THE FUTURE OF FOOD
FRUCTOSE IS NOT SUGAR
SMALL IS BETTER
Insects, GM Rice and Edible Packaging are on the Menu
The Potential Poison Index
The Importance of the Small-Scale Farming
Labeling Matters Food Companies Keeping you in the Dark on GMOs
gaia-mag.com | April 2014
LIVING ON THE EDGE
Why Skeptics are Promoting Climate Misinformation
How Hot Will it Get in My Lifetime?
Potential Plan for Cities on the Brink of Sinking
The Rise of Superstorms
gaia-mag.com | June 2014
RETHINKING SOLAR POWER
THE NUCLEAR DEBATE
Standing Up for Yourself & the Planet
New Smart Solar Panels
Exploring the Potential Benefits and Ill Effects
Greenhouse Emissions on the Rise Our Planet On the Verge of Reaching Dangerous Levels
gaia-mag.com | November 2014
DEATH OF A FARMER Who Will Care For Us Now?
INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION The Ecological Damage
THE BIOFUEL DEBATE Prioritizing Energy Over Food
More Meat, More Trouble
Why Cheap Meat Hurts the Earth
gaia-mag.com | March 2014
DEADLY TIDE OF PLASTIC
The Stigma on Plastic
Pacific Ocean Sea Life at It’s Lowest
Tips for Sustainable Shopping
Plastic Crimes An Industry’s Polluting Effect
gaia-mag.com | August 2014
FROM WASTE TO INNOVATION
THE E-WASTE TRAIL
Creating a 3D Printer from E-Waste
Tracking the Life Cycle of Your Electronics
Zero-package Grocery Shopping
The Dark Side of the Digital Age How Your Electronics Contribute To Environmental Crimes
gaia-mag.com | January 2014
ur planet is currently enduring many challenges. From climate change, to ozone depleation, our Eath endures no shortage of dangers. The only durable solutions to today’s crises are those that also position us–technologically, socially, and politically– to solve our longer-term problems. That means finding opportunities and summoning the resources, even in these trying times, to make the most of them. Today the world is poised between the great and growing dangers of climate instability and the economic opportunity presented by a global transition to sustainable energy. Businesses, investors, and philanthropists, in partnership with governments and banks, can lead the way forward. It is this synergy between public and private interests on the issue of sustainable development that I will focus on today. In the global economy, our appetite for fossil fuels is undiminished even as the warning signs of a warming planet multiply. The global potential for improving energy efficiency is enormous. The US has half the energy efficiency of Japan, and China has only one-ninth! Globally, the good news is that the production and deployment of renewable energy technologies, such as wind turbines and solar panels, has expanded rapidly in recent years, totaling $ 211 billion in 2010. At the same time, prices for turbines and solar panels have been falling. We now need to measure and to price what matters. The marketplace must reflect the full ecological and human costs of economic decisions and establish price signals that make transparent the consequences both of action and inaction. Pollution, including carbon emissions, can no longer be free. Subsidies should be
made transparent and phased out for fossil fuels by 2020. We must build new ways to measure development beyond GDP. Science must point the way to more informed and integrated decision-making, not only on climate change, but also on biodiversity, ocean and coastal management, water and food scarcities, as well as planetary boundaries–defining the scientific thresholds that can set a “safe operating space” for humanity. We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities. We all need to recognize that the drivers of that challenge include unsustainable lifestyles, production and consumption patterns, and the impact of population growth. All of us–young and old–must
work to promote a greater sense of shared responsibility, not only as citizens of our respective countries, but as equal members of an increasingly inter-connected global community. A greater sense of shared responsibility is essential to prepare for a future that is safer, more prosperous, and more secure. I remain optimistic. Scientific advances have given us a better understanding of climate and ecosystem risks. Billions of people, even in developing countries, are socially connected by technologies that have shrunk the world and expanded the notion of a global neighborhood. These are excited time for us and Gaia. Join us in an effort to transform our home to a more sustainable planet.
