Food for Thought

The threat to the global food supply is one of those taboo, world problem topics that we would often rather not talk about, especially whilst tucking into our McDonald’s. However, as food prices increase we will be forced to awaken to the problem and adapt. As with any problem, it is easier to attack it sooner rather than later.

Meat consumption has significant effects on global food supply. One way to achieve Global Food Security (GFS) is by working together and collectively changing our diets. To change diets requires people to be educated on the subject. Recently, a group of students took a class on GFS. Their response to receiving awareness on GFS will be presented towards the end.

When all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food; food security is thought to exist.

With the world population is expected to increase by 45%(to a total of 10.9 billion) by 2100, achieving global food security is quite a challenge. Population growth has already encouraged farmers to over-farm their land which has resulted in significant degradation of 40% of the world’s arable land. This means the land doesn’t have the structure or nutrients for as many crops to grow.

With the population expected to increase, more food must be produced from the same (or lesser) amount of land. A solution to this problem is to intensify production.  But to intensify production means to increase the use of chemical fertilizer. It’s use contributes to half of the greenhouse gas emissions from grain production. A solution is to practise sustainable intensification, which has a lot of challenges.

Hot Wheatabix means less Wheatabix

More greenhouse gases will accelerate climate change and then further increase drought and flood severity. This adds pressure to the global food supply. It is predicted that production of wheat in Africa will be 17% lower than it would have been without climate change in 2050.

Exceptional drought in the US (2014)

Exceptional drought in the US (2014)

Woah, I ain’t got no Beef!

One way to significantly reduce land use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce the amount of meat consumed, especially beef. As an animal grows, it wastes energy and produces greenhouse gases through respiration and excretion. The result is that approximately 10 times more land is needed to produce beef than to produce corn with the same number of calories.

Meat consumption is expected to increase the most in developing countries

Meat consumption is expected to increase the most in developing countries

An argument against this statistic is that cattle can eat waste products of corn, which humans cannot. Additionally, it is more difficult to produce enough protein from crops, than it is from animals. Several research groups have now addressed this issue. One paper calculated that chickens are 380% more efficient than cattle at creating meat with equal protein when using the same quality land for feed and grazing in the US. Furthermore, if Americans ate “protein equivalent crops” instead of beef, 190 million more people could be fed in the US (which has a population of 320million) if the exact same land was used.

Livestock emit a large amount of methane, which is a green house gas

Livestock emits a large amount of methane, which is a green house gas. Source: Whats up with that

There may not be a need to stop eating beef if it can be grown commercially in a lab. In the future “lab-grown beef” may be able to be produced with only 4% of agricultural beef emissions. If and when this solution will be available is unknown.

How did the UNMC students fare?

How did students respond to contrastingly apocalyptic problems and optimistic solutions? Did they have faith in technology? Or believe that society will change? Or neither, and choose to forget all about the module? The data below describes the responses of the students.


The data shows that more than half of the students made efforts to eat less meat and beef. Additionally, students were more likely to eat less beef, which has significantly higher societal costs than other meat. Data for shifting towards locally produced food showed a similar trend.

These results demonstrate that increased education alone cannot completely change a culture. Perhaps the students are optimistic about technology such as Nottingham’s “Crops for the Future” research.

In a society, which faces these global food security challenges, investing in biotechnology becomes a necessity. Additionally, the 47% of students who hadn’t changed their diets may feel culturally obliged to do so now that the other 53% had.

Finally, the data shows what a significant effect our choice of degree can have on our lifestyles. A computer science student may not have any food supply guilt whilst eating a burger. However, 70% of students surveyed said that they discussed the module with approximately 3 people who didn’t take GFS, so maybe other students can’t escape!

Preparation and prevention is better than reparation and repentance. The food on your plate is going to change.

By Ollie Ross


Source of featured image: LONDNR

For the genuinely concerned…

Food security can be affected by any of the following factors, and have the following possible solutions (not all solutions are sustainable):

Factor Affecting Food Security Possible Solutions
Arable land and fresh water supply ·         Eat more land-efficient and water-efficient foodstuffs (less meat/beef)

·         Limit urban sprawl

·         Prioritise food crops over land for tobacco or biofuel

Natural disasters (plant disease, droughts, & flooding) ·         Limit greenhouse gas emissions

·         Use drought or flooding resistant crops

·         Flood prevention measures such as mangrove tree planting

·         Increase variety of plant species used so that not all are diseased

·         Anticipate flood events and plant and harvest crops accordingly

Distribution ·         Eat locally produced food (also reduces CO2 emissions)

·         Faster transport infrastructure

·         Refrigerated transport

Overconsumption ·         Eat less ( and practise sustainable nutrition)

1/3 of all food is wasted globally (FAO, 2013)

·         Better meal planning

·         Use preservative chemicals or methods such as drying food

·         Provide food production companies with restrictions or incentives on waste

Political trade restrictions & war ·         Self-sufficiency of food supply can reduce political tensions
Disease amongst farmers ·         Increased medical infrastructure for farmers (especially in Africa)
Nutrient depletion of land ·         Better farming practices (e.g. crop rotation, and conservation tillage)

·         Use beneficial bacteria and fungi to increase nutrient uptake of crops

·         Recycling nutrients from waste

Overuse of pesticide

(chemicals which deter pests such as crop eating insects) Overuse lowers crop yield

·         Integrated Pest Management (Includes sterilising seeds to remove disease and pests)

·         Aquaponics (indoor farming)

Cassidy, E. S., West, P. C., Gerber, J. S., Davis, K. F., Yu, K., & Herrero, M. (2016). Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion ef fi ciencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes.

FAO. (2017). Food Security Statistics. Retrieved from

Knox, J., Hess, T., Daccache, A., & Wheeler, T. (2012). Climate change impacts on crop productivity in Africa and South Asia. Environmental Research Letters, 7(3), 34032.

Rajaniemi, M., Mikkola, H., & Ahokas, J. (2011). Greenhouse gas emissions from oats, barley, wheat and rye production. Agronomy Research, 9(SPPL. ISS. 1), 189–195.

Tuomisto, H. L., & Teixeira De Mattos, M. J. (2011). Environmental impacts of cultured meat production. Environmental Science and Technology, 45(14), 6117–6123.

[UN-DESA] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 2013. World Population prospects, the 2012 revision, highlights and advance tables. Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat. New York.

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