Food Sovereignty: 5 Steps to Cool the Planet and Feed Its People

Photo: London Permaculture/flickr/cc

Food Sovereignty: 5 Steps to Cool the Planet and Feed Its People

How the industrial food system contributes to the climate crisis

Between 44% and 57% of all GHG emissions come from the global food system

Deforestation: 15-18%

Before the planting starts, the bulldozers do their job. Worldwide, industrial agriculture is pushing into savannas, wetlands and forests, ploughing under huge amounts of land. The FAO says the expansion of the agricultural frontier accounts for 70-90% of global deforestation, at least half of that for the production of a few agricultural commodities for export. Agriculture's contribution to deforestation thus accounts for 15-18% of global GHG emissions.

Farming: 11-15%

It is generally acknowledged that farming itself contributes 11-15% of all greenhouse gasses produced globally. Most of these emissions result from the use of industrial inputs, such as chemical fertilisers and petrol to run tractors and irrigation machinery, as well as the excess manure generated by intensive livestock keeping.

Transport: 5-6%

The industrial food system acts like a global travel agency. Crops for animal feed may be grown in Argentina and fed to chickens in Chile that are exported to China for processing and eventually eaten in a McDonald's in the US. Much of our food, grown under industrial conditions in faraway places, travels thousands of kilometres before it reaches our plates. We can conservatively estimate that the transportation of food accounts for a quarter of global GHG emissions linked to transportation, or 5-6% of all global GHG emissions.

Processing & packaging: 8-10%

Processing is the next, highly profitable, step in the industrial food chain. The transformation of foods into ready-made meals, snacks and beverages requires an enormous amount of energy, mostly in the form of carbon. So does the packaging and canning of these foods. Processing and packaging enables the food industry to stack the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores with hundreds of different formats and brands, but it also generates a huge amount of greenhouse gas emissions - some 8 to 10% of the global total.

Freezing & Retail: 2-4%

Refrigeration is the lynchpin of the modern supermarket and fast food chains' vast global procurement systems. Wherever the industrial food system goes, so do cold chains. Considering that cooling is responsible for 15 percent of all electricity consumption worldwide, and that leaks of chemical refrigerants are a major source of GHGs, we can safely say that the refrigeration of foods accounts for some 1-2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The retailing of foods accounts for another 1-2%.

Waste: 3-4%

The industrial food system discards up to half of all the food that it produces, thrown out on the long journey from farms to traders, to food processors, and eventually to retailers and restaurants. A lot of this waste rots on garbage heaps and landfills, producing substantial amounts of GHGs. Between 3.5-4.5% of global GHG emissions come from waste, and over 90% of these are produced by materials originating within the food system.

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