Editor November 2014 | 1
Gaia correspondants Gianluca Giannelli and Giorgio Griziotti traveled to Ghana to uncovered the recycling industry’s dirty secret. See the place where your old and obsolete electronics go to die, and the people whose lives depend, and are shape, by your waste. Photography by Andrew McConnell
3 Editor’s Letter EDITORIAL
6 China’s Recycling Economics E.U. Municipal Waste Fuels Unsafe Market in Asia
Why are We Discarding More Food than Ever Before?
19 Energy Revolution The US Begins to Invest in New Energy Solutions
22 Stagnant Result in Factory 9 The Cost of India’s IT Success Farming Production As Infotech Economy Expands in India E-Waste is on the Rise in Poor Areas
11 UK: Educating Consumers Major Food Chain to confront High Number of Products Daily Discarded
15 New Enemy of Ocean Acidification Meet the Super Corals, a New Organic Opponent to Climate Change
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17 Throwing Food Away
5 Years AfterMajor Farming Report and no Change in Sight
25 Rising in Coal Production How the Cheaper Option is Also the Dirtiest
29 Al Gore: Keystone XL is ‘Ridiculous’ Former Presidential Candidate Argues the Thread
The Sustainable Planet
33 Responsible Waste Care At Home
61 From Waste To Innovation Meet The Inventor of 3D Printing Units Made From E-Waste
Simple Steps, from Solid Waste Recycling to Composting
77 Visible Impact
47 Package-Free Shopping Zero-Waste Grocery Stores a Growing Fab in US
10 Countries Where Climate Change And Pollution Is Killing Its Population
84 Prosperity With Less What Would A Responsible Economy Look Like?
35 The E-Waste Trail
89 One Hoarse Town
Tracking the Life Cycle and Impacts of your Electronics
The 5 Dirtiest Cities You Don’t Want to Live In
51 Public Transportation Heaven
98 How Much Longer Can Earth Sustain Life
U.S. Cities Where Fewer Commuters Get to Work By Car
Life On Earth Could End Within 1.75 Billion Years, Scientists Say
November 2014 | 3
E-Waste By Gianluca Giannelli & Giorgio Griziotti Photography Andrew McConnell
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Is that new laptop obsolete yet? Where does it go after disposal? Consumer electronics are increasingly treated as disposable items, with electronic companies creating a consumer climate through constant marketing of new technologies. This has created a trend that renders fairly recent products obsolete, contributing to our exported waste that ends up in poorer nations.
Crisis November 2014 | 5
n the history of the subjection and exploitation of our planet’s resources, the human species has always produced scrapheaps and waste as a side effect of its production and cosumption activities. E-Waste is the new emerging pathology of the ecosystem, born during the current historic period of capitalist production. Electrical and electronic waste (e-waste) is the major flow of waste in the world, growing faster than any other type of waste. With an annual volume that lies between 40 and 50 million tons, according to UNEP (United Nation Environment Program), the growing amount of e-waste could grow exponentially, as much as 500 times over the coming decade. Especially in countries like India, China and some African regions where the technology industry is growing fast. It is hazardous waste, containing dozens of substances dangerous to human health and the environment and it is hard to dispose of sustainably. It needs costly processing techniques to make it recyclable. This is the reason why about 80% of the e-waste produced in developed countries (North America and Europe at the top of the list) is not disposed of in situ, but shipped, most of the time illegally, to developing countries on cargo ships where it is then illegally disposed of. The waste produced by men, first with the “industrial economy,” followed by the chemical, the petroleum and then the plastic, has never been capable of being metabolized and recycled by the force of nature that regulates the vital dynamics of the planet. But between them the “commercialization of everything” process and capitalist valorization has been able to create a true ‘waste economy”. This extends the logic behind profit and exploitation even to those scrapheaps that it has produced, creating a never-ending cycle that profits from its own death. Like organic waste, which becomes organic matter and regenerates life during decomposition, capitalism uses the work of human beings to
