This Listen Up! guest post is by Hugh Holland. Hugh Mackenzie is taking a break from Listen Up! this week.
By Hugh Holland
Back in 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published an insightful but damning report titled Global Food Losses and Food Waste. At the time, the FAO study estimated that around one-third of the world’s food was squandered every year. This added up to a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes of wasted food annually and to a cost of almost one trillion US dollars. The report subsequently viewed reducing food waste as a priority.
The UN is working to establish a food sustainability index by country. Part of that study determined the US wastes 95.1 kg. per capita per year. France, with its gourmet reputation, wastes 67. 2 kg per capita.
Food production, processing, and distribution are estimated to generate 26% of global emissions.
The following chart shows the affordability of food in sample countries, i.e., the percentage of people that can’t afford a healthy diet because food costs more than 52% of household income. Globally, 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet. Hunger is a recipe for social unrest.
|Population (millions)||% that can’t afford||People that can’t afford|
When people everywhere are worrying about the cost of living, and worrying about climate change, reduction of food waste presents a huge opportunity to save energy, emissions, and money throughout the various food supply chains. Perhaps Home Economics should be returned to school curriculums for both boys and girls. Everyone eats.
Different food products require very different models for the management of production and distribution. Model #1 is for each country to be self-sufficient in as many perishable foods as their climate permits. Model #2 is for cooperative trading in foods where countries cannot be self-sufficient. Both must focus on balancing supply with demand to minimize shortages from undersupply and waste from oversupply. We need both models. Having my roots on a dairy farm, I feel compelled to comment on this subject.
The grains and beef produced by the large farms on Canada’s prairies are harvested ONCE PER YEAR. The grains are moved to markets over subsequent months via grain elevators, rail cars, lake freighters, and ocean-going vessels and eventually to end processors. Grains can even be carried over to subsequent years to smooth the variations in annual production caused by weather, conflict, etc.
On the other hand, perishable milk and eggs are harvested 365 DAYS PER YEAR. They are among the most important sources of protein. Chickens are included because it takes X chickens to produce X eggs. Without preservatives, refrigerated milk must get to the end user in 7 days. Refrigerated eggs can last 30 days. Eggs and milk can be frozen or dried but that adds extra costly steps and does not yield the preferred end product.
It is interesting to consider what those two models could look like in the extreme. Taken to the extreme, large prairie grain and beef farms could be consolidated into one megafarm with a single owner, and every family could have their own cow and chickens. As usual, the best models lie between extremes.
Free markets work best for most commodities, but perishable food products are exceptions. US free market policy for everything favours megafarms. Consequently, their small farms are not in good shape. 80% of US small farmers need a second job to survive. Canada’s supply management model for poultry, eggs, and dairy is often criticized by free market idealists but it provides many benefits for both producers and consumers. By balancing supply with demand, it provides a more stable operating environment, and minimizes both waste and shortages, without requiring massive government subsidies like the fossil fuel industries. Supply Management was authorized by Federal Legislation in 1972, and like the Medical Association, or the Association of Professional Engineers, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Supply Management is self-managed by the industry.
Most of our poultry, eggs, and milk are produced by 14,000 small farmers in lower BC, Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes. They are important risk-taking small-business entrepreneurs with an average investment of about $4 million each in the land, buildings, livestock, and equipment. They provide direct employment for 100,000 people and indirect employment for another 100,000. The perishable nature of their products requires those farmers to pay careful attention to detail 365 days a year. And those small farmers provide a valuable connection to their land, livestock, and communities that megafarms, with managers sitting in glass towers in Toronto or Edmonton, simply could not.
What are the two most important things we must do to create a livable, safe, and peaceful future?
`1. Cooperate to help every country work toward their own unique mix of zero-emission energy. That will mitigate climate change, conflict, and mass migration.
2. Cooperate to help every country work toward balancing supply and demand in their own healthy and locally-grown perishable food, and to balance food trade where they can’t.
Canada has little choice but to import fresh fruits and vegetables during winter. But US farmers would be better off adopting the Canadian system to balance the supply and demand of their own perishable dairy and poultry products, rather than constantly trying to force wasteful surpluses on Canada.
Hugh Holland is a retired engineering and manufacturing executive now living in Huntsville, Ontario.
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