August, 2021

How does the food system impact the environment?

United Nation Ecosystem Restoration

The global food system, including food production, processing and distribution is one of the main drivers of environmental impacts. These impacts are generally related to the use of natural resources, such as the use of forests as agricultural land or the use of fossil fuels for energy: two actions that lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the current food system impacts the biodiversity of our planet, which is more and more threatened by agents such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, as well as by overfishing. These practices have certainly pushed up crop yields, but at the same time have increased the exploitation of soil and water, which are limited natural resources.

According to the article Environmental Impact of Food Production about 50% of the available habitable land is devoted to crops and livestock, with the remaining 37% forest, 11% vegetation, 1% fresh water, 1% habitable land.

More than half of agricultural land is devoted to livestock, which meet only 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of its protein needs, the rest being balanced by plant-based crops and foods.

On the other hand, crops also contribute to higher greenhouse gas emissions while requiring less land use.

Many of Earth’s ecosystems are approaching irreversible decline, increasingly exploited to keep pace with population growth and economic development. If such patterns of food production and consumption are kept in the future, this could lead to the increase of already existing social and environmental problems, such as the spread of unhealthy diets and diseases related to improper nutrition, combined with the relentless deterioration of the environment with the consequent reduction of the possibility of agricultural production.

How can we help the Planet?

This year, the World Environment Day, which occurs every year on June 5th as a day called by the United Nations to encourage greater awareness for environmental protection, also marked the start of the decade for ecosystem restoration, a wake-up call for the protection and revival of ecosystems around the world for the benefit of people and nature. Keeping ecosystems healthy not only can improve people’s lives, but also help combat problems like climate change and biodiversity collapse. Just think of how Earth Overshoot Day (this year July 29), the date when the global population’s demand for natural resources exceeds what the Earth can regenerate in that year, falls early every year, revealing that not enough is being done to preserve the environment. The United Nations’ decade for ecosystem restoration will run until 2030, the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals. During this time, people, groups, organizations and businesses will be able to be part of a global movement to prevent ecosystem degradation.

There are many ways to help prevent ecosystem degradation, starting with changing the very same practices that harm the ecosystem, such as preferring crop rotation and greater diversification, and reducing the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Beyond that, people can also be a major contributor to preserving the environment. The changes needed include more sustainable choices in purchasing goods and services from companies that, for example, produce recyclable products, cut down on packaging and comply with environmental standards. Adopting healthier and more sustainable diets can also contribute to the well-being of the planet by encouraging local and seasonal products.

In Europe, this approach is part of a wider framework of projects, including, for example, the Farm to Fork, strategy, which aims to be the guide for the transition from the current food system to a more sustainable one, in terms of production, distribution, waste and consumption.