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decompose waste produced by other humans in order to generate profit. The peculiar process of the functional diversification and specialization of the human species, brought about by the modern global organization of the capitalist system of production, commandeers from natural resources and the knowledge arising from traditional production techniques, whatever would have once been sufficient to sustain local populations. And it forces the population who is now deprived, to accept, as their only solution, a survival conditional upon operating a specific function within the division of labor of the world at large. Old and new colonization’s processes produce old and new methods of specialization, based on ethnos and territory, giving life to generations of men and women condemned to carry out specific tasks. Men and women are “socially modified” to carry out a specific functional task that supports the entire system. This too is what has happened to the “waste economy”, which, since its birth coincided with that of industrial capitalism, has gone through the kind of transformative changes that industrial capitalism itself has been undergoing. In the same way, ‘socially-modified’ men have been involved in transformations to adapt to the changing functional needs. Take those who worked to sort urban solid waste in the open-air dumpsters of western cities during the industrial age, or the metal digger, usually looking for copper, going through waste containers in contemporary post-industrial cities. In form and function, these figures reflect different historic settings of the capitalist system. Today, thanks to the diffusion of the information linked to communications technology, the men, women and children of African villages who “ decompose” big commercial ships beached after being left abandoned and adrift are more readily visible, like those who select urban solid waste in the open air rubbish tips in Madagascar, a sublime place transformed into one of the twenty-first century post-industrial world’s dumpsters.
Photo: Kai Loeffelbein
The current phase of financial-biocognitive capitalism dictates the physiognomy of the present day version of the ‘waste economy’, accepting “e-waste” as both the matter and symbol of discontinuity. Through cognitive machines we have the production of new genres of consumerist individualities. Consumer objects, characterized symbolically as instruments of social emancipation during the Fordist era of mass production and consumption, have now been drained of their ability to give pleasure. To avoid cognitive machines of becoming instruments
In Ghana, cheap labor and weak legislation has paved the way for a harmful market that is killing the residents of the nation.
recyclable through the independent production of multitudes, the objective of today’s capitalism is to create bio-cognitive individualities destined to produce and to consume information, signs and symbols during their biological existence, and ultimately, transferring the true value of merchandise to such immaterial content. Marx’s famous formula for the valorization of capital during the industrial and modernization era, “M-C-M+” today becomes “M-I-M+” where I is the informa-
tion that is continuously produced and consumed by individualized people who are the product of segmentation and biocognitive segregation. To survive the drop in profits linked to computerized industrial production, cognitive capitalism needs a digitalization of the Ego induced to pursue continuous fulfillment through a kind of semiotic bulimia, from which it can extract the greater part of its value, reducing materiality to just a support mechanism, a vehicle, a means of supplying the “sign”, where the “sign” is the real object of individual pleasure.
Signs and information linger everywhere and forever in hypermediated networks and individual minds. But the material support mechanisms remain limited and localized as a result of a necessarily highly achieved physical and technological obsolescence combined with their specific territorial location at the end of the employment cycle. And it is in these resulting ‘spaces’ that we discover e-waste; a massacre of land and men, brought about by the neoliberal management of the waste of digital consumerism.
