SUSTAINABILITY NEWS

24 February 2010 • Jeremy Wiltshire

Producing food and protecting the environment

Food production has a complex and inextricable relationship with the natural environment. Some inputs are extracted from natural sources and require little or no processing, like water; meanwhile others are manufactured - crop protection chemicals and some fertilisers for example.

On the face of it, the relationships seem to be one way – taking from the natural environment without putting back. All the indications are that current resource consumption is unsustainable.

This does not just apply to primary food production either. Food processing and the supply chain that delivers food to consumers leave their mark on the environment too, through other raw material use, energy use, transport, storage and waste.

While focus around the carbon footprints of products is well advanced and reported, less attention is paid to another, equally pressing issue: water availability.
Climate change, a complicating factor of food security, means we could experience hotter, drier summers and warmer, wetter winters. This could significantly affect water availability and use throughout the food chain. Increasing populations and higher living standards also compete with food production for water.

Water in the major crop production areas of the south and the east is already over-extracted, while water in the north and west remains relatively plentiful. It is not difficult to foresee production focus of some crops migra...

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