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Food production responsible for 29% of global GHG emissions, says report

A new report says food production may be responsible for twice the amount of greenhouse gases suggested by UN figures – underlining the need for urgent action to confront the world's addiction to meat and cut livestock numbers.

Posted : 5 November 2012

In Climate Change and Food Systems (published in the 2012 Annual Review of Environment and Resources), food security research organisation CGIAR says “field to fork” food production is responsible for 19-29 per cent of all manmade greenhouse gases.

The UN had put the figure at 14 per cent, looking at farming in isolation, but this report takes a broader, more realistic view of food production – factoring in, for example, the carbon cost of cutting down forests to create pasture and manufacturing fertiliser.

As Bruce Campbell, CGIAR’s head of research on climate change, agriculture and food security, observes: “From a food point of view [the UN approach] doesn’t make sense.”

The WorldWatch Institute, for example, in its 2009 report Livestock and Climate Change, estimated that meat production was responsible for 51 per cent of food-generated greenhouse gas emissions.

The report suggests that countries can cut emissions and costs by eating less meat, freeing up land for crops for human consumption while at the same time lowering emissions of harmful gas associated with livestock farming.

In a separate report, Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World, CGIAR says that climate change will impact on the global production of the three biggest calorie crops – maize, wheat and rice – with severe consequences the world’s projected 9-10 billion people by 2050.

It adds that rising temperatures or adverse weather events could impact on the storage or transportation of food, or increase food-borne illnesses: “Every step of the food chain – from the seed to the farm to the cooking pot – is at risk.”

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