Photo: Flickr.com Eduardo Merille CC-BY-NC
Editorial: Another agricultural system is possible
The current production and consumption of food in the western world is unsustainable. For example, in the EU food consumption is responsible for almost one third of the total environmental impact. Livestock production is the main culprit as it is responsible for 90 per cent of ammonia emissions and half of methane emissions in the EU.
The potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock with the help of technology and improvements in management is limited. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has assessed it to be around 30 per cent globally, less in Europe where systems are already highly efficient in terms of kilograms of product per animal unit (AN4/2013).
In order to have a likely chance of keeping global warming below 1.5°C, global emissions need to be negative by 2050. Even with the less ambitious target to stay below 2°C, we would need agriculture to contribute considerably more to emission reductions than can be achieved through management and technological fixes alone.
To move forward, we need to review what we produce and consequently what we consume. This is a sensitive topic. What we eat is part of our identity and is perceived as something very personal. But it cannot be seen as a forbidden area for policy.
In a soon-to-be-published report prepared for AirClim by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences it is shown that the global warming potential due to our diet could be reduced by more than 80 per cent by producing food under a different agricultural system based on local resources, in which animal production is limited to feeding on resources that are not in direct competition with human food production (see article on front page). Nitrogen emission are reduced in almost equal measure.
The various scenario diets would mean reducing meat consumption by between 50 and 90 percent compared to today and replacing it with domestically grown legumes. This may sound like a massive reduction, but it is actually not so different from the way our grandparents ate when they were children.
The scenarios should not be seen as a blueprint for a desired future. It is probably not necessary to apply the principle of self-sufficiency quite this far to achieve the same emission reductions. There are also other possibilities, such as innovative new foods and production systems that were not included in the study and should be explored further.
The scenarios can however show us the general direction in which we should be heading.
And just taking a few steps in that direction would require a far-reaching transformation of current agricultural policy. Three out of the four Nordic countries in the study are members of the EU and governed by the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) – one of the EU’s oldest, most influential, most debated and most costly policies.
The European Commission has just launched a major online Public Consultation on the future of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). It is essential that as many organisations and individuals, from as wide a variety of sectors and countries as possible, seize this golden opportunity to tell the Commission that we all need a reformed CAP that is fair, environmentally sustainable, healthy and globally responsible.