"Not all of us have to become vegetarians or vegans".
The Earth's Well-being is Determined at the Table
Organic farming can feed the world if people become reliable partners and adapt their eating habits. How do we do this? What needs to be considered in order to preserve the quality of life and the earth?
Today, "feeding the world" means that agriculture produces about a third of too much per capita on a global average, which is then thrown away rather than used. It also means that we meet about one third of our needs from animal products.
Much of the feed for these animals comes from arable land, where we could grow food for the people. This means that the environmental impacts per hectare are often far beyond the limits of the carrying capacity of local ecosystems. And that global impacts such as greenhouse gas emissions are far from compatible with the 1.5-degree target.
In short, our food system is not adapted to our planet, it is far too large.
Watch the nutrient flow
We can derive the justifiable size of the nutrition system from the idea of closed cycles. No net nutrient flows should occur in relation to meaningful local and regional ecosystem boundaries. This is not the case today. Imported animal feed and the use of mineral fertilizers lead to massive nutrient influxes which have no relation to the area of the local ecosystems and therefore cannot be processed sustainably within these ecosystems. With the effect that appropriate quantities are not used and pollute the environment.
We can avoid this by dispensing with mineral fertilisers and imported animal feed. The profit is a reduction of the total environmental impact while at the same time lowering the intensity per hectare. This means that yields would also fall somewhat - as we are already aware, from organic farming.
Reduce waste, consume more consciously
So, would we have to use organic farming to expand the land to produce the same amount? Yes, we would. But let's get back to the beginning: Do we have to produce as much as we do today and then throw away or lose a third, does the food system have to be so big? No. We can reduce waste and losses and we can reduce the amount of land needed for animal feed production. The result - less meat, milk and eggs for our consumption, but no less, i.e. enough calories and protein for everyone. Less space required, but still no increased intensity of land use. Less local and global environmental pollution, but still a globally secure food supply.
Does that sound too good to be true? No - but we have to be aware of what it means for our eating habits. In such a system, a quarter of today's animal products would still be available - we would have to change our menu accordingly. This can be done without all of us having to become vegetarians or vegans. Just as the climate issue has been created and exacerbated over decades by a myriad of individual consumer choices, it can also be solved: Our daily decisions determine whether something changes or not. In the area of nutrition, it would look as described above: Consume less meat and other animal produce and, above all, throw away less food.
Even non-conform goods should be on the table
But as consumers, we don't have everything under control, do we? For example, if suppliers can only process highly normed goods, everything else becomes waste. True, but if we are willing to spend more on food, then we can sell non-conform goods with more complex supply chains. In general, our food is too cheap - what we save in individual costs as a result is outsourced to society in the form of environmental pollution and its remediation, i.e. the resulting damage is paid indirectly through our taxes.
We can therefore do something on a daily basis by throwing away little and eating few animal products. We can act in a wider context by championing an effective environmental policy and electing and voting accordingly.
Dr. rer. nat. Adrian Müller, Research Institute for Organic Agriculture, FiBL Switzerland