When I worked for a human rights group early in my career, I had set up a trading company that bought and sold products from the rainforest. The goal was to buy directly from forest residents and prove that forests were worth more as forests than as pasture or cropland. It was also intended to improve their income so that they didn’t have to depend as much on outsiders to protect their rights.
Should We Be Worried about the Outlook for Plant-Based Meat? — Food Navigator
A year or so into this work, a dockworkers’ strike left a 40-ton container of Brazil nuts that I had purchased sitting in the hot sun in a sealed container for a couple of months on a dock in Santos. Once the strike ended, the container was loaded and shipped to the US. When it arrived, the nuts, though still good, had their shelf life seriously shortened.
Neither the coop nor I could afford to simply throw the Brazil nuts away. So, I got on the phone to find a solution. A couple of companies wanted to make Brazil nut oil and try it in the market as a specialty oil. Another company was interested in working with the Brazil nut “cake” left over from the oil extraction process, using it as a high-protein supplement. Soon we found that the cake was more easily digested than many proteins and was especially good for HIV patients and cancer patients on chemotherapy. Later we found that the nut meal was a good protein supplement to include when making bread and pasta used in school lunch programs. In the end, each Brazil nut by-product was worth more than the shelled nuts.
With climate change there will never be enough money for all that needs to be done. We need to take advantage of existing assets that are old or stranded rather than competing for finite new capital. Similarly, we need to find better markets for low value by-products or even markets for products that have been considered waste or very low value in the past.
For example, China now purchases a lot of animal protein in the form of internal organs and body parts that have little demand as human food and mostly end up in pet food. The Markets Institute has published on how to create better markets for the male calves of dairy calves. During COVID, a salmon aquaculture producer couldn’t afford to raise a whole batch of smolts. His freezers were full of product and market demand was low. So, he dried the smolts and sold them as dog treats each for more than the price of a full-grown salmon.
Food waste is now being turned into chicken feed to produce poultry as well as eggs. But that produces a lot of roosters that won’t be laying any eggs, and there is no market for the breeds that are not of the size that consumers want. Others are using food and yard waste and even human sewage to produce energy, biochar, carbon, green cement ingredients, and other valuable resources. We can’t afford to let anything go to waste, including waste. Think about it. – Jason
China’s Bid to Improve Food Production? Giant Towers of Pigs — The New York Times
Inside a hulking, 26-story building towering above a rural village in China, pigs are monitored on high-definition cameras by uniformed technicians in a NASA-like command center. Each floor operates like a self-contained farm for the different stages of a young pig’s life. This is the future of pig farming in China.
JC: China first announced this new approach to producing pigs prior to COVID. It was largely an attempt to “build back better,” as swine flu had wiped out half of the pigs in the country and they were trying to find a way to structure pig production to avoid the spread of diseases in the future. One of their conclusions was that disease was more easily spread by small-scale, open-air production systems. So China decided to experiment and enclose the system — in short, building up, rather than out. The animals are segregated by age; that system allows for removal and collection of waste in a more centralized way, while water and feed can be pumped up through cheaper, more efficient systems. It would be interesting to compare this system with more intensive one-story arrangements elsewhere, to see where the greatest efficiencies are around individual impacts as well as where the greatest net impacts are. The biggest pitfall might be the technical advisors and inspectors who go from one facility to another. They could well be bringing in diseases if they are not careful.
Plant-based meat has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons over the past few weeks, as industry heavyweight Impossible Foods hit back at accusations that the category is failing to perform. Survey data from Rabobank suggests concern over the ‘collapse’ of the plant-based meat sector is widespread within the industry.
JC: While the growth rate of plant-based meat has been rapid and undeniable, it has not achieved the market penetration those invested in it had in mind. It was good that Nicholas Fereday of Rabobank made his survey public. Now we are hearing about layoffs in the industry — perhaps indicating that it was more linked to tech than many of us had thought. Even with its rapid growth rate, the absolute production of plant-based meat globally remains lower than the year-on-year increase in animal-based protein production annually. It seems to me we need to double down on our efforts to reduce the impacts of producing animal proteins because global consumption certainly isn’t declining.
