With temperatures rising and critical climate change issues on the horizon, food producers and consumers alike are looking to improve the sustainability of food production and minimise the human contribution to these issues. It is generally acknowledged that food production significantly contributes to climate change and that many agricultural, food production and manufacturing practices are ultimately unsustainable.
One quarter of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions are a result of food production (The Atlantic article here).
Plant-based protein is significantly more sustainable, with beef production responsible for twenty times more greenhouse gas emissions and land per unit of edible protein than protein like beans, peas and lentils (Deloitte factsheet here).
Complicating matters further, the WWF documents that “by 2050 our global population of nine billion will need twice as much food as we do today” (WWF article here). This issue of demand outweighing supply needs to be addressed in the near future, with a variety of companies and startups experimenting with ways to make food and its production more sustainable. These include alternative methods of farming, agricultural food production techniques that have a low environmental impact and exploring food sources that have not been widely used overtime.
Overall, this has led to the development of a range of new, innovative methods of producing food that are sustainable and environmentally beneficial.
A notable means of contributing to more sustainable food production is through the reworking of practices within the agricultural industries we rely on most, such as the red meat industries. This can be observed in the emergence of the use of the asparagopsis species of seaweed as a feed additive for livestock. This has been found to significantly reduce methane emissions from livestock, with CSIRO reporting that it has the capacity to reduce the production of enteric methane by more than 80 per cent (CSIRO website here).
The increase in vertical and urban farming also showcases the potential for future metropolitan food supply demands to be met by “making supply chains shorter” (BBC article here). Companies like Square Roots, an urban, indoor farming company based in New York and Michigan, aim to build “a scalable farm-tech platform to enable the sustainable, distributed and resilient food system that our near-future needs” (Square Roots website here). Further, a startup called Cycloponics is working to make underground farms a reality, converting unused space for farming and food production activities (Cycloponics website here).
Another potential solution in the area of sustainable food production is the focus on incorporating more shellfish such as mussels, clams, oysters and scallops into our diet. Key reasons for this are their environmental sustainability and nutritional value:
There is a sizeable difference in greenhouse gas emissions between shellfish and other sources of protein like beef - with only 11 tonnes of emissions per tonne of bivalve protein vs. 340 tonnes of emissions per tonne of beef
They contain key nutrients that has the potential to feed “nearly one billion people in the most vulnerable populations on the planet” (from BBC article here).
Additionally, food tech startup Solar Foods have developed a ground-breaking method of producing food using just renewable electricity and air, by capturing and using the carbon dioxide emitted, creating a protein called Solein “out of thin air”. The benefits of the protein include its potential to be manufactured anywhere in the world, as it does not require traditional agriculture and acts as its replacement (Solar Foods website here). This represents another move toward more sustainable food production that does not rely solely on traditional methods.
As Pasi Vainikka, CEO of Solar Foods, outlines “If you want to…reduce climate impact, you would need to disconnect from land use and this is what we can now do with this technology. We don’t use any agriculture feedstocks in our products, so we can make food in space or in the desert or the Arctic.”(Vice article here)
A shift in farming practices could also offer a potential remedy to increasing land degradation as a result of climate change, with regenerative agricultural practices through the “use of cover crops ensuring the land is covered with one crop or other the whole year – and areas of tree cover both of which help to prevent soil erosion by wind or rain, maintain water and help to sequester carbon in the ground through their deep roots” (BBC article here).
Minimising food waste - Apeel
Further, innovative strategies to minimise food waste and increase the shelf life of produce have been developed. Food tech start up Apeel have created a protective surface coating for fruits and vegetables that “protects produce by slowing spoilage – causing water loss and oxidation, keeping it fresh twice as long” (Apeel website here). As Founder & CEO James Rogers outlines, “perishability governs every element of the food system”, and the capacity to overcome this and extend the lifespan of produce is key to ensuring a more sustainable food system (The Wall Street Journal article here).
The reinvention of the global food system to ensure its longevity and sustainability will be envisaged in a significant way by food producers. These changes in food production require a shift in the way we think about the environmental impact of food production and ultimately, in what we choose to purchase and consume.