Are We Fit for Purpose?
The Brits use “fit for purpose” to question whether something can do the job for which it’s intended. We need to take a step back and ask how many institutions, governments, or even individuals in a position to do so actually have the mindsets that will allow them to embrace and encourage the changes needed to address climate change, resilience in the food system, business models, historical anachronisms and the like, rather than find a thousand reasons why what is being suggested won’t work.
Brazilian Meat Firm’s A- Sustainability Rating has Campaigners Up in Arms — The Guardian
What it boils down to fundamentally is being able to embrace change and insecurity and get on with what needs to be done. People claim that they like change, but many are threatened by it. People who work hard to get where they are are not always comfortable with the fact that they will need to continue not just to work hard but also to change if we are to survive — much less mitigate the changes that humans have already set in motion. We must fly the plane while we rebuild it.
And the bigger the institutions are, the harder it will be for them to pivot to help the changes happen that are essential if we are to respond to current and future crises at the speed and scale required. In a meeting last week, it became clearer that some of the largest global institutions working in food and food security are going to have a very hard time pivoting to be the agencies that help usher in transformational change.
Just this week, a number of stories should make reasonable people wonder if we are focusing our energy and innovation on the right issues. An Australian company has made a meatball of lab-grown cultured meat from a long-extinct mammoth. A development project in Niger is supporting a crop-livestock integration program to boost productivity and resilience just when it appears that the Sahara Desert is beginning to expand south (like 50 years ago) due to hotter, drier weather. As eels and octopi decline in numbers, the response is to produce them in aquaculture rather than address fisheries management, overfishing, illegality, and climate change’s impact on marine life. — Jason
The award of an A-minus sustainability grade to the world’s biggest meat company has raised eyebrows and kicked off a debate about the rating system for environmental and social governance. Brazilian meat company JBS has previously been linked to deforestation in the Amazon, where its slaughterhouses process beef from ranches carved out of the Amazon, Cerrado and other biomes.
JC: It is common knowledge that self-rating systems are not accurate. The real question is how inaccurate they are. When working with shrimp aquaculture producers several decades ago, we discovered that they were 50-100 percent more optimistic about their performance than independent evaluators. Imagine a large company, then, where each unit wants its numbers to look as good as possible and certainly no worse than anyone else’s. There are business reasons that companies will game systems when it is possible (and even allowed, as in this case). It seems that this should be a wake-up call that all these systems (e.g., the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions; lifecycle assessments; environment, social and governance measures, etc.) need to be tightened up if they are to be helpful in identifying key issues, much less helping companies and others develop credible plans to address them.
How to Fix the Global Rice Crisis — The Economist
Rice production is spluttering. Yields have increased by less than 1 percent a year over the past decade. The greatest slowdowns were in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia and the Philippines are already big importers. This has many explanations – urbanization, industrialization, excessive use of pesticides among them. But the biggest reason may be global warming.
JC: Many if not most of the main cereal grain crops’ productivity gains have dropped to less than 1 percent per year for more than a decade. CRISPR will probably turn that around, at least for a few decades. But it is more likely that biological solutions that reduce the hit-or-miss nature of many current inputs, like various nutrients and fertilizers as well as pesticides, will reduce impacts on soil organisms and health, as well as increase efficiency of input use and overall production while producing less pollution. Still, as humans move away from manual labor, the need for calorie-dense cereals will slacken as people begin to eat more nutrient-dense foods. Those can be produced on lands that are taken out of wheat, rice, and corn, which account for 40-50 percent of arable land use today.
How Investors Could Help Slash Food Sector Emissions and Unlock a $1.5T Economic Boost — GreenBiz
Banks, investors, and insurers have an "outsize opportunity" to combat the huge climate impact of the global food system by concentrating on a handful of actions that could slash global emissions and unlock $1.5 trillion in economic benefits by the end of the decade, according to a new report that captures data from over 400,000 companies worldwide.
JC: The report suggests that focusing on six issues (deforestation, food waste, ag methane emissions, supply chain traceability, regenerative farming, and meat alternatives) could reduce emissions in the food system by 60 percent — or about 20 percent of global emissions. Among other things, the report calls on financial firms “to require fully traceable supply chains from the food firms they invest in by 2030 and engage with them to reduce food loss and waste, which the U.N. has estimated accounts for around 8 percent to 10 percent of global GHG emissions.” The benefits of such strategies, the report asserts, would be waste reduction, more transparent and efficient supply chains, diversified supplies, higher yields, and reduced risks.
Italy Wages War on Lab-Grown Food in Drive to Protect Tradition — Reuters
Italy's government approved a bill banning the use of laboratory-produced food and animal feed as it aims to safeguard the country's agri-food heritage. If the proposal is passed by parliament, Italian industry will not be allowed to produce food or feed "from cell cultures or tissues derived from vertebrate animals."
JC: While such moves to lab-grown food and animal feed don’t seem imminent, countries do have a right to protect their cultural heritage. The concern seems to be more with what may be happening in other parts of the EU or globally rather than in Italy, however. With a population “growth” rate well below replacement and one of the lowest globally, Italy can certainly make a case for consumption of animal proteins however they want to produce them. I wonder, though, why it is that they would want their animals — especially their cows — to continue to contribute to climate change if there is a feed ingredient that could reduce it substantially. I would assume that most parts of Italy already get too hot in the summers.
Vegetable Oil Shortage a Growing Industry Concern — The Food Institute
Vegetable oil, an essential in everything from pizza dough to shampoo, is in short supply largely because of weather disasters and the growing use of biofuels to replace fossil fuels as the fight against climate change intensifies. The growing demand raises the question of what should take precedence: feeding the world population or fighting climate change.
JC: Much of the discussion about the impact of global food production includes a special emphasis on animal proteins, feed crops, and diets. What has received little attention is the importance and impact of vegetable oils and animal fats on the planet and on diets. The last time I checked, vegetable oils were the fastest-growing category of food, and it is reflected in the global expansion of palm oil, soy, rape, and canola. The oils are used in food products for frying but also to make ramen noodles and other processed foods cook faster, which is critical with global populations that are increasingly urban. These crops are produced in the tropics as well as temperate zones. Oil palm is 8-to-15 times more productive per hectare and is a perennial. Oil palm and soy are associated with deforestation and conversion in the topics but also in temperate zones. However, rape and canola lead to soil erosion so need to be on multi-year rotations.
Palm Oil Importers Unprepared for New EU Deforestation Traceability Requirements — Feed Navigator
A new report has found that palm oil trader ambition is out of step with due diligence expectations on traceability, with many traders having either no full traceability to plantation target or a target of 2030, several years behind the EU requirement.
JC: I am sure that this is the case — traceability to plantation, or harder still to smallholders, will not be done quickly or easily. This was the subject of a lot of discussion when the traders and larger aggregators and beef companies committed at COP 26 in Glasgow to produce a roadmap of how they would achieve credible climate targets by COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh. There was a lot of back and forth prior to COP 27 and the draft roadmap missed many deadlines until it was finally released at the meeting. It arrived with a thud, and what is particularly interesting is that the specific roadmap for palm oil was considered by everyone to be the best of the three commodities being addressed. The other two were beef and soy. The general consensus was that beef was okay, but not as good as palm oil. Soy, in particular, was simply not acceptable. It was not at all credible. Traceability and transparency require systems and oversight that enlarge how we think about commodities and what we expect of commodity traders. The alternative is to “decommodify” the products we purchase by finding credible ways to retain information that will be required if we are to reduce the GHG emissions embedded in the food and personal-care products we use.