Dominic Moran and Jorie Knook
Climate change is already having a significant impact on agriculture through greater weather variability and the increasing frequency of extreme events. International policy is rightly focused on adapting and transforming agricultural and food production systems to reduce vulnerability. But agriculture also has a role in terms of climate change mitigation. The agricultural sector accounts for approximately a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, including related emissions from land-use change and deforestation. Farmers and land managers have a significant role to play because emissions reduction measures can be taken to increase soil carbon sequestration, manage fertilizer application, and improve ruminant nutrition and waste. There is also potential to improve overall productivity in some systems, thereby reducing emissions per unit of product. The global significance of such actions should not be underestimated. Existing research shows that some of these measures are low cost relative to the costs of reducing emissions in other sectors such as energy or heavy industry. Some measures are apparently cost-negative or win–win, in that they have the potential to reduce emissions and save production costs. However, the mitigation potential is also hindered by the biophysical complexity of agricultural systems and institutional and behavioral barriers limiting the adoption of these measures in developed and developing countries. This includes formal agreement on how agricultural mitigation should be treated in national obligations, commitments or targets, and the nature of policy incentives that can be deployed in different farming systems and along food chains beyond the farm gate. These challenges also overlap growing concern about global food security, which highlights additional stressors, including demographic change, natural resource scarcity, and economic convergence in consumption preferences, particularly for livestock products. The focus on reducing emissions through modified food consumption and reduced waste is a recent agenda that is proving more controversial than dealing with emissions related to production.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.
In recent years, a number of food safety incidents in Europe and East Asia have led to concerns about threats to the environment and human health. In this context, the significance of a re-evaluation of risks with regards to food safety is essential, which includes re-visiting Western risk theories advanced by Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. The dimensions of risks and food safety are four-fold.
First, major incidents, such as the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011 and the melamine crisis in China in 2008, have impacted the perception of food safety among consumers. These incidents led to fears of an increase of food safety incidents and to a collapse of trust in established brand products and technologies in post-industrial societies. It is necessary, therefore, to re-assess the risks of utilizing future-oriented technologies and mass food production systems.
Second, the use of genetically modified organisms in food products and the consumption of food additives have produced new food-related risks. This underlines the significance of risk assessment, in particular, as “reflexive modernization” requires individuals to familiarize themselves with new and possibly harmful food technologies and to assess, manage, and avoid risks on their own responsibility and on a highly personalized basis.
Third, various food-related incidents, such as the case of imported poisoned dumplings in Japan in 2008, have triggered the emergence of civil engagement in the form of consumer education initiatives. Both governmental and non-governmental initiatives stress the significance of locality, providence, and food heritage preservation as a way to ensure and maintain food safety and balanced nutritional habits. In other words, the notion of locality is linked to the desire to minimize the risk.
Fourth, poor individual eating habits, as self-imposed risks, have attracted scholarly attention. Food education initiatives in European and Asian nations seek to strengthen the culinary competence of individuals and embrace national staple foods and local food specialties at the same time. Efforts to provide adequate information about nutrition and to counter the rise of health conditions such as obesity and diabetes often coincide with a return to conservative gender perceptions and family values. This calls for new forms of culinary education that take the demands of working parents, individualized work schedules, and dining outside the home into consideration.