How the Food You Eat Affects the Environment

Food is necessary to live, and your choices in selecting your food affect your health, budget, and the environment. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources to produce the nation’s food, and Americans have come to expect readily available supplies of cheap food.

These production practices to produce vast quantities can harm the environment. Today, consuming responsibly requires more than reading ingredient labels. Consumers need to know where and how their food was produced to select products with the smallest environmental footprint. To make wise decisions, one must know what the issues are in producing food. Here are some of the environmental impacts of mass food production.

Land

Humans use half of the world’s habitable land for agriculture. People around the globe are destroying natural habitats and ecosystems to clear land for food production. This can result in the extinction of animal species as wildlife tries to move into areas that aren’t habitable for them. As farmers cut down trees to make land available to produce food, deforestation drives global climate change.

Choosing healthy is no longer solely a matter of making healthy food choices for your body. More people should consider the specifics of food production for the health of the planet. In Foreign countries, human rights abuses are occurring as land is being cleared and native and Indigenous people are being run off the areas they have lived on and farmed for centuries.

Also, by clearing forests, wildlife comes in closer contact with humans, which attributes to the spread of viruses from animals to humans. The demand for more cattle mostly causes this deforestation. Brazil has one of the largest cattle industries but also produces other crops such as sugar cane.

Sugar cane is used in several products and is most commonly made into white sugar, which is sucrose. Sucrose is a carbohydrate that may not do much damage in small amounts, but it has negative health effects in large amounts. Sucrose is used in many products, and if the demand was reduced, land could be saved or utilized for more healthy crops.

Water

According to the International Water Management Institute, agriculture accounts for about 70% of global water withdrawals. Farmers use huge amounts of fresh water to raise cattle and produce crops. Waste from livestock pollutes rivers and streams. Without water, people won’t have a way to water crops, potentially disrupting the food supply and could cause scarcity to many populations.

Chemical Pollution

Pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides contaminate land and water and can cause negative health effects on the human population. Today, a dead zone is located in the Gulf of Mexico and covers nearly 9000 square miles. Due to chemical pollutants from food production, this area has no sea life, fish, or vegetables.

In addition to the dead zones, the effects of some chemicals are causing native animals to suffer reproductive issues and deformities. Certain pesticides can affect the nervous system in humans and affect hormones, and may cause cancer. Topically skin can irritate or burn when coming in contact with these chemicals. The runoff of pesticides into the surrounding water can contaminate fresh water and private wells.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Scientists report that food production, including fishing, raising livestock, and growing crops are responsible for 20-30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, it takes a huge amount of energy to operate farming equipment and transport livestock and crops. Most companies ship crops by sea and truck and even airlift some. Air flights are for those foods that are extremely perishable, and people must eat fresh and immediately, like berries. In addition, air flights cause the most transportation pollution of greenhouse gases.

Industrial meat and dairy products are devastating for the planet. The deforestation they require is vast. Many farmers burn and slash land and trees to raise cattle. Scientists say that if everyone eats a plant-based diet, we would need 75% less farmland.

Author: Finnegan Pierson