GHG Emissions from Nitrogen Fertilizers Could Be Reduced by One-Fifth by 2050 — Nature
Food security relies on nitrogen fertilizers, but its production and use account for approximately 5 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Using current technologies, GHG emissions of fertilizers could be reduced up to approximately one-fifth of current levels by 2050.
JC: Our journey towards reduced GHG emissions inevitably will involve strategies that pursue smaller and smaller sources of the overall emissions picture. Anywhere that we can reduce overall emissions by 1 percent is a win. And reducing the emissions from producing nitrogen fertilizer is a big win. It takes a lot of energy to produce nitrogen (the process was discovered in the late 19th century and first produced commercially in Norway, where the fjords afforded the country with steady, year-round sources of hydro energy). But the impact of nitrogen not only comes from its production; it also comes from volatilization during and after use. Work on reducing the impacts associated with production can be started today. More significant transformation is going to come, if you ask me, from the genetics work I have discussed several times, which is being done by plant breeders who have discovered how a wide range of plants have a pathway to encourage nitrogen fixation from the air into the soil. We are going to need more nitrogen to produce all the food that will be needed going forward. If we can produce it without GHG emissions and make it available to producers who have never had nitrogen fertilizer to use before, then we will be in great shape.
Los Angeles Requires Residents to Compost Food Scraps — KCAL
The nation’s second-largest city is now requiring residents to compost food scraps as part of the new state mandate aimed at getting organic waste out of landfills. The program is estimated to divert up to 2.2 million pounds of food scraps a day from landfills.
JC: Removing food and organic waste from landfills is important for several reasons. First, it reduces methane emissions that tend to be a potent source of GHG emissions. Second, landfills around the country are filling up; removing all organic waste would greatly reduce waste flows into them. Finally, it might even be possible to make the food system a bit more closed-loop, with food waste being composted to use as a soil amendment. At the very least, it would reduce the fertilizer and other inputs used by the city and urban gardeners. It is great to see the second largest city in the US pursuing this path. Meanwhile, most US cities still do not recycle anything because it is seen as too costly.
EU Project Targets ‘Transformation’ of Food System for ‘Radical Change’ — Food Navigator Europe
A ‘comprehensive’ new EU project, called CLEVERFOOD, has been launched with the aim of facilitating the society-wide mobilization of European citizens to transform the food system in a way that benefits climate, biodiversity and people.
JC: I have long held with the view that we need to focus on citizens rather than just consumers and we need to help inform them before we involve them too deeply. Otherwise, it is like watching a chicken with its head cut off — a lot of effort, but a predictable outcome. We need to involve citizens not because they consume food but because they vote. And transforming any food system will require new governmental policies, particularly if we want transformation. We need to move the bottom, where the biggest impacts are as well as the least production. But we also need to work with producers that have already changed what they are doing to understand what their impediments are, how they could be fixed, and how others could learn from them more quickly. The radical change needs to come from the production end and needs to be driven both by carrots and sticks.
Which food is better for the planet? Salmon or cod? — Washington Post
Knowing what to eat to minimize impact on the planet can feel like an impossible task: Eat locally? Skip meat? Opt for organic, free range, humanely raised? Each of those choices, however Earth-friendly they may sound, comes with environmental impact. An interactive feature.
JC: This is the dilemma: How to compare and contrast the different foods we eat. What this report shows is that we can’t afford to just focus on one issue. Greenhouse gas emissions, for example, are critical for climate change but are not the only important issue to consider when thinking about which food is better for the planet. Habitat is critical — terrestrial for sure but also marine. On land, habitat is not just forest, grasslands, or wetlands, it also must include soil and soil health. Water take and water effluent are different, but both are important. Where the work falls short is that the analytics backstopping it are based on averages. And that allows us to compare poultry with beef or either with rice, but not poultry with poultry or the best 25 percent of poultry with the worst 25 percent of rice, etc. When the different impacts of producing any single product can vary as much as 10x to 100x from one production system to another, then we need to be careful about averages. And it also suggests that our efforts to improve production are best focused on the bottom 10-25 percent of production, not the best producers — no matter what product we are talking about.