November 2014 | 7
n such ‘spaces’, matter meets materiality, the misery and the stunted life conditions of men, women and children who survive through breaking this waste down and decomposing it. If in the solitude of life online there is a loss of contact with the materiality of technological objects, so we are stunned when we find those objects again in the form of a toxic dumpster together with the even more stunning gaze of young men and adolescents who are forced to live in that dumpster. The vast quantity of e-waste sites in poor southern countries is readily explained by the millions of tons of electronic scraps poured out there. It is a flow that is on the increase thanks to the integration of networks and territ ICT Corporations, which, in their spasmodic search for infinite profit have implemented a programmed obsolescence of their products that is increasingly widespread and inescapable. In this regime of financialised
governance, the laws that should prevent these kinds of human and ecological disasters are planned in a way that
“No longer do worms and enzymes carry out the natural cycle of life and death ... Now men and women are forced to take apart inorganic carcasses in order to generate money for their survival and for other men’s profit.” leaves plenty of scope for the interests of those who have economic power, public or private. This presents quite a dramatic contrast to the toughness applied to those laws made to keep migrant workers away from our post-in-
Electronic Devices area composed of different materials, making it difficult to standardize local recycling. 8 | gaia-mag.com
dustrial paradises. The ruling executive greatly prefers that they stay in their homes, and then ultimately transforms those homes into toxic rubbish dumps. Strengthening and enforcing insufficient international laws would thwart massive profits. Disposing of a PC by sending it to a dumpster in Africa costs $2, while it would cost $20 to sustainably recycle it. Those $18 are split between apparently respectable operators from the north and their equivalent mobsters from the south. The connivance and complementarity between lawful capital and capital linked to the Mafia in some countries of southern Europe, is reproduced on a world scale, in the peripheral regions of the world, where these forms of capital accumulation and mafia-like organizations represent an essential point of entry into the international division of labor. According to economists who are not subservient to this main-
stream financial logic, “in the end, cognitive capital and capital linked to the mafia find their true unity in the innate opacity of financial markets where any distinction disappears.” In developing nations, the eco-mafia is taking charge of the rare and non-renewable resources, and is contributing to the ecological crisis with e-waste. In both cases we are talking about the expropriation of the commons, both regarding the devastation of land and the exploitation that enslaves people to the precarious life conditions of those who work in such an inferno. If we choose to look, we can see before us the tangible results of the brutal materialization of this division of labor in the global economy, wherein the financial oligarchy inherits as its share intellectual property, immaterial production or bio-hypermedia devices, while the multitudes of the “damnés de la terre”, get the enforced slavery of the technological
dumpsters that invade their ecosystem, making it sterile and toxic. By analysing the case of illegal transports of e-waste in a European trade hub, this article responds to the call for more empirical knowledge about transnational environmental crime. Governments and corporations as well as individual consumers can contribute to the illegal transports of e-waste. Actors in e-waste collection were shown to be on a legal-illegal interface. Transport actors can equally walk on a thin line between legal and illegal by facilitating illegal transports of e-waste. Legal and illegal transports were even more difficult to distinguish in countries of destination. Although profit or lure play a very important role, this article shows how push, pull and facilitating factors on individual, organisational and societal levels together provide the motivations and opportunities for illegal transports of e-waste. E-waste terrains, 300 tons of radioactive water poured
into Fukushima’s ocean every day, lands in decay ravaged by fracking (hydraulic fracturing) to extract oil and gas from shale: there is no let-up in the scars left by today’s capitalist model. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the stream of e-waste is growing two to three times the rate of any other source of waste. Only 15-20 percent of e-waste is recycled, and, according to the EPA, the “vast majority” of that waste is exported. California alone exported an estimated 20 million pounds of e-waste in 2006. Through the network, the dominant machine of economic rationale is accelerating the rhythm of destruction of our biosphere. The question is then, when will it stop?
November 2014 | 9
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Meat, More Trouble By Alex Renton
From breeding animals that feel no pain, to cruelty in the slaughterhouse – our demand for meat poses huge moral dilemmas.
