The food industry believes that we can prevent climate change by eating. this is your idea

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At first glance it is a traditional dish, with its beans, its bacon and sausages, but the next time you eat a bean stew think of the following: beyond the money you pay or the heartburn the day after, that gesture will probably have a cost for the planet. It happens with fabada, but also with paella, a steak with potatoes or even a salad with bean sprouts.

The industry that takes care of our food takes its toll on nature. During the process that allows us to supply ourselves with meat or vegetables, it emits CO2, methane, replaces wooded areas with other crops and impoverishes the soil and water, a cocktail that, in the long run, contributes to global warming. But… What if instead of being a problem they were part of the solution?

Can the food industry help reverse pollution?

In the sector there are those who are convinced that it is. And he is already working to prove it.

The other “invoice” of our menus. What appears on the label is not the only cost of the food we eat. For the planet there is another equal or even more important, although, at least initially, it is not measured in euros: pollution. According to the FAOLivestock farming generates the equivalent of 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year throughout the planet, which represents 14.5% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions attributable to man.

Going down to more detail, and just food production and processing, including changes in land use, represents 45% of emissions. Another 39% comes from what is known as “enteric fermentation” in ruminants, which is related to the methane generated during digestion. The biggest problem is represented by beef and cow’s milk. Regarding the types of emissions, methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide stand out.

The footprint of agriculture. Not everything is attributable to livestock, of course. At least directly. Another important player is agriculture, which in recent years has expanded significantly to cover the demand for food for both livestock and humans. A study published in December for Science shows that in just two decades, between 2003 and 2019, the fields dedicated to corn, wheat or rice, among other crops, have gained more than one million square kilometers, an area equivalent to twice the surface of Spain.

The problem with farmland expanding is that it often does so at the expense of forests, savannahs or jungles, for example, land capable of storing large amounts of carbon in trees or soil. The same study concluded that about half of the new area, 49%, replaced natural vegetation and tree cover. The trend is largely explained by the increase in population or soybean demand and focuses on South America and Africa.

“Rethink” cow emissions. But… What if we found a way, for example, to mitigate the effect of methane generated by cows? It is not a minor challenge. 44% of the emissions it generates livestock are precisely in the form of CH4. To achieve this, there are those who have already decided to make use of an unexpected ally: algae; the asparagopsisto be more precise, a genus located in the warm waters of Australia and that, thanks to its bromoform content, can be an ingredient as interesting as it is valuable in the diet of livestock.

Data collected by the BBC show considerable effectiveness. When bromoform represents 2% of the cows’ diet, their methane emissions are reduced by up to 98%. However, many questions remain on the table, such as clarifying its impact on health or even to what extent the cattle themselves are willing to accept it on their “menu”.

The cattle of the future will eat insects: the idea of ​​some scientists to reduce their environmental footprint

A valuable ally that goes far beyond methane. The truth is that the cultivation of marine macroalgae can not only help us control flatulence in cattle. Another advantage is that they act as efficient “sequestrants” of CO2 from the atmosphere. A study published in 2019 in the magazine Nature Geoscience showed an extensive list of species capable of sinking carbon below 1,000 m, to depths that reduce the risk of it returning to the atmosphere.

In addition to storing CO2, seaweed also absorbs excess nutrients from fertilizers used on farm fields and ends up in the oceans. The result: the damage caused by the food industry would be alleviated; but it would also contribute to reversing in a certain way part of the damage that is caused or even facilitate the reduction of CO2 levels.

From adding pollution to subtracting it. The change in philosophy would be considerable and would encourage the industry to directly help reduce gases that contribute to global warming. Beyond the role that marine algae can play, remember bbcSome are already using gene editing techniques to develop crop varieties designed to absorb more CO2 from the atmosphere. Other strategies point to the advantages of a change in mentality in crop planning. A recent study in the Pyrenees, for example, concluded that mixed crops of cereals and legumes capture much more carbon dioxide than monocultures.

Max Saeling 29lxhkzvtjk Unsplash

A good shot of CO2. On the table of the food industry there are other striking solutions. Perhaps one of the most curious is the one that proposes reusing carbon dioxide to produce with it… Drinks, such as vodka or sparkling water! Air Companyan American company, basically uses CO2, water and electricity to produce alcoholic beverages.

The process is relatively simple And, the company argues, it is based on clean energy: it captures carbon dioxide and in its distillery uses electricity to split hydrogen and oxygen and then combines the hydrogen with CO2 and a catalyst. The end result: vozka that you can drink knowing that you have removed some CO2 from the atmosphere. even coke explore in that direction.

Change of mentality in the sector. Apart from specific initiatives and their effects, what is undeniable is that for years there has been a growing current in the sector that is looking for formulas to reduce its impact on the environment. Good examples are precision agriculture, which wants the most rational possible use of water and fertilizers, or regenerative agriculture, with which it is intended to prevent soil degradation and, among other things, lose its capacity as a carbon store. Not all efforts come from the sector. different administrations have also opted for tighten control of pesticides and other phytosanitary products that degrade the fields.

Cropland has gained more than a million square kilometers in the last two decades and that worries scientists

And even groundbreaking proposals. There are also proposals that propose a twist and radically change the way of understanding the food industry. Perhaps one of the ones that has gained the most strength in recent years is the one that advocates the breeding and consumption of insects, both for humans and for livestock. Those who defend it insist that they represent a rich source of protein and their exploitation would considerably reduce the footprint on the environment.

Other curious proposals focus on the aeroponics and hydroponics —crops in the air or substituting the land for water—, organized in interior spaces or even underground. Also the greenhouses of sea water and that are fundamentally nourished by the water of the oceans and the light of the sun to carry out the production. The challenge is the same in all cases: to maintain the production of a humanity that continues to grow… without triggering the climatic “bill”.

Pictures | Alex Haney (Unsplash) Y Max Saeling (Unsplash)

At first glance it is a traditional dish, with its beans, its bacon and sausages, but the next time you…

At first glance it is a traditional dish, with its beans, its bacon and sausages, but the next time you…

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