The following is an article from “The Vancouver Sun.” While the article does not represent the thoughts of the Northern Ag Network, it showcases one of many challenges that America’s agriculture producers are facing today.
Feed people, not cattle, UN panel urges
Growing population and agriculture’s environmental impact create the potential for ‘disaster’
By Margaret Munro, Canwest News Service June 2, 2010
Humanity needs to radically alter what it eats, according to an expert panel advising the United Nations on the planet’s environmental challenges.
Cattle and other animals are fed more than half the world’s crops, an appetite the panel says needs to be curbed to provide more food for people and reduce agriculture’s staggering environmental impact.
“A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animals products,” says the report to be released today by the United Nations Environment Program.
The panel was asked to identify activities associated with the largest environmental pressures and impacts in the world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes and rising consumption.
It identified agriculture as a priority area in need of “transformational change,” along with fossil fuel use — which is helping drive climate change — and production and use of materials such as iron, steel, aluminum and plastics, which also has a large environmental footprint.
Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater consumption and 38 per cent of total land use, and is a major source of greenhouse gases, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.
With global population expected to increase 50 per cent to as many as 10 billion people by 2050, the panel says changes in diet will be needed to ensure there is enough to eat.
Compounding the situation is increasing affluence, since richer people tend to consume more fossil fuels and eat more animal products. “In the case of food, rising affluence is triggering a shift in diets towards meat and diary products — livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilizers and pesticides linked with that crop production in the first place,” German scientist Ernst von Weizsaecker, cochairman of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management said.
Canadian panel member Yvan Hardy, former chief scientist at Natural Resources Canada, said Tuesday that there is plenty of potential for “disaster” on the horizon. “We have to be very prudent and aware of what is going on,” said Hardy, pointing to challenges associated with growing population and climate change. “Basically I think the world … has lost sight of what it takes to support our standard of living,” said Hardy. “What we can extract from the earth, in terms of both natural resources and nutrients, is limited.”
Now that the panel has identified agriculture, fossil fuel use and material production as key areas, it will now ponder how to reduce the impacts through innovation, policy, investments and taxes.
In the case of agriculture, they will assess measures to shift consumption away from meat and dairy products, and also look at ways of reducing food waste, and improving production.
While government and industrial policies and practices will be needed, the panel notes there is room for change at the household level — from heating and energy use, to the way people travel and buy appliances.
“Incremental efficiency gains in, for example, motor cars or home heating systems have provided some improvements but, faced with the scale of the challenge, far more transformational measures need to be taken,” says panel co-chair Ashok Khosla, president of the World Conservation Union.
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Posted by Haylie Shipp