n the rich world, each of us consumes or uses 30 or more animals a year (the bulk–52 of the 59 billion–are chickens). We don’t, in the nutritional sense, need these animals to feed us – certainly not in those numbers. Yet, in order to eat them at an acceptable price we have to imprison them, alter them genetically and chemically, and kill them. We have moved inexorably into ever greyer ethical territory. Any planning for a food future that still envisages using animal products and meat must debate the “moral cost”. I am not sentimental. I have killed and butchered many kinds of animals, and have been on prearranged visits to slaughterhouses in Britain and abroad. I have seen the job done carefully and kindly. It would have been better if I had just dropped in to those abattoirs, but the business of meat production is secretive; if it were public, it would lose customers. In some places, the meat trade is
less shy: I’ve seen puppies blow-torched in tiny cages to remove their hair before butchering – a normal village practice in Vietnam. Many moral meat eaters think the horrors of the slaughterhouse are exaggerated. But impartial research by American scientist (and abattoir designer) Temple Grandin reveals extraordinary and unnecessary horrors. She reported “deliberate acts of cruelty occurring on a regular basis” at 32% of the slaughterhouses she visited in the US: 26% of the chicken-killing facilities had abuses that should have meant immediate closure; chickens scalded to remove their feathers, thrown in the trash and found later, still alive; a worker dismembering a fully conscious cow; cows, which are usually stunned then bled while their hearts are still pumping, “waking up on the bleed rail”. “What went on when she was not looking?” asked Jonathan Safran Foer, in his fascinating moral dis-
section Eating Animals. Cheap meat means corners cut on safety, health and welfare: humane treatment generally slows down a production line. Safran Foer quotes research that shows “demand for lean pig meat... has led the pork industry to breed pigs that suffer not only more leg and heart problems, but greater excitability, fear, anxiety and stress... We have focused the awesome power of modern genetic knowledge to bring into being animals that suffer more.” But animals that feel more pain may not be the worst moral horror on the menu. Genetic modification by gene splicing offers the chance to make infinite changes – removing unwanted features or introducing characteristics from any living thing, be it mammal, fish, insect or flower. Already, Chinese scientists are tampering with the genes of laboratory mice to see what they can get. In her book Frankenstein’s Cat, food science writer Emily Anthes describes what she November 2014 | 11
We consume 52 billion chickens each year in the rich world.
saw at Fudan University in Shanghai: “Peek into the 45,000 mouse cages and you’ll see a collection of misfits. By randomly disabling the rodents’ genes, the scientists here are churning out hundreds of odd animals, assembly-line style. They have created mice studded with skin tumours and mice that grow tusks... One strain ages at warp speed. Another can’t feel pain.” The worry for the moral meat eater is in losing the benchmarks by which we can judge animals’ treatment. How will welfare legislation, applied to specific vertebrate species, adapt as the species do – to, say, a pig with no pain reflex? Academic philosopher Adam Shriver said in 2009 that it may a l re a d y be possible to “genetically engineer factory-farmed livestock with a reduced or completely eliminated capacity to suffer”. He cites research at both Washington a n d Toronto universities, where the brains of mice have been altered so that, although 12 | gaia-mag.com
they still feel pain, they don’t avoid it as untampered mice might. GM scientist Professor Helen Sang, of the Roslin Institute, told me such changes could be pursued using gene-editing techniques. She manipulates poultry genes, splicing together parts of DNA to achieve useful adaptations. What she does is no more than a different way of modifying genomes–something humans have been doing ever since they first domesticated animals 10,000
“Meat production involves significant energy losses: only around four per cent of crops grown for livestock turn into meat.” years ago. She explains this with great patience and some wariness–the Daily Mailhas described her workplace as “Frankenstein’s farmyard”.
Her most famous work, so far, has been in treatments for human illnesses, but her interests lie in more than disease resistance: in GM there are environmental benefits – as well as productivity and quality improvements – that will be advantageous to food security. Her view is that these benefits can’t be achieved by conventional breeding. “There’s nothing innately wrong in genetic modification, as long as... you characterise the effects of that carefully – and you don’t put in antibiotic-resistance genes, or anything like that. But because people are very suspicious of using these technologies, you can argue that we should concentrate on using them for things that can’t be achieved by selection.” For Sang, there are ethical issues. She is not alone. Judging by the response to an op-ed by Shriver in the New York Times in 2011, people who care about animal rights believe we should stop factory farmingrather than modify animals not to suffer.
