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Global Food Ecosystem Impacts on Climate Change

Posted February 17, 2022

Food Sector’s Role in Climate Change

In recent years, with the growing concern of climate change, sustainability has become a primary focus area for many organizations. Over the decades, the world has experienced the varying impact of global warming, from dwindling numbers of endangered species to rapid changes in weather patterns.

Each year, the global food ecosystem creates approximately 34% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – about 18 gigatones of CO2 equivalent. Since food is a fundamental physiological necessity, measures must be taken to lessen the environmental cost of producing enough food for the world’s growing population by creating more sustainable systems for the future. Actions like changing food production, reducing food waste and extending shelf life could all aid in negating climate change issues. 

First Global Approach : United Nations 1972

In 1972, the United Nations (UN) Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, brought together political leaders, diplomats, scientists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for the first global conference and large-scale effort to highlight environmental issues and large- focus on the impact of human socio-economic activities on the environment.

Five decades later, the same fundamental issues remain and even continue to grow, as the impact of climate change is more apparent than ever before. Political leaders and NGOs are urging various industries across public and private sectors to align on sustainability efforts – and the food industry is a main focus. As an essential business-to-business supplier of food ingredients, Kemin Industries has a global corporate vision to sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80% of the world with its products and services. 

Food Ecosystem, Feeding Climate Change

In 2021, the UN reported that a third of the world’s food is never eaten and the wasted food accounts for approximately 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

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According to the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), food waste alone accounts for 931 million tonnes each year, with 61% occurring at the household level, 26% from food service and 13% from retail.

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Throughout the food supply chain, consumption phase contributes to only 22% of total food wastage but it has the highest carbon footprint (37% of total). This is because carbon footprint intensifies when wastage occurs further along the food chain due to harvesting, transporting, and manufacturing process accumulates additional greenhouse gases along the supply chain. This issue can be mitigated through extension of product shelf life, giving consumer ample time to consume the food.

Reducing Carbon Footprint & Enhancing Shelf-Life Sustainability

In the food industry, food is considered lost or wasted when it reaches the landfill. To address food waste, extending shelf life often arises as one way to combat the issue. Food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers, like Kemin, must ask ourselves: How can we reduce the amount of food in landfills, better manage production rejection, increase shelf life and improve the overall quality of our products?

"Study suggests that strategic efforts in terms of shelf-life prolongation could address food waste... An adoption of shelf-life solutions is not only able to reduce economic costs but also to the salvation of climate change. "

With a model-based approach to empirical market evidence, statistical analysis highlights an inverse correlation between quantity of products returned from the market and their shelf life. Results suggest that strategic efforts in terms of shelf-life prolongation could benefit food waste. For specific products with shelf life in this range (30-50 days), proper prolongation could significantly reduce the number of products returned from the market if unsold in their commercial life.

One way to manage and extend food products’ shelf life is to mitigate shelf-life challenges, such as food safety and quality deterioration of food, to ensure that products have ample time to move through the supply chain without spoiling, even with unforeseen circumstances such as transportation, weather or handling mishaps. Adopting shelf-life solutions makes the food industry more capable of meeting the better-for-you mega trend, while helping minimize the impact of climate change. Antioxidants and antimicrobials are commonly known as effective shelf-life preservers for food products.

In food science, adding shelf-life solutions to various food formulations require evaluation of various aspects to address the underlying issues and extend shelf life to ensure safety, organoleptic and nutritional characteristic of food are not affected. Meat product for example, it has a high carbon footprint and its perishable nature contributed by its high nutrient and hemoglobin content resulting in its short shelf life due to oxidation and microbial growth. By adopting suitable shelf-life solution to extend its shelf life and visual appeal, such perishable product could stay longer on the shelf and thus reduce food waste.

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By understanding food matrices at their molecular levels and leveraging our expertise, Kemin has been working with food and beverage manufacturers of various scales to resolve their specific shelf-life challenges. Kemin is able to help food manufacturers wield the true potential of food ingredients at a cost-effective price point to meet commercial and market needs. 

Corporate & Global Community Alignment: World Food Programme

Last year, more than 9% of the world’s population suffered from hunger, an increase since the start of the global pandemic in 2020. Globally, one-in-four people are moderately or severely food insecure. One way to combat food insecurity is to reduce food loss and waste. According to UNEP, if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it could feed more than 870 million hungry people in the world.

This is especially helpful to Asia, where over half of the world’s hungry reside. The majority are in South Asia, which accounts for 305.7 million people, followed by South-east Asia with 48.8 million people, and West Asia with 42.3 million, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021 report by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

For nearly two decades ago, Kemin has partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP) and together, work to improve the quality and safety of the worldwide food supply chain. Awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 2021 for its efforts to combat hunger and its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas. Kemin provides WFP with critical assistance in Food Safety Quality Management System and Quality Culture to better assist with emergency food programs, especially in crisis situations. As Kemin’s largest global, community partner, WFP and Kemin work together to help assist more than 25 million people each year.

Since the first UN conference in 1972, many global organizations have established sustainability policies to help secure the future for the next generation by addressing issues like the role of the food industry within sustainability. By managing food waste, we can better contribute to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, changing the course of climate change and supporting measures to alleviate food insecurity. 

Building resilience in local food systems will be critical to averting future large-scale shortages and ensuring food security and nutrition for all. 

Conclusion

Kemin understands the seriousness of reducing the global carbon footprint and safeguarding natural resources for future generations, while also meeting the demands of feeding the growing global population with a responsible food supply chain. From shelf-life to corporate sustainability goals, Kemin works each day as an essential and responsible supplier of food ingredients to provide customers and consumers with beneficial products and services while also striving toward its vision to sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80% of the world. 

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REFERENCES:

  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/nr/sustainability/food-loss-and-waste
  2. United Nations Environment Programme. FOOD WASTE INDEX REPORT 2021
  3. Spada, A., Conte, A., & Del Nobile, M. A. (2018). The influence of shelf life on food waste: A model-based approach by empirical market evidence. Journal of Cleaner Production172, 3410–3414. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.11.071
  4. Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992.
  5. Clark, M., Domingo, N., Colgan, K., Thakrar, S., Tilman, D., Lynch, J., Azevedo, I. and Hill, J., 2020. Global food system emissions could preclude achieving the 1.5° and 2°C climate change targets. Science, 370(6517), pp.705-708.
  6. Amani, P., & Lars-Erik, G. (2015). Shelf life extension and food waste reduction | Amani | Proceedings in Food System Dynamics. AgEcon Search. http://centmapress.ilb.uni-bonn.de/ojs/index.php/proceedings/article/view/1502

Want to know how the food industry affects climate change and how we can do our part to reduce its impact?