Industrialised farming practices cost the environment some $3.33 trillion per year — more than the UK’s annual GDP — according to new research for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
The research identifies a range of more sustainable farming practices that could greatly reduce the cost of environmental impacts and help countries cope with the challenge of increasing food production to meet the needs of a growing population.
“Unveiling the hidden costs of mainstream agriculture is necessary” said Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, FAO Senior Natural Resources Officer “to convince decision-makers that investing in conversion to sustainable food and agriculture systems is a much cheaper option than current expenditures for environmental mitigation and public health.”
“True food prices entail reflecting producers’ efforts to meet their needs for the time required to reproduce the value, while the cost of environmental damage should not be paid by society through higher food prices but by those who irresponsibly abuse common goods offered by our natural environment.”
The study found that the cost to the environment of livestock farming is nearly twice as much as the product value. A staggering $1.18 trillion per year, equivalent to over 170% of its production value. Forest clearance for beef production in Brazil and the impacts of pork production in China were cited as two areas of animal farming with the biggest environmental price tag.
“Our research for the FAO shows how alternative approaches to agriculture can benefit farmers and the environment, ensuring sustainable and affordable food supplies for all” said Richard Mattison, chief executive officer of Trucost who conducted the study.
One such alternative approach, switching to organic crop production for soybeans in the US and wheat farming in Germany would bring environmental benefits from rotating crops, cover crops and manure instead of applying chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
The research shows that profit margins for farms using organic techniques are higher, while the environmental costs are significantly lower.
This new report shows the enormous cost to the environment of industrial farming. It shows that for a genuinely sustainable future, policymakers must take heed of calls for a move away from intensification.
Keeping animals in confinement and rearing them on grain from chemical-soaked monocultures really needs to be a thing of the past if we are to meet the challenge of feeding a growing population. This startling new report released by the UN FAO demands to not only be read, but acted upon.