How food wastage and meat consumption could devastate food production on Earth!

Last updated on Apr 20, 2020

Posted on Sep 9, 2019

There was a time when agriculture was simple and sustainable – read organic – and the process of food consumption and feedback to nature was sustainable.  Farmer grew the crops, which were eaten by humans and farm animals and the feces of both would end up as natural fertilizer for the crops which would grow again and feedback the whole loop.

Phosphorus is key to agriculture and food production. With meat consumption, food waste and discarding human waste in oceans we are breaking nature's loop. It will spell disaster for humanity #vegan Click To Tweet

This entire loop had an important ingredient – Phosphorus.  Phosphorus, along with Nitrogen is an important part of the food ingredients and fertilizers.

For fertilizers, phosphorus is mined and then used to grow crops several miles away.  The food is then transported miles away to cities and the feces of animals and humans go into sewage, which ends up in Oceans.

Now,  David Vaccari, an environmental engineer at Stevens Institute of Technology, and his colleagues have developed an interesting model which analyses the phosphorus flows through the global food system, some companies are developing blockchain agriculture software enabling the agricultural industry to decrease waste by following the food right from production to sale, plus many other features that aim to save the agricultural business big amounts of money. They shared this model and findings in the Sept. 4 issue of Environmental Science & Technology,

Phosphorus is an essential mineral to grow food, but research suggests that this is being mined unsustainably. If reserves run low, food production will be constrained and starvation entirely possible. (Source: Not all meat is created equal: How diet changes can sustain world’s food production — ScienceDaily)

Their findings show that meat consumption leads to higher phosphorus mining, which will further mess up the ability of humans to grow crops because the soil will eventually become phosphorus-deficient.

But their models show that even more important than the change of diet is the need to stop wasting food. That is far more effective than recycling phosphorus.  Here are sobering facts on food waste globally:

  • Roughly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • Food losses and waste amount to roughly US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$ 310 billion in developing countries.
  • Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
  • Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
  • Global quantitative food losses and waste per year are roughly 30% for cereals, 40-50% for root crops, fruits, and vegetables, 20% for oilseeds, meat, and dairy plus 35% for fish.
  • Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
  • The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
  • Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-eastern Asia, each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.

The study by  David Vaccari came up with these results.

  • Collective diet changes can reduce the demand for phosphate mining substantially. Since different animals have a different footprint on phosphate mining, these changes could include reducing total meat consumption or switching to meats that require less feed to produce; for example, it takes 32 pounds of feed to produce edible beef; 11 pounds to produce edible pork; and four to produce edible chicken and around one or two for milk and eggs. The fewer pounds of feed needed, the less demand for phosphate mining.
  • Dietary changes would reduce demand for mining phosphorus only up to a point; then, surprisingly, demand would increase. That’s because eating less meat would necessarily lead to eating more crops and initially, crops could use phosphorus from non-mining resources such as natural mineral erosion in the soil. However, natural mineral erosion wouldn’t be enough to sustain the increased demand for crops, so phosphate mines would again need to be tapped.
  • Calculations show that reducing the amount of food we waste is about 80 times more effective at conserving phosphorus than recycling that same waste.
  • Even if 100 percent of the phosphorus in our human waste was recycled, mining of phosphorus would only be reduced about 16 percent; recycling 100 percent of food waste would reduce mining by 5 percent. Recycling has such a low effect on conservation because recycled phosphorus is subject to much of the same losses in the food system as is fertilizer. Thus, although recycling is still part of the solution, it is much better to reduce the amount of waste we produce in the first place.
  • If the world had to depend entirely upon phosphorus other than from mining, it would only be able to support about one-third of the current world population, using current levels of usage and recycling efficiency.
  • However, if we substantially increased our efficiency, it would be possible to support about twice the current world population.

One wonders where the humanity is headed in future?

We have created so many things that we thought were going to help us live on a large scale.  And what we have done is create most waste, most poverty, and hunger.  And while we were at it, we have also messed up the planet!

The only way to save the planet now may actually be a mass extinction event for humanity.  Only when humanity suffers incalculable loss can it learn to be more aware.  Other than that, I see no other way to inject sanity and intelligence in mankind.  The current way to even live will not work if we are not committed to sustainable agriculture and living.

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