Commentators such as agricultural economist Simon Fairlie say Shriver’s proposal is an attempt to make animals into the “automata” that the philosopher Descartes said they were three centuries ago. Fairlie doesn’t like Shriver’s “lunatic” notion, and neither do I. And, of course, the driver will not be better meat, but meat that is less trouble. Indeed, it should demand a whole new round of debate over meat eating: if society sanctions meat-machine animals with no feelings and no rights, the only feasible way to oppose it would be to be against all meat eating. Advocates held out hope that FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg — who said in 2009 that the problem of antibiotic resistance was like having your “hair on fire” — would push hard to control the use of drugs down on the farm. But the CLF report makes the case that little has been done: federal legislation to restrict nontherapeutic antibiotic
use went nowhere, even during the two years that Democrats controlled Congress. And while the FDA has issued directives and guidance meant to move antibiotic use away from growth promotion and to bring the drugs under veterinary oversight, CLF dismisses the efforts in its report, noting that allowing the drugs to be used for disease prevention, as the FDA would do, essentially changes nothing. “They’ve done nothing,” says Martin. “And what they’re likely to do will not change anything. It’s a shell game.” (For what it’s worth, Pew has called the FDA’s approach a “worthwhile step in the right direction.”) For most individuals of the Developed World, meat is cheaper than at any time in history, and we have tucked in. Annually, we consume more than our own body weight in animal flesh: nearly twice as much as health guidelines say we should. But that’s still puny compared with the meat feast going on in Australia and in the US. There, each
person eats 120kg or more a year. It is not doing any of us any good. In fact, long-term studies of hundreds of thousands of people in rich countries now show that the more meat you eat, the shorter your life will be. Ev e n t h e m o s t c o n s c i e n t i o u s carnivores can’t dodge the statistics: t h e n ew dietary killers don’t give any credit for shopping organic. The chemicals in bacon will get you even if the pig was bred by the Prince of Wales himself. And t h e dangerous proteins in economy beefburgers are just as present in the most expensive grass-fed, rare-breed b e e f s t e a k . And then there’s the ecological moral dilemma, how do we justify what we are doing?
November 2014 | 13
Food Waste & Common Sense
By Tom Ryaboi
From expiration dates to fruits look and aesthetics, $27 billion dollars worth of food are wasted annually.
hat banana looks a bit brown. The yogourt is past its “best before” date. And no one else is eating those end slices, so why should you? In the typical American kitchen, the banana, yogourt and the bread crusts—and a lot more besides—are prime candidates for the garbage can or composter. With food cheap and plentiful, we’ve regrettably become a nation of picky eaters. An estimated $27 billion worth of food, or 40 per cent of what’s produced annually in the US, is wasted between field and table, according to a recent study from the George Morris Centre in Guelph, Ont. More than half of that occurs at home. This is not just an American concern. In 2011 the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimated 33 percent of global food production, or 1.3 billion tonnes, is wasted per year. And last week, a report from the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers pushed that number up to an astounding 50 per cent—half of all food produced
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in the world is lost, misdirected or thrown away due to poor harvesting techniques, spoilage, inefficient distribution processes and overly dainty consumer preferences. Food waste seems like an obvious issue that ought to unite everyone from environmentalists and social justice advocates to businesses and parsimonious consumers in common cause. Throwing away less food saves money, uses scarce resources more efficiently and leaves more for the poor to eat. How do we let so much food go to waste? The recent British report found the developing world is most likely to lose food due to inefficient or outdated harvesting and distribution methods. In Ghana, for example, nearly half the corn crop was spoiled in storage in 2008. Here in North America the problem largely stems from political and consumer preferences. Supply management, for example, punishes farmers who produce more than their quota, and the excess is often destroyed. And blemished or undersized produce may be tossed
during harvest or packing and distribution as unfit for sale. But the greatest losses occur at home. According to the 2011 UN report, a third of all potatoes and other tubers bought by North American consumers are thrown out or wasted at home. The same fate awaits a quarter of all fruits and vegetables and 15 per cent of all dairy purchases. It is an issue that last year earned the attention of Ontario’s environmental commissioner, who fretted over the huge amounts of energy required to grow, pick, pack, move, sell and cook all that uneaten food. “The environmental consequences of letting good food go to waste—up and down the food chain—are staggering,” wrote Gord Miller. He blamed poor meal planning, leftover avoidance and increasing demand for food that looks “perfect” for all that kitchen waste. Beyond shopping more carefully, packing a lunch and being content with the occasional misshapen carrot, Americans also need to lose their toofussy perceptions of food risk.
7 million tonnes of food and drink was thrown away last year â€“ 4.2 million tonnes of this was avoidable.
November 2014 | 15
Take best-before dates. According to the US Food Inspection Agency, a best-before date (unlike an expiration date) simply signifies the point at which the product is at its peak. “You can buy and eat food after the best-before date has passed. However the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed,” the CFIA says on its website. Perhaps not a ringing endorsement of tastiness, but neither is it a death sentence for that past-due yogourt tub. Too many consumers mistake “best before” for “dangerous after.” Despite “best before” dates being irrelevant to food safety, many food banks and other charitable organizations refuse to take donations past the stamped date. Such policies foil efforts by well-meaning stores and distributors to reduce waste by donating perfectly edible food to needy Americans. 16 | gaia-mag.com
Then there’s the XL Foods beef recall in Alberta last fall. While E. coli bacteria is a serious matter, it can be entirely eliminated by proper
“In 2004, an University of Arizona study showed that 14 to 15% of edible food in the United States is untouched, amounting to $43 billion worth of discarded, but still edible, food.” cooking. Yet an estimated half million kilograms of safe and edible meat was landfilled because the company figured no one would buy it. And when
Alberta Wildrose party LeaderDanielle Smith suggested quite properly that the precooked beef could be given to food banks, she was excoriated on social media for allegedly trying to foist “tainted meat” on the poor. The entire food-waste debate could use a pinch (or more) of common sense. As much as half of all the food produced in the world – equivalent to 2 billion tonnes – ends up as waste every year, engineers warned in a report published on Thursday. The UK’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) blames the “staggering” new figures in its analysis on unnecessarily strict sell-by dates, buy-one-get-one free and Western consumer demand for cosmetically perfect food, along with “poor engineering and agricultural practices”, inadequate infrastructure and poor storage facilities. In the face of United Nations pre-
Between 30% and 50% or 1.2–2 billion tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate. dictions that there could be about an extra 3 billion people to feed by the end of the century and growing pressure on the resources needed to produce food, including land, water and energy, the IMechE is calling for urgent action to tackle this waste. Their report, Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not, found that between 30% and 50% or 1.2–2 billion tonnes of food produced around the world never makes it on to a plate. In UK as much as 30% of vegetable crops are not harvested due to their failure to meet retailers’ exacting standards on physical appearance, while up to half of the food that is bought in Europe and the US is thrown away by consumers. And about 550 billion cubic meters of water is wasted globally in growing crops that never reach the consumer. Carnivorous diets add ex-
tra pressure as it takes 20-50 times the amount of water to produce 1 kilogram of meat than 1kg of vegetables; the demand for water in food production could reach 10–13 trillion cubic meters a year by 2050. This is 2.5 to 3.5 times greater than the total human use of fresh water today and could lead to more dangerous water shortages around the world, the IMechE says, claiming that there is the potential to provide 60100% more food by eliminating losses and waste while at the same time freeing up land, energy and water resources. Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the IMechE, said: “The amount of food wasted and lost around the world is staggering. This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population – as well as those in hunger today. It is also an
unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food.” In order to prevent further waste, governments, development agencies and organisation like the UN “must work together to help change people’s mindsets on waste and discourage wasteful practices by farmers, food producers, supermarkets and consumers,” the IMechE said. Trends in waste has urged food producers, retailers, restaurants and consumers are being urged to join forces to secure a ban on all food waste going into landfill by 2020, in a bold national campaign. Compulsory collections of food waste from all homes and businesses by local councils are among a series of measures recommended in a new report to enable food waste to be harnessed as a valuable resource to provide energy, heat and benefits for agriculture. Re-using food waste through processes such as anaerobic digestion could return over 1.3m tonnes a year of valuable nutrients to the soil, the report says, or generate over 1 terrawatt-hour (Twh) electricity a year, enough to power over 600,000 homes. Sue Riddlestone, chief executive and co-founder of BioRegional said: “Achieving zero food waste to landfill within the next seven years is a big challenge and we will need the support and actions of individuals, businesses and the government if this vision is to be realised. However, the case for change is compelling. We will save billions of pounds. We will prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases from entering our atmosphere. And crucially, we will ensure that food is treated as a precious resource.” Food fills many roles, from the staff of life to a source of sublime pleasure. We should learn to waste it less and enjoy it more. Doing so will ultimately require a suite of coordinated solutions, including changes in supply-chain operation, enhanced market incentives, increased public awareness and adjustments in consumer behavior.
November 2014 | 17
READER’S RESPONSE Providing Incentives to Reduce Carbon Emissions
Foodborne Illnesses and our Industrial Farms
s your article pointed out (“Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change”), it won’t be easy to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions when we won’t be the primary beneficiaries. But the article’s conclusion, that we should invest in “cheap clean energy” instead of making fossil fuels more expensive, assumes that government investments are somehow free. Investments in clean energy technologies are crucial, but the days of increasing spending without raising taxes are likely over. Another way to reduce carbon emissions while “working with our selfishness” (to quote the author) is to place a fee on carbon and then return the revenue equally to every household. Such a “fee and dividend” program would fully compensate most people for higher production costs passed onto them. A fee on carbon would provide an economic incentive to reduce our energy use, and a fee that increased over time would encourage businesses to invest in sustainable energy technologies. Receiving a dividend check in the mail could be a short-term incentive we need to do the right thing. It won’t be easy to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions when we won’t be the only beneficiaries. Eric Ettlinger, Berkeley
Want to submit a Letter? Email us at Letters@gaia-mag.com 18 | gaia-mag.com
Nature vs. “Not-nature” A Disagreement
n the article “The Walking Dead”, I see what I believe is a flawed perspective. Stewart Brand’s comment that there is a “huge hole in nature” carries the implication that humans are somehow outside of nature. That is totally untrue; we are a part of nature. The fact that we can have such a great effect over the rest of nature does not remove us from it. If we cause extinctions — even our own — we’re simply making our contribution to the ongoing evolution of the world. And if it’s our own extinction that we cause, well, we’re clearly not the fittest. I suspect that, in the end, someone will start reviving extinct species, and we will see whether they fit back in their niche or push out current species, which could ultimately include us. Leaving any morality aside, from an evolutionary standpoint we shouldn’t do this; after all, isn’t our survival supposed to be the driving force? Sadly, history seems to demonstrate that we’re not too good at that. It always seems to come back to this: if it can be done, do it. The fact that humans can have such a great effect over the rest of nature does not remove us from it. Pierre Conley, Great Mills, MD
t’s encouraging that the CDC is connecting foodborne illnesses to specific foods, but its recent report does not address the underlying source of much of this sickness: filthy, crowded industrial poultry farms (“Veggies to Blame for Majority of Foodborne Illnesses”). Poultry has been linked to the highest number of foodborne illness-related deaths, which comes as no surprise, given that most chickens and turkeys spend their lives crammed together in sheds, lying in their own waste — conditions that not only cause chronic suffering to the birds, but also incubate bacteria such as E. Coli, Listeria and Salmonella. Sick birds are dosed with antibiotics throughout their lives to keep them alive and growing unnaturally fast, but those drugs are losing their power against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Now the USDA is planning to increase poultry slaughter-line speeds so that an inspector would only have one-third of a second to inspect a carcass, making it even likelier that diseased birds and fecal matter will end up on consumers’ plates. But contact with poultry isn’t the only way to contract these dangerous diseases: As the CDC report indicates, poultry litter infects the vegetables it commonly fertilizes. If the CDC, FDA and USDA are truly serious about preventing foodborne illness, they should examine the large-scale poultry operations that maximize profit at the cost of healthy animals and people. Suzanne McMillan, Director, Farm Animal Welfare Campaign, ASPCA
Product of the Month
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November 2014 | 19
Editor in Chief, Joseph Lara. Art direction and Design, sad Oasis Studios. ÂŠ 2014 Gaia Network. All Rights Reserved. All views and opinions expressed are those of the authors of Gaia magazine.
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