Chapter 10: Environmental impact and sustainability

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How plant crops are grown

Intensive farming

  • Many plant crops grown by this method – large fields growing the same crop.
  • Many grown in large glass houses or plastic poly-tunnels.
  • Pesticides are used to prevent attack by moulds, insects, animals, or competition for light and soil nutrients by weeds.
  • Artificial fertilisers used to put nutrients back in the soil.
  • Many people concerned about pesticides and fertilisers on the long-term health of people, the soil, streams, rivers and the natural ecology of the environment.

Organic farming

  • Producing crops without artificial fertilisers and very little pesticides.
  • Crops are fertilised with manure and compost.
  • Different crops grown on the same piece of land each year – crop rotation.
  • Soil Association sets and checks organic standards.
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How food/ingredients are reared

Intensive farming/factory farming

  • Livestock (animals, birds, fish) are reared in large numbers.
  • Often reared indoors in large sheds, cages or tanks.
  • Land is expensive, so intensive farming costs less, so the price of food comes down.
  • Often fed on man-made food rather than feeding naturally on grass, insects etc.
  • Livestock may pick up diseases from each other.
  • Livestock may become stressed and fight as they are not used to living in large numbers.

Organic farming

  • Can be reared organically.
  • Must be fed organic food and live as naturally as possible.
  • Must not be given drugs, antibiotics, growth promoters and other medicines.
  • Kept in smaller numbers.
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Genetically Modified food

What is it and why it is done?

  • Complex scientific technique.
  • The biological ‘code’ for a characteristic in a species of plant or animal (e.g. colour, flavour, size) from a gene is copied in a laboratory and put into a different species of plant or animal.
  • The plant or animal will then reproduce with the new characteristic in place.
  • Mainly used for plant crops.

Why some people are concerned about GM foods?

  • Possible effects on the natural ecology and environment where GM crops are grown.
  • Interference with the natural process of plant and animal reproduction.
  • Some people may be allergic to some GM foods.
  • Effects on farmers in developing countries who may get tied into a GM contract and lose income if the company decides not to grow the crop anymore.
  • It is not possible to tell by looking if a crop is GM or not.
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How food/ingredients are gathered

  • Wild foods have been gathered for many thousands of years.
  • Some foods still gathered for people to buy: seaweed, wild herbs, fruits, mushrooms, honey.
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How food/ingredients are caught

Which foods are hunted from the wild?

  • Wild animals, e.g. deer (venison), boar (pig), snails, rabbits, hare
  • Wild birds, e.g. pheasants, grouse, quail
  • Wild fish, e.g. salmon, trout and seafood (mussels, oysters etc)
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Seasonal foods: Plant crops

  • Plant crops all have natural cycles
  • The Cycle: seeds, cotyledon, seedling, adult plant, flower
  • When plants are in season 
  • This means that they are at the stage of their life cycle when they are ready to be harvested 
  • They are at their best: flavour, texture, and freshness
  • Lot available so it's cheaper to buy 
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Seasonal foods: Animal foods

  • Animals have a life cycle
  • This influences when certain animal foods are in season
  • Particularly applies to fish and seafood e.g shellfish, prawns
  • Fish life cycle: eggs, hatch into fish larvae called fry, juvenile, adult fish
  • When there are more seafood available to catch
  • This means that they are in season 
  • Shouldn't be caught as they may be laying eggs or may not have fully grown
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Environmental issues associated with food

Environmental issues associated with food production

  • Impact on climate change – from greenhouse gases produced by food production.
  • Meat and dairy food production causes a lot of greenhouse gas production.
  • Lots of energy from non-renewable fossil fuels used to produce food, especially meat and dairy foods – causes production of greenhouse gases.
  • Greenhouse gases trap heat and warm the planet, which causes climate change
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Climate change effects

  • Drought (lack of water): crops fail, livestock die, soil blows away, forest fires damage farmland and kill livestock.
  • Flooding: soil and soil nutrients washed away; land polluted by sewage, stones and rubbish; livestock drown; landslides damage farmland.
  • Gales and hurricanes: damage to crops, farmland, buildings, livestock killed.
  • Higher or lower than normal temperatures: affects how crops grow; pollination of crops by insects affected; insects, moulds.
  • Extreme storms: crops damaged; livestock affected; water and soil polluted.
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Food packaging

Why it is used and the effects it has on the environment?

  • Packaging protects food from microbe contamination.
  • Packaging preserves food and provides information for the consumer.
  • A large percentage of household waste is food packaging – some can be recycled but some cannot.
  • Production of packaging uses lots of energy from non-renewable fossil fuels – causes production of greenhouse gases.
  • Food packaging and household waste has to be disposed of in landfill sites and by burning.
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Transportation of food and food miles

Why it happens and the effects it has on the environment

  • Many foods and ingredients come from different countries/regions and are transported many miles.
  • Large amounts of non-renewable fossil fuels used.
  • This causes pollution and the release of greenhouse gases.
  • Many people drive to food shops to buy their food.
  • Food miles = the distance travelled by foods and ingredients.
  • Locally produced foods: low impact on environment; low food miles; often cheaper; available in season.
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Carbon footprint of food

  • Carbon footprint = how much CO2 gas and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere when food is produced.
  • Carbon footprint produced by these stages of food production: growing/rearing; farming; processing; manufacturing; packaging; transportation; storage; refrigeration; cooking; disposal of waste food and packaging.
  • Meat, dairy food and egg production has the highest carbon footprint.
  • Fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans and cereal production has the lowest carbon footprint.
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Food waste

  • Millions of tonnes of food wasted every year.
  • Reasons: poor meal planning; buying more food than needed; serving food portions that are too large; poor food storage; not understanding use-by and best before dates; not using left-over foods; limited cooking skills and knowledge about food; food shops only selling ‘good looking’ fruits and vegetables and wasting edible but misshapen ones.
  • Wasted food dumped in landfill site produces large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane.
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Sustainability of food

  • Food security: aims to make sure everyone has the ability to buy enough safe, nutritious and affordable good quality food to meet their needs.
  • Worldwide problem: many people do not have enough food.
  • Problems: fewer resources available to grow food, e.g. land available to grow food; water; energy; fertile soil.
  • Food security threatened by: environmental pollution, climate change, economic problems, crop failures and human activities.
  • Food production needs to be sustainable: farmers need to be paid properly for their hard work and products; different varieties of plants and animals need to be protected from disease or becoming extinct; the welfare of livestock, plants and people in the community who grow the food needs to be protected; food production should not damage natural ecosystems and should reduce wastage; local communities should be encouraged to work together to produce food and protect the environment.
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Producing meals sustainably

  • Read food labels carefully.
  • Buy local foods where possible.
  • Plan carefully to avoid wastage.
  • Prepare and cook food carefully to avoid wastage.
  • Use the cooker hob more than the oven – more energy needed to heat the oven.
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