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Can we feed the world and halt climate change?

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Monday, 25 January 2016

Can we feed the world and halt climate change?

The fundamental purpose of farming is to feed humanity. But the reality of contemporary agriculture is often quite different, and it is costing the planet dearly. EurActiv France reports. Europe’s fertile plains produce an abundant cereal crop, some of which ends up as bread or pasta. But much of it is also used for animal feed: maize provides proteins for cattle, and barley, when it is not used to make beer, is exported to feed sheep in Saudi Arabia. And one in ten European cars now runs on biodiesel from rapeseed. The variety of different aims pursued by modern farmers have caused a ten-fold increase in the sector’s environmental impact. Agriculture now accounts for one quarter of the planet's Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, making it one of the most carbon-intensive activities. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), carbon emissions from agriculture have doubled in just five years, mainly due to increases in livestock breeding and the methane these animals emit. The digestive gasses produced by the world's 80 billion livestock animals account for 40% of the sector's total GHG emissions. Methane is 25 times m as ore powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). While the explosion of agriculture's carbon footprint is largely down to the production of meat and the growth in demand for meat products, the effects of deforestation cannot be discounted. The uprooting of forests and the destruction of the world's humid zones, which are natural carbon sinks, as well as the artificialisation of land in high growth areas, are also major contributors to greenhouse gas production. Calls for farmers to alter this alarming and destructive course have largely fallen on deaf ears. Agriculture received only the most cursory of mentions at the COP21. A source from the European Commission said, "This is a sensitive issue, and we are making gradual progress." Under the Commission's 2013 programme of "greening" the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), a bonus and penalty scheme was put in place to encourage farmers to preserve hedgerows and consume less water. But the programme ignores the question of surface artificialisation and the idea of limiting bovine livestock farming. The regulatory response from the EU, which recently decided not to limit greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming, appears weak. But for Pascal Canfin, the director of WWF France, who is working with the frozen foods retailer Picard to develop meat-free products, another approach to changing agricultural practices is possible.

Source: Euractiv