Photo: Food and climate change

Much of the imported food we eat travels more than 5,000 kilometers from the farm to your plate

Decisions we make about what we eat can have an impact on the climate. As both the world's population and technological sophistication increase, the manner and scale in which food is produced has changed significantly. There are several factors that contribute to food's climate impact, including: how much meat is consumed, whether food is grown organically or with chemical inputs, and how far the food has to travel before it gets to you.

Meat production is a major cause of climate change. It is estimated that livestock production accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land and 26 per cent of the land surface of the planet. Because of their sheer numbers, livestock account for a large share of greenhouse gases (such as methane) that contribute to climate change. In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that livestock are responsible for a larger share (18%) of greenhouse gases than the world's transportation sector (14%).The growing of livestock and other animals for food is also an extremely inefficient process.

For example, it takes approximately five to seven kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Each of those kilograms of grain takes considerable energy to produce, process, and transport. As meat consumption has grown around the world, so has its climate impact.Other agricultural practices can impact the climate. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are often made from fossil fuels, and manufacturing and transporting them generates significant greenhouse gases. Studies have shown that chemical farming uses about 30 per cent more energy per unit of production than organic farms, which use naturally derived fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, organic farms — which often rely on manure and compost for fertilizer — store much more carbon in the soil than farms that rely on chemical fertilizers, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it contributes to global warming.

Where your food comes from is also important. Currently, much of the imported food we eat travels more than 5,000 kilometers from the farm to your plate. Food that is grown closer to home will therefore have fewer transportation emissions associated with it. And as the distance food travels decreases, so does the need for chemicals and processing to reduce spoilage.

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