How transforming global food systems can reduce GHG emissions – in Canada, with a focus on food waste

food guideOn January 15 in Oslo, the prestigious medical journal Lancet launched the results and recommendations of a commission it had established, the EAT-Lancet Commission , composed of   37 experts from 16 countries . Their report, “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems”  analyzes human diet and food production in light of the Paris Agreement, and the fact that food production contributes about 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Commission recognizes the enormity of their goals : “humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned in this Commission.”

The Lancet report recommends cutting meat consumption in half, greatly reducing food waste, and replacing resource-intensive farming methods with approaches that require less fertilizer, and replenish the soil. The authors estimate that  wide-spread adoption of plant-based diets could reduce agricultural emissions by up to 80 percent, and changes in food production practices could cut an additional 10 percent in 2050.  Excellent summaries of the article appeared from the American Association for the Advancement of Science  and from  Inside Climate News

One of the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission  is to greatly reduce food waste. Coincidentally, a report released by Second Harvest Canada on January 17 is a thorough and detailed examination of  that issue in Canada. “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste”  states that Canada is one of the most wasteful countries in the world, generating the food waste equivalent to $1,766 per household per year, with an estimated 58 per cent of all food produced in Canada lost or wasted.  Through supply chain analysis, the report estimates that  nearly $21 billion worth occurs during the processing and manufacturing process, and more than $10 billion worth at the consumer level.  The report also estimates the environmental cost of such waste: food in landfills creates methane gas, the equivalent  of  56.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.  The report makes dozens of recommendations for industry and government in a 32-page “Roadmap”  for farmers, producers, retailers, restaurant owners, and government .    The Technical report of how calculations were made is here .   A CBC summary is here .  A White paper by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation,  Characterization and Management of Food Waste in North America  concurred with much of Second Harvest’s  analysis when it was published in 2018.

On January 17, eight of Canada’s leading food manufacturers and retailers- (Kraft Heinz Canada, Loblaw Companies Ltd, Maple Leaf Foods, Metro Inc, Save-On-Foods, Sobeys Inc, Unilever Canada and Walmart Canada) – released a statement, committing themselves to cut food waste within their operations by 50% by the end of 2025, from 2016 levels. They will use the globally recognized Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard, which addresses this issue on a global scale.

In Canada, the 2019 Food Guide released on January 22,  is the first update since 2007, and is intended as a consumer guide for a nutritious and healthy diet. To this end, it makes general recommendations about eating less meat and mostly plant-based foods, and has multiple recommendations for behaviour changes, such as “cook more often”, “eat with others”  and “be aware of food marketing”.

 

Canadian Food Industry Targets Waste Reduction

A new report on waste in Canada’s food industry calls for a collaborative, coordinated approach that includes businesses and consumers to reduce waste. An estimated 30-40% of all the food produced in Canada is wasted.

The report asserts that because businesses tend to focus narrowly on the waste of food products, it overlooks the waste of energy, water, labour, and productive capacity. Where efforts are made to reduce food waste, they tend to emphasize waste diversion, particularly recycling. Far more effective is waste reduction, which eliminates waste diversion costs before they arise.

Although consumers are the greatest source of food waste, the report states that one of the main barriers to  preventing food waste at source were the attitudes and behaviour of management and staff. Developing an Industry Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada was commissioned by Provision Coalition (a national association of food and beverage manufacturers), and written by Provision Coaliton, Network for Business Sustainability at the Ivey School of Business, and Value Chain Management Centre. See a summary at: http://www.provisioncoalition.com/blog/blogdetail/Industry%20Collaboration%20Needed%20To%20Tackle%20Food%20Waste%20Challenge%20in%20Canada. The full report is at: http://www.provisioncoalition.com/assets/website/pdfs/Provision-Addressing-Food-Waste-In-Canada-EN.pdf.

 

For a recent article on the “food waste hierarchy” and the growing international concern about food waste, see the Food Climate Research Network at:  http://www.fcrn.org.uk/research-library/waste-and-resource-use/food-waste/food-waste-hierarchy-framework-managing-food-surp. The authors argue for a distinction between food surplus and food waste, and advocate a hierarchy of action, beginning with prevention, followed by re-use, recycle, recovery and finally, disposal.

The Carbon Footprint of Food Production – and How to Reduce it – with an Example from the U.S.

A report released by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on September 10 estimated that the carbon footprint of wasted food was equivalent to 3.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, with a direct economic cost estimated at $750 billion U.S. In this global survey, the world is divided into 7 regions, and 8 major commodity groups. The survey considers the entire life cycle – land use, water use, transportation, storage, loss and wastage. The Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources Summary Report is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3347e/i3347e.pdf; An accompanying document, Toolkit: Reducing the Food Wastage Footprint, is at: http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3342e/i3342e.pdf and urges improvement in food harvest, storage, processing, transport and retailing processes, some of which can be accomplished by better training for farmers, farmer co-operatives, infrastructure investment, and technological improvements.

In related news, the U.S. Energy Department proposed in August two major energy efficiency rules for new commercial refrigeration equipment, walk-in coolers and freezers, estimated to cut emissions by over 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years. See the official Department of Energy website for the rule change at: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance_standards/rulemaking.aspx/ruleid/27, or the NRDC commentary about it at: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/mwaltner/more_cooling_with_less_global.html.

How Sustainable are the Supply Chains of Multinatonal Food Companies?

Oxfam America released Behind the Brands on February 25th, the most recent update to their GROW campaign, which seeks to increase the transparency and accountability of the “Big 10” food and beverage companies in the world. The report is a scorecard which examines company policies in seven topics critical to sustainable agricultural production: women, small-scale farmers, farm workers, water, land, climate change, and transparency. Nestlé and Unilever scored highest for their policies; Associated British Foods (ABF) and Kellogg ranked at the bottom. The other companies measured were: Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Mars, Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods), and PepsiCo. Read Behind the Brands at: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/files/behind-the-brands-briefing-paper-final.pdf