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Present-day food system not sustainable: study

Average world citizen must consume fewer animal products and waste less food to avoid irreversibly damaging the environment
by TR Pakistan

A more sustainable approach to agricultural production has to be acquired to meet the planet’s food demand as the population rises. As the world population could rise to as much as 10 billion people from the present 6.9 billion in the next 32 years, diets with a significantly greater vegetable protein intake will have to be acquired, suggests an international study published by the journal Nature on the occasion of the World Food Day.

The study entitled ‘Options for Keeping Food Systems Within Environmental Limits’ has concluded that food waste will also have to be reduced and more efficient agricultural practices and technologies will have to be acquired. Researchers involved in the study warn that if this is not done, the environment could be permanently damaged.

This sustainable approach to agricultural production must be acquired to meet the planet’s food demand by 2050. According to the study, this is necessary if the average global temperature rise is to be kept under two degrees Celsius (°C).

What’s the future of food?

For their analysis, researchers constructed a food-system model that connected consumption and production patterns across the globe. They distinguished several steps along the food chain, including primary production, trade in primary commodities, processing to oils, oil cakes and refined sugars, the use of feed for animals, and trade in processed commodities and animals. This model was then used to estimate the environmental impacts of the current food-system in 2050.

Average world citizens will have to consume 75 percent less beef, 90 percent less pork, and half the number of eggs. This will require tripling the consumption of beans and pulses, and quadrupling the consumption of nuts and seeds.

The diets of wealthy industrialized nations will require an even more radical change. In the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, citizens will have to cut the consumption of beef by 90 percent, and milk by 60 percent. This means they will have to eat 4-6 times more beans and pulses.

According to researchers involved in the study, this will require education, tax subsidies for plant-based foods, and changes in school and workplace menus.

Read more: New product that detects food contamination can end the need for expiry dates 

Credit: Nature

Agricultural practices of the future

Farming practices will also need to undergo stringent changes to halt deforestation, avoid water shortages and stop fertilizer pollution. This will require increasing crop yields in developing nations, more universal water storage and a prudent approach to the use of fertilizer.

In 2010, the food system emitted roughly 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. It occupied 12.6 million square kilometers of cropland and consumed 1,810 cubic kilometers of surface and groundwater. Farming practices applied 104 teragrams of nitrogen and 18 teragrams of phosphorus in the form of fertilizers. Obviously, these figures will only rise along with the population.

The study has been published mere days after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report saying that keeping the rise in average global temperature at or below 1.5°C requires slashing greenhouse gas emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by the year 2030. It also said that the devastation caused by a 2°C rise would be significantly greater than a 1.5°C rise.

Trends in Pakistan

Meanwhile, the trend in Pakistan doesn’t seem to be in line with the proposals of this research. According to the ‘State of Food and Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific Region’ report released by the Food and Agricultural Organization in April 2018, pulse consumption has declined in Pakistan from 15 kilograms a year per person in 2000 to seven kilograms in 2018. This has happened because more people can now afford to use animal products as their main source of protein.

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