Food's Environmental Impact Varies Greatly Between Producers
By Jason Daley
There's no way around it—everything in the grocery store, from nuts and kale to beef and apples, has an environmental impact. Fertilizer causes water pollution, farm fields can encroach on habitat, and a lot of carbon gets released when food is transported from one place to another. But it turns out not every stalk of broccoli or pound of Gouda has the same ecological footprint. A new study of food systems in the journal Science shows the same items sitting next to each other on the shelf can have radically different impacts.
Researchers Joseph Poore of the University of Oxford and Thomas Nemecek of the Swiss agricultural research institute Agroscope pored over 570 studies published in the last 20 years measuring food production across the globe. The food systems in the study represent about 90 percent of all the food produced on Earth, grown on roughly 570 million farms. Poore and Nemecek created a dataset covering 40,000 farms in 119 nations around the world producing 40 agricultural products. They then assessed the ecological impact of each commodity from "farm to fork," looking at its impact on land use, freshwater use, water pollution, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
The results show that some crops are much more sustainable than others—for instance, bananas use a lot more land than onions—but also highlight the variability across producers of the same food product. The highest-impact beef has 12 times the emissions and uses 50 times the land of the most sustainably produced beef. Sustainable tomatoes can release almost no greenhouse gases, while high-impact producers can release six kilograms of CO2 per kilogram. High-impact coffee can release 1,000 percent more greenhouse gases than sustainable coffee. The same is true for almost every commodity studied.
Though Poore says that "geography plays a major role in determining all these environmental impacts," there is no one common thread explaining the huge disparities between producers. In rice-growing regions, for instance, some producers may flood their fields annually using long, deep floods that waste water and pollute lakes or rivers. Others may be more precise in their timing, using short shallow floods that have a much smaller impact. And the way rice is processed and whether it is kept as brown rice or milled down to white rice can make one bag 500 times more harmful to the environment than the other.
The fact that so many farms are using environmentally harmful methods is dismaying, but Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group, sees things differently. "Actually, this is a good news story," he said. "What it tells us is we can change our huge environmental footprint by changing the practices farmers use. This is more confirmation that the way we farm and practice production have profoundly different effects."
The study highlights the fact that some difficult but modest changes could have huge impacts. According to the results, 25 percent of the world's food producers are creating 53 percent of the environmental burden. Focusing on that one quarter of farmers could have outsized environmental returns. Finding those solutions, however, will be on a case-by-case basis. "An approach to reduce environmental impacts or enhance productivity that is effective for one producer can be ineffective or create trade-offs for another," Poore said in a statement. "This is a sector where we require many different solutions delivered to many millions of different producers."
Most of the change needs to come at the level of agricultural policy and on the farms themselves. But Poore said consumers can make changes to reduce their impact. Animal products, he pointed out, make up the majority of agriculture's environmental burden, with farmed animal products using 83 percent of the world's farmland and producing 56 to 58 percent of agriculture's emissions. "Then you have the really ridiculous statistics, like high-impact beef creating 25,000 percent more greenhouse gases and using 11,000 percent more land per gram of protein than legumes," Poore said. "That's insane."
If we were all to collectively go vegan, Poore pointed out, it would take about 75 percent of all agricultural land out of production while still producing plenty of calories to feed the world. Since eggs, cheese and burgers are likely here to stay, reducing consumption of animal products by half and reforming the worst producers could still result in massive emissions reductions. "There are ways we could meet the demand for meat in more environmentally friendly ways," Cox said. "There's no way to get away from the fact that eating meat puts a lot of demand on the environment. But we could and should do it better."
Poore may have more insights about the global food system still to come. The analysis looked at studies published up to 2016, but in recent years, there have been about 300 more studies examining the impact of all sorts of agricultural systems that could be rolled into the analysis. That could lead to new policies and approaches. "There's a lot of room for mitigation in the system," he said. "We can target a small number of producers and create a lot of potential for change."
We Ranked All 50 States from Farm to Fork. Why We Bothered—and a Taste of Our Takeaways https://t.co/EZXZcEiPN9… https://t.co/YwTz5oaJfR— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1528820919.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA magazine.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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