In regard to the meat consumption issue there has been a recent revival in some WWI-esque initiatives, such as Meatless Monday Canada, a joint undertaking by various health and environmental partners to encourage Canadians to reduce their meat consumption for the sake of the planet and their own health.
The infographic from CulinarySchools.org suggests that if every person in the US reduced their meat consumption by one serving of chicken a week it would save the same amount of CO2 emissions as removing 500,000 cars from the road.
What may have more of an effect in achieving these sorts of emission savings in the end is rising food prices, which every major news agency seems to be warning about following major droughts in the US Midwest corn belt that is causing some farmers to mow down their stunted corn fields to use as hay for their cattle.
On top of this news, the OECD and FAO has released their Agricultural Outlook 2012-2021 report, which has predicted continually rising food prices over the next decade.
Agricultural output is only expected to grow by 1.7 percent a year over the next ten years and more volatility is predicted in yields for major crops as variability in weather patterns increases. At the same time, growing world populations and improving economic conditions in some developing countries, will increase demand for animal products and the grains, like corn and barley, that feed them. Biofuel production is also set to increase and push up the price of oilseeds and corn. The report estimates that 16 percent of global vegetable oil production will be used to produce biodiesel by 2021 and 14 percent of global grain production will be used to make ethanol.
Meanwhile biofuel policies in the US have largely encouraged farmers there to plant monocultures of corn or soybeans, both of which are being heavily hit by the worst drought in decades. Many farmers have abandoned more diverse crop rotations, because other crops like wheat aren't as heavily subsidized, so not as profitable a proposition for them.
The situation isn't much different in Canada, where it is canola, another GM crop, that is the preferred cash crop for farmers and in Manitoba, as far as the eye can see these days, there is an almost unbroken ocean of yellow flowers as farmers try to maximize every acre with a profitable crop, after two years of excess moisture that left many with little to do in the harvest season.
The production risks associated with crops engineered to be resistant to certain chemicals or pests are beginning to manifest themselves, from the development of herbicide resistant weeds to insects, like corn borers and weevils that are overcoming the genes that have been implanted in corn crops to deter them.
At the same time, changing environmental conditions have sent the biotech companies back to the research labs to try and identify the genes that will help make crops more drought tolerant or water efficient. More technology to encourage more monocultures that do nothing to restore the soil health that is the real key to sustainability in agricultural production.
The Rodale Institute, which has conducted a 30-year study of organic crop rotations, says "the hallmark of a truly sustainable system is its ability to regenerate itself. When it comes to farming, the key to sustainable agriculture is healthy soil, since this is the foundation for present and future growth."
The study concludes that:
Organic yields match conventional yields.This I do not doubt, but with the problems of a growing global population, falling agricultural output, decreasing availability of resources such as water and affordable (or recoverable) oil deposits and climate volatility, how are we to upscale natural, sustainable agricultural systems to meet the challenge of all these factors? How do we break the stranglehold of economic and socio-political systems that entrench the very production practices that hold farmers hostage to an unsustainable system?
Organic outperforms conventional in years of drought.
Organic farming systems build rather than deplete soil organic matter, making it a more sustainable system.
Organic farming uses 45% less energy and is more efficient.
Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases.
Organic farming systems are more profitable than conventional.
The answers to these questions exist but they are scattered in places and with people who don't always have powerful enough voices to make themselves heard to the extent that those with more money and power do.
Infographic by CulinarySchools.org