Foodprints for the Future
Our Food’s Impact
Our food system is rapidly deteriorating the planet, and in its current form, we will not be able to feed the over 9 billion people inhabiting Earth by 2050. Our growing population is pushing food security to the edge, and what we’re eating is pushing the planet to the breaking point on climate change and deforestation.
The good news: our food can be part of the solution to climate change! To make this a reality, we must first understand how food is currently impacting our planet:
Scientists estimate that all agriculture is responsible for approximately a quarter of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Animal agriculture is estimated to account for up to 80% of this number.
In the United States alone, there are over 10 billion animals slaughtered for food annually. The average American consumes over 200 pounds of meat every year. The US Department of Agriculture estimated that every American would eat a record high of 222 pounds of meat in 2018. That is over 2 quarter pound burgers every day!
Producing this much meat is resource intensive:
- It requires a huge amount of water. An estimated 1,800 gallons of water go into a single pound of beef. With that much water you could take 105 eight-minute showers a day!
- Animal agriculture takes up land and is a leading cause of deforestation. In 2018, 30 million acres of tropical rainforest were lost. That is 82,191 acres a day– the equivalent of 43 football fields a minute!
- According to a study in the journal Science, livestock provide just 18 percent of calories worldwide, but take up 83 percent of farmland.
- Farm animals also produce unthinkable amounts of manure. US Livestock produce approximately 2 billion tons of manure each year. That is approximately 12 billion pounds of manure produced every day. A large portion of this waste is kept in open lagoons, along with bedding, antibiotic residues and chemicals. This toxic mixture is then sprayed on farm lands across the country as fertilizer.
- Methane, a greenhouse gas, has over 25 times the impact on our planet as carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the largest contributor of methane in the US is livestock and their waste.
“Globally, if food waste could be represented as its own country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US” – United Nations Environment
While we are using up resources for animal agriculture, we are also wasting a significant portion of the food produced in the US. According to the US Department of Agriculture, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. That’s approximately 133 billion pounds of food, a total monetary loss estimated at $161.6 billion, and an estimated 141 trillion calories per year, or 1,249 calories per capita per day, in the food supply (based on 2010 numbers).
Globally, food is lost or wasted at about the same rate– according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of edible food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted each year.
Food loss = food that spills, spoils or is lost before it reaches the consumer. This is typically due to problems in storage, packaging and processing.
Food waste = quality food that is not consumed. This most often takes place once food has reached retail or the consumer.
The FAO estimates that food loss and waste account for 8.2 percent of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions. When we toss still-edible food into the trash, it ends up in landfills, where it generates methane, and according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 34 percent of all methane emissions in the US come from landfills.