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October 12th, 2018 / The Conversation

The global food system has a lot to answer for. It is a major driver of climate change, thanks to everything from deforestation to cows burping. Food production also transforms biodiverse landscapes into fields inhabited by a single crop or animal. It depletes valuable freshwater resources, and even pollutes ecosystems when fertilisers and manure washed into streams and rivers.

The planet can only take so much of this stress. Staying within its environmental limits will require a global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, and improving farming practices and technologies. That’s what a team of international researchers and I found in a new study published in the journal Nature.

Crossing environmental limits
The global food system has fundamentally altered our planet and the resource base humanity depends on. Food production is responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and therefore is a major driver of climate change. Agriculture occupies more than a third of the Earth’s land surface and has led to reductions in forest cover and loss of biodiversity. Farming also uses more than two thirds of all freshwater resources, and the over-application of fertilisers in some regions has led to “dead zones” in oceans. Read more