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5 Solutions to Make the U.S. Food System More Sustainable

January 20, 2021 by FreshByte Software

Americans walking down their grocery aisle can select from a diverse abundance of low-cost foods to put in their carts so why would we worry about the sustainability of the U.S. Food System? After all, Americans spend less of their disposable income on food than any other country in the world, spending just 9.5 percent in 2019, according to the USDA, down from 17 percent in 1960.

The price at the checkout scanner, however, does not reflect the true economic, social, and environmental costs which impact the sustainability of the U.S. food system. To glean this true cost, we must understand agriculture production and consumption patterns.

Changing Face of Agricultural Production

Small family farms may be the iconic image of agricultural production in the United States, but they are on the decline and those still in business are receiving less of the dollars spent on food.According to the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, large-scale family farms and industrial non-family farms account for only 4.8 percent of farms, but 58.3 percent of production in dollars. Small-scale family farms represent nearly 90 percent of U.S. farms, but only 21.1 percent of production.Those small family farms are not being replaced by younger generations, as 28 percent of famers are between the ages of 55 to 64.

Other sustainability issues highlighted in the Michigan report:

  • Pesticide use was up 10 percent from 2007 to 2012; and herbicide use up 20 percent between 2010 and 2014. In 2012 U.S. agriculture spread 899 million pounds of pesticides.

  • Almost all corn, cotton and soybeans planted are now genetically engineered with percentages rising in the last 20 years for corn (25 to 92 percent), cotton 61 to 96 percent), and soybeans (54 to 94 percent).

  • Methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions by agricultural production combined to account for 9.3 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the Food Supply is Wasted

An increasing amount of the food produced in the U.S. does not end up on our tables but is wasted. In fact, Americans wasted 50 percent more food in 2010 compared to 1970, according to the EPA, with 31 percent of the food supply not consumed and lost.

Where does the food go? Food in the number one material trucked to landfills with wasted food accounting for about 15 percent of municipal solid waste. Some estimates that 2 percent of the U.S. total energy use goes to food produced that is later wasted.

Other issues highlighted in the Michigan report:

Americans consumed an average of 2,507 calories per day in 2010, up 22 percent from 1970. The U.S. food supply actually produces 4,000 calories per person per day.

In 1967 there was 25 pounds of meat available per person annually. That number has skyrocketed to 195 pounds of meat available per person.

40 percent of U.S. adults and 18 percent of teens are considered obese according to BMI.

5 Sustainable Alternatives

Here are five ways to help improve the sustainability of the U.S. food system:

  • Eat Less Meat
    Meat-based diets can use up to twice as much energy to produce, and one serving of beef can cause more greenhouse gas emissions than 20 servings of vegetables.

  • Reduce Waste
    Prevent waste by planning meals, sticking to shopping lists and buying smaller amounts. Freeze or preserve extra produce. Understand sell-by dates vs. use-by dates.
  • Use Less Refrigeration
    Home refrigeration accounts for 13 percent of food system energy consumed. Buy smaller, more efficient refrigerators.

  • Eat Organic
    Organic farms, which produce 5.8 percent of all food sold in the U.S., do not use chemicals that require a large amount of energy to produce and can harm soil and water.

  • Eat Local
    Transportation accounts for 14 percent of food system energy so eating local can trim energy costs. Eating locally grown organic food is a bonus.

Contact FreshByte Software today to see how our distribution, traceability, accounting and inventory control software can give you a competitive advantage, regardless of what products in the U.S. food system your company imports, manufactures, processes, or distributes.

Tags: Sustainability

FreshByte Software

Written by FreshByte Software

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