Building an environmentally friendly food system

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 8th April 2009

Sustainable practices in agriculture, combined with the development of local food systems, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the food system, finds a new paper by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in the US.

The paper, “Identifying our Climate ‘Foodprint’,” by Jennifer Edwards, Jim Kleinschmit and Heather Schoonover, looks at the entire food chain and identifies opportunities to shift toward a more climate-friendly system. The paper concludes that industrial farming systems which depend on massive resource inputs for crops and livestock are by far the largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions throughout the food chain.

“Agriculture is in a special situation when it comes to climate change. It is significant both as a source of emissions and as a sector already feeling the effects of global warming,” said Jim Kleinschmit, director of IATP’s Rural Communities program. “The good news is that by transitioning toward more sustainable practices on the farm, we can better adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

The paper outlines recommendations for climate-friendly practices in agriculture production, food processing, food transportation, and food consumption and disposal,
• agriculture production: reduce external inputs, especially synthetic and fossil fuel-based chemicals and energy, minimise on-farm energy requirements and compost animal manure;
• processing: minimise packaging, increase energy efficient processing facilities;
• transportation: minimise distance transported and create regional distribution systems;
• food consumption: consider low-impact food options, avoid food waste and spoilage, and keep food waste and scraps out of landfills.

“Many farmers, food companies and consumers are already implementing climate friendly practices,” Kleinschmit noted. “Now we need smarter public policy to make the larger systemic changes we need.”

Policy discussions are currently taking place at national and international levels to address climate change. And in December, governments from around the world will meet in Copenhagen to discuss a global agreement on climate change.