Posted on 04/02/2010 at 03:21:50 PM by Student BloggerBy: Bobban S.
“Going green”, a much used word now, seems to be the future norm not just for energy or steel industries but essentially for all industrial sectors. Reducing the carbon intensity of the energy sources used various industrial sectors, by transitioning to alternative fuels and energy-efficient machineries could reduce green house gas (GHG) emissions. Undoubtedly, all industrial sectors are going to have radical changes in the future to address the massive challenges of emission-related regulatory framework. In light of these recent developments, I was thinking about the relevance of this aspect in food industry and I had a feeling that industrial food production might be one of the significant contributors of GHG emissions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicated in 2007 that agriculture contributed 13.5% of world anthropogenic GHG emissions and that forestry including deforestation contributed 17.4%. Much of the latter contribution is associated with food. In USA agriculture is estimated to contribute 10% of GHG emissions. While food GHG emissions go well beyond agriculture, no broad US-based estimates are known to exist. Among food categories, food animal production is by far the top climate change contributor. The FAO estimates that livestock production alone accounts for 18% of world anthropogenic GHG emissions – a greater contribution than transportation. In food systems, the greenhouse gases CH4 and N2O (especially from fertilizers) are top anthropogenic contributors to climate change, although CO2 also plays an important role (1). Beyond emissions, food systems also affect the extent to which GHG are released into the atmosphere or trapped in soil and plants.
According to various reports, livestock accounts for 15-18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions which comes in the form of direct methane emission from ruminant guts and indirect carbon accounting for production of feed-grade grain and fertilizer and processing of meat. More than a third of all methane emissions, around 900 billion tons every year are produced by methanogen bacteria that live in the digestive systems of ruminants. By volume, methane is 20 times more powerful at trapping solar energy than carbon dioxide making it a potent greenhouse gas. Similarly, the global increase in fuel-intensive fisheries, another major food production sector, has led to a substantial increase in CO2 emissions from fishing vessels. Global fisheries burned almost 42.4 million tons of fuel in 2000, representing about 1.2% of the global oil consumption. These fishing fleets emitted more than 130 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere at an average rate of 1.7 tons of CO2 per ton of live weight landed product. There have been suggestions that, to help combat global warming, a cap be placed on the number of animals in animal production due to their methane production. However, on a ‘protein demanding future', this might not be a viable option. Hence more practical solutions based on innovative technologies and basic research in animal production to address these challenges is pivotal for the food industry.
One encouraging research in this direction was recently published which reported that by including 2% fish oil in the diet of cattle, a substantial reduction in the amount of methane released by the animals can be achieved (2). The fish oil affects the methane-producing bacteria in the rumen part of the cow's gut, leading to reduced emissions.
Some of the below listed research areas might in the future address the sustainability issues with GHG emission from food industry:
1. Energy-efficient food processing and packaging equipments
2. Basic feed research to reduce methane emission from ruminant gut.
3. Alternatives to traditional grains and fishmeal based animal feed ingredients (which has high fossil energetic inputs) with byproduct-based ingredients from other industries