11. All states shall incorporate environmental considerations in developing national dietary food guides

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A) Rapporteur: Danny Harvey

A continuous, increasing shift to plant-based diets over time would confer multiple environmental and health benefits, and is a pre-requisite to longterm sustainability, but can only be expected to occur as part of a broader and gradual process of social and environmental enlightenment. Incorporation of environmental consideration in national dietary food guides would lead to a greater emphasis on plant-based foods, in turn influencing dietary decisions and contributing to this long term transition.

B) Rapporteur: Metta Spencer

National food guides are a current manifestation of a discussion that has gone on since prehistoric times, for almost all of us hold strong convictions about what to eat. (The Greek geometer Pythagoras admonished his followers never to eat beans.) For a potentially helpful food guide, see the 2019 Canadian list(1), which recommends: “Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”

This official promotion of plant foods reflects the well-founded new emphasis on the effects of dietary choices on the environment. Such a concise list is all the advice that most people need in order to make responsible food choices. If, however, you want to look more deeply into the grounds for choosing particular foods, you will find a complex set of considerations, not all of which yield compatible recommendations.

Dietary choices have far-reaching impacts on our physical and ecological environment, health, economy, cultural traditions and the use of water, energy, and land. Much depends on the technologies that are used to produce the food and bring it to the dinner table. Fortunately, greater efficiencies are being invented that can enable most producers to conserve all these resources. For example, where a farm’s soil is being blown or washed away, or where its waterways are being polluted and eutrophying from the use of chemical fertilizers, the farmers can simply adopt such innovations as no-till agriculture, biochar, composts, and other organic farming practices. Food producers and retailers can adopt numerous simple, achievable solutions at many phases in the supply chain of their product.

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Footnotes for this article can be seen at the Footnotes 2 page on this website (link will open in a new page).

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An interesting article discussing fruit walls – a pre-greenhouse technology that was used for several centuries (beginning in the 1600s) to grow food in areas where the climate would not otherwise support it. The article additionally discuses how energy intensive agricultural greenhouses are – which is shocking to hear. Plus the website – for Low Tech Magazine – is solar powered – which is interesting. The site’s servers are powered by solar panels and sometimes goes offline while it needs to recharge.

Title: Fruit Walls: Urban Farming in the 1600s
Author: de Decker, Kris
Publication(s): Low Tech Magazine
Date: 24 December 2015
Link: https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/12/fruit-walls-urban-farming.html
Notes:

Article Excerpt:

[Check out the article as it has some interesting diagrams and explanations!]

“We are being told to eat local and seasonal food, either because other crops have been tranported over long distances, or because they are grown in energy-intensive greenhouses. But it wasn’t always like that. From the sixteenth to the twentieth century, urban farmers grew Mediterranean fruits and vegetables as far north as England and the Netherlands, using only renewable energy.

These crops were grown surrounded by massive “fruit walls”, which stored the heat from the sun and released it at night, creating a microclimate that could increase the temperature by more than 10°C (18°F). Later, greenhouses built against the fruit walls further improved yields from solar energy alone.

It was only at the very end of the nineteenth century that the greenhouse turned into a fully glazed and artificially heated building where heat is lost almost instantaneously — the complete opposite of the technology it evolved from

The modern glass greenhouse, often located in temperate climates where winters can be cold, requires massive inputs of energy, mainly for heating but also for artificial lighting and humidity control.

According to the FAO, crops grown in heated greenhouses have energy intensity demands around 10 to 20 times those of the same crops grown in open fields. A heated greenhouse requires around 40 megajoule of energy to grow one kