing continue to emerge and fuel social conflicts and unrest in the rural areas,” the report says. “The continued rule of repressive regimes create the environment of impunity in violating the human rights of the rural peoples and small food producers in order to pave the way for corporate, including foreign, interests to take over lands and resources.” PANAP warns that these trends challenge rural communities and advocates of the people’s right to land and resources, food sovereignty and genuine land reform. The group highlights that a strong mass movement is needed that will confront and make accountable land grabbers and human rights violators. (ab)

2017-12-20 |

Income inequality has increased over the past 40 years

Slum3 The report exposes shocking inequality (Photo: CC0)

The rise in wealth inequality over the past decades has been extreme. The top 1% richest individuals in the world have captured as much of global income growth since 1980 as the poorest half of the population. The World Inequality Report, published by French economist Thomas Piketty, warns that in a future in which “business as usual” continues, global inequality will further increase. The report, which draws on the work of over one hundred researchers covering more than 70 countries, said that the poorest half of the global population has seen its income grow significantly thanks to high growth in Asia, particularly in China and India. However, because of high and rising inequality within countries, the top 1% of the world’s population captured 27% of total growth between 1980 and 2016 while the bottom 50% only captured 12%.

Income inequality varies greatly across world regions. It is lowest in Europe and highest in the Middle East. “Since 1980, income inequality has increased rapidly in North America and Asia, grown moderately in Europe, and stabilized at an extremely high level in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Brazil,” the authors write. In 2016, the share of total national income accounted for by a nation’s top 10% earners was 37% in Europe, 41% in China and 46% in Russia. The top 10% income share was even higher in the US and Canada at 47% and at around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region, the top 10% capture 61% of income.

According to the authors, the fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality. This is also confirmed by international development organisation Oxfam which said that government action is key to ending inequality. Responding to the publication of the report, Oxfam’s Max Lawson said: “Extreme inequality harms us: our societies, our economies and our politics. Yet [the] report shows inequality is not inevitable - it is the product of government action and inaction.” The World Inequality Report projects income and wealth inequality up to the year 2050 under different scenarios. If no action is taken, unequal rates of growth among wealth groups would lead to a compression of the global middle-class wealth share and a further rise in inequality. “Alternatively, if in the coming decades all countries follow the moderate inequality trajectory of Europe over the past decades, global income inequality can be reduced – in which case there can also be substantial progress in eradicating global poverty,” the report found. The researchers stress that tackling global income and wealth inequality requires important shifts in national and global tax policies. “Educational policies, corporate governance, and wage-setting policies need to be reassessed in many countries,” they wrote. Reducing inequality within and among countries is also the aim of Sustainable Development Goal 10. (ab)

2017-12-11 |

Unsustainable agriculture and urbanisation threaten wild crop species

Rice Red rice paddy field in Japan (Photo: CC0)

Species of wild rice, wheat and yam are threatened by intensive agriculture and urban expansion, according to the latest red list of endangered species published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The conservationists warn that this could negatively impact food security. “Healthy, species-rich ecosystems are fundamental to our ability to feed the world’s growing population and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – to end hunger by 2030,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen in a press release. “Wild crop species, for example, maintain genetic diversity of agricultural crops that can adapt to a changing climate and ensure food and nutritional security.” For the red list update, 26 species of wild wheat, 25 species of wild rice and 44 species of wild yam were assessed. The researchers found that in total, three species of wild rice, two species of wild wheat and 17 wild yam species are threatened. The “IUCN Red List update raises the alarm about their decline and stresses the urgency to address it – for the sake of our own future,” Andersen added.

Deforestation and urban expansion alongside pressures from intensive agriculture, particularly over-grazing and extensive use of herbicides, are the primary threats to these species. IUCN therefore highlights the need to reduce intensive agricultural practices such as overgrazing and indiscriminate herbicide use in order to conserve crop wild relatives. The group also calls for a better preservation of crop wild relatives in gene banks and their use in plant breeding. Cross-breeding modern crop cultivars with crop wild relatives adds necessary genetic diversity, improving resistance to drought, disease and pests – all of which are likely to become increasing problems in a changing climate, the conservationists said. “The genetic diversity provided by crop wild relatives will allow us to develop more resilient crops in the era of climate change, helping ensure food security. We ignore the fate of these species at our own peril,” warns IUCN’s wild relative specialist Nigel Maxted. The group points to a recent study which found that 72% of crop wild relatives are not adequately preserved in gene banks and conservation in situ in the wild remains a challenge. According to ICUN, crop wild relatives are also of high economic value, contributing US$115 billion annually to the global economy. (ab)

2017-12-07 |

Healthy soils are key to food security and climate change mitigation, UN

Soil Healthy soils can ensure food security and mitigate climate change (Photo: CC0)

The world needs to step up efforts to preserve soils since they are crucial to climate change mitigation and food security, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has urged. “Soil is the foundation of agriculture, it is where food begins,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo on World Soil Day which is celebrated on 5 December. “Maintaining the soil’s important functions and ecosystem services to support food production and increase resilience to a changing climate calls for sustainable soil management practices,” she stressed. Soil organic matter, with carbon as its main component, is crucial to soil health and fertility as well as water infiltration and retention. Almost 95% of food is produced on soils and worldwide, nearly 80% of the average calories consumption per person comes from crops directly grown in the soil. The world’s soils also act as the largest terrestrial carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to FAO, soils can sequester around 20 000 megatonnes of carbon in 25 years, more than 10% of the greenhouse gas emissions. Intensifying this role could significantly offset the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
At the World Soil Day ceremony in Rome, FAO launched a comprehensive global map showing the amount of carbon stocks in the world’s soils. The map illustrates that globally, the first 30 centimetres of soil contains around 680 billion tonnes of carbon. This is a large amount compared with the carbon stored in the whole vegetation (560 billion tonnes). The map also shows that ten countries hold more than 60% of the total soil organic carbon stocks. Most carbon is found in Russia with 19.6% or 133 billion tonnes, followed by Canada (12.7%), the United States (8.3%), China, Brazil, Indonesia, Australia, Argentina, Kazakhstan and Democratic Republic of Congo. The map therefore reveals to decision-makers where the world’s natural carbon-rich soils are that need to be preserved to avoid further emissions and in which regions action should be taken to foster further sequestration.
FAO warned that the degradation of one third of the world’s soils has already prompted an enormous release of carbon into the atmosphere. However, by restoring these soils up to 63 billion tonnes of carbon could be removed from the atmosphere, significantly reducing the effects of climate change. “Maintaining – but especially increasing – soil carbon stocks should become an obligation as this will allow us to unlock the soil’s full potential to support mitigation and adaptation actions in a changing climate,” Semedo added. According to FAO, soils with high organic carbon content are likely to be more productive, better able to purify water and provide plants with optimal moisture conditions. Increasing soil organic carbon by improved management can help maintain productivity in drier conditions. This could be achieved through sustainable soil management, including mulching, planting cover crops, and moderate irrigation. Protecting the world’s soils is also fundamental for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 15 (Life on Land). The aim of SDG 15 is to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. (ab)

2017-11-21 |

Stop using antibiotics in healthy animals, WHO urges farmers

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

Farmers and the food industry should stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned. On November 7, the global health body published new guidelines with the aim of preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine. According to WHO, the over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals that are otherwise healthy is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance. It is not the first warning of that kind: As long ago as 1997, WHO warned against the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock production, as the development of resistant strains of bacteria made diseases untreatable with antibiotics. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments, and the problem is that there are very few other promising options in the research pipeline. “Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance,” says Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO. “The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.” In some countries, approximately 80% of total consumption of medically important antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals.

The WHO guidelines recommend an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals. The health body points to a systematic review published in the journal “The Lancet Planetary Health” which found that interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these animals by up to 39%. Healthy animals should only receive antibiotics to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd, or fish population. Antibiotics used in animals should be selected from those WHO has listed as being “least important” to human health, and not from those classified as “highest priority critically important”. In addition, the health experts recommend a complete restriction of the use of all classes of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals for growth promotion. WHO highlights that many countries have already taken action to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. For example, since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. However, the guidelines do not explicitly address the problems of a farming system that depends on antibiotics to keep animals healthy. It just calls for the implementation of alternative options to using antibiotics for disease prevention in animals, including improved hygiene, better use of vaccination, and changes in animal housing and husbandry practices. (ab)

2017-11-16 |

Organic farming can feed a growing world population, new research

Organic Organic farming can feed the world (Photo: CC0)

Organic farming can feed the world’s growing population, according to new research published in the renowned scientific journal “Nature Communications”. The study shows that organic farming could produce enough food without needing more land if we eat less meat and dairy products, use less concentrated feed in livestock farming and reduce food waste. The study was carried out by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the University of Aberdeen, the Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt and ETH Zurich. The scientists used a food systems model which is able to simulate important aspects of organic agriculture, such as increased legume shares, absence of synthetic fertilizers, lower yields and lower use of food-competing animal feed components, such as grain legumes or cereals. “Our results show that adoption of organic agriculture by itself increases land demand with respect to conventional production, but it has advantages in terms of other indicators, such as reduced nitrogen surplus, and pesticide use. But when combined with complementary changes in the global food system, namely changed feeding rations, and correspondingly reduced animal numbers, and changed wastage patterns, organic agriculture can contribute to feeding more than 9 billion people in 2050, and do so sustainably,” the authors write.
“Organic agriculture involves the careful handling of the environment and resources and is frequently put forward as a potential solution to the challenges we are currently facing,” said one of the authors, Karlheinz Erb from the University of Klagenfurt. “On the other hand, critics point out that this shift to organic methods would entail a much higher level of land use and therefore cannot be considered as a viable alternative,” he added. The reason is that organic yields are in general lower than in conventional farming. The scientists considered different studies concerning this yield gap. They found that switching to 100% organic production would lead to an increase in land use of at least 16% if low yield gaps are assumed (8% lower organic yields on average) and up to 33% if high yield gaps (on average 25% lower) are assumed. However, dedicating a larger share of land to the cultivation of food would be feasible if we reduce, at the same time the amount of land used for growing animal feed or food that is later on lost or wasted. According to FAO estimates, one third of global food production is lost or wasted each year. If food waste was reduced (the scientists assume a 25% or 50% food waste reduction in their scenarios), large areas of crop land would become available and could compensate for the yield gap. More land for food production could be gained by switching from concentrated feed in livestock farming to grassland-based fodder from pastures, which cannot be used for food production.
The results show that even a 60% conversion to organic farming would result in a food system with significantly decreased environmental impacts, including lower overall greenhouse gas emissions, and little need for additional land. However, this would require 50% less food-competing feed and 50% reduced food wastage and the consumption of animal products would need to decrease by about a third. Co-author Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen is optimistic that change is possible. “This study is important as it shows we are not committed to remain on the express train to ever greater intensification of agriculture. If we are willing to reduce our consumption of animal products, reduce food waste, and to feed the remaining animals in the food system according to their biology - ruminants fed on grass and pigs and poultry fed on food leftovers - we can not only feed everyone in 2050, we choose the food production systems we want,” he said. “We can step off of that express train and feed people more sustainably.” (ab)

2017-11-13 |

Climate change: Earth is approaching tipping points, warn scientists

Corn Higher temperatures will result in yield losses (Photo: CC0)

As global temperatures continue to rise, Earth is approaching dangerous tipping points, leading scientists have warned. Future Earth and the Earth League, two international organizations representing sustainability scientists, have published the statement “The 10 Science ‘Must Knows’ on Climate Change” to provide support to negotiators at the COP23 climate conference. According to Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “some crucial climate-change facts tend to get lost in the noise of daily deliberations - even at an event such as the UN climate summit.” This is why the authors wish to “remind everyone of the very reason why ten thousands of people meet in Bonn: unprecedented risk to humanity due to global warming, as revealed by science.” Professor Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre and Chair of the Earth League, stressed that climate change caused by humans is no longer a future threat. “It has arrived, it is dangerous and it will get worse,” he said. “In the last two years evidence has accumulated that we are now on a collision course with tipping points in the Earth system,” he added. By crossing these thresholds, the planet may see abrupt, and possibly irreversible, shifts in the workings of the Arctic, Amazon, and other parts of the globe.

The ten points of the statement build on numerous international assessments and reports. The scientists warn that climate change will have a profound impact on human health by placing new pressures on the food and water security in nations around the world. “Accelerating changes in Earth’s natural systems are a significant threat to human health and livelihood as a result of possible impacts on nutrition, food availability, respiratory diseases, and the spread of parasites,” they say. For example, a recent estimate suggests that crop-yield losses could be 3-7% per degree of warming. By 2050, more than half of the world's population will live in water-stressed areas, and a billion or more will not have sufficient water. “These health threats will become increasingly severe over time without steps to reduce the risks. Areas with weak health infrastructure, mostly in developing countries, will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare for and respond to health emergencies. Another issue mentioned in the statement is that climate change is likely to exacerbate migration, civil unrest and even conflict. In 2015, more than 19 million people globally were displaced by natural disasters and extreme weather events, and climate change will likely cause that number to grow.

Point 8 on the list is a call to action: “The world needs to act fast: If humans continue to emit greenhouse gases at current rates, the remaining carbon budget to reduce risk of exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius target will be exhausted in around 20 years. Emissions should peak by 2020 and approach zero by around 2050 if the world is serious about reducing risk.” This must also be done in concert with halting deforestation, turning agriculture from carbon source to carbon sink, and protecting existing carbon sinks on ocean and land, the document says. But even if the world meets the Paris Agreement targets, communities across the globe will still need to build resilience and adapt to the changes already under way. “Even keeping temperature rise to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, some regions will experience increased risks of rising sea levels, forest fires, and water and food insecurity and may see increases in extreme heat, disease, and weather events,” the authors write. Safeguarding and strengthening the resilience of natural systems, from forests to soils to oceans, as the climate warms will therefore require a global transformation to sustainability. “The cumulative scientific evidence indicates that sustainable development, with transformations to sustainable food systems, decarbonised energy systems, resilient cities, human equity and justice, universal health and education, eradicated poverty and hunger, sustainable consumption and production, healthy oceans, safe water, and protected biodiversity, form a fundamental cornerstone for success in achieving good climate adaptation and climate resilience,” the scientists conclude. (ab)

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