You are what you eat: innovations in our food system address climate change

January 2nd, 2020

How scientific diversity is bringing the world one step closer to a more sustainable planet through a combination of tech advancements, diverse partnerships and innovative strategies.

Global food systems take their toll on the environment: producing loads of greenhouse gas emissions, consuming vast amounts of clean water and altering natural ecosystems in ways that affect human and animal well-being.

A recent study showed that our food system creates between 19 percent and 29 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions as well as 70 percent of worldwide fresh water consumption. As such, scientific organizations around the globe are studying changes from the earth to the dinner plate to lessen the impact of agriculture on our fragile earth.

Through a combination of tech advancements, diverse partnerships and innovative strategies, some organizations such as the Commonwealth Scientific And Industrial Research Organization and UC-Davis, are already well on their way to new innovations that address food’s impact on the environment and that limit the effects of global warming on our food sources, too. If successful, these measures will result in a healthier environment and healthier people.

Graduate students at UC-Davis, which has a world-renowned agriculture program, have begun testing high-yield, disease-resistant bean varieties that can thrive on organic farms. These new bean varieties contain symbiotic bacteria that produce nitrogen to feed crops while enriching the soil. That means they can be used on rotation between plantings of other organic crops to keep land productive and full of nutrients.

We’re seeing improvements in the diets of livestock’s diets as well. And this has major implications for global warming as livestock contribute 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions attributed to human causes. (Explainer: humans feed cows diets that cause them to produce way more methane than they would naturally). But it doesn’t have to be this way. In partnership with CSIRO, Canadian researchers Rob Kinley and Alan Fredeen found that feed made from seaweed not only helped improve the cows’ health and growth, but also reduced their methane production by about 20 percent.

Meanwhile, scientists are also studying how to improve crops to make them more resistant to the effects of climate change so that the damage already done on the environment doesn’t kill off thriving food sources. CSIRO scientists are working on grape varietals that are heartier, more disease-resistant and can thrive even as global temperatures increase.

When it comes to some of today’s most innovative solutions to combat climate change, food sources are a major area of focus and concern. Companies, organizations and governments are increasingly shifting resources to head-off food scarcity and food’s environmental impacts as global warming intensifies.