Climate change cannot be mitigated effectively without changing how we produce, transport and consume food.
The entire food system – which includes the production, packaging, transportation and disposal of everything we eat – accounts for 21-37% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, our food could account for almost half of all carbon emissions released by human activity unless more steps are taken to reduce its environmental impact. (BBC)
Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.(EAT/Lancet Report)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a report in 2021 on the environmental impacts of food waste,
EPA estimated that each year, U.S. food loss and waste embodies 170 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent
(million MTCO2e) GHG emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired
power plants. This estimate does not include the significant methane emissions from food waste rotting in landfills. EPA
data show that food waste is the single most common material landfilled and incinerated in the U.S., comprising 24 and 22 percent of landfilled and combusted municipal solid waste, respectively. (US EPA)
Although the steps behind the supply chain for individual foods can vary considerably, each typically has seven stages:
1) Land Use Change
3) Animal Feed
Across all foods, the land use and farm stages of the supply chain account for 80% of GHG emissions. In beef production, for example, there are three key contributing factors to the carbon footprint at these stages: animal feed, land conversion, and methane production from cows. In the U.S., beef production accounts for 40% of total livestock-related land use domestically. 80% of agricultural land is used for feed fr factory animal farming.
On the other end of the spectrum is transportation. This stage of the supply chain makes up 10% of total GHG emissions on average. When it comes to beef, the proportion of GHGs that transportation emits is even smaller, at just 0.5% of
total emissions. Contrary to popular belief, sourcing food locally may not help GHG emissions in a very significant way, especially in the case of foods with a large carbon footprint.
The Rise of Plant-Based Alternatives
Amid a growing market share of plant-based alternatives in markets around the world, the future of the food supply chain
could undergo a significant transition. For investors, this shift is already evident. Beyond Meat, a leading provider of meat substitutes, was one of the best performing stocks of 2019—gaining 202% after its IPO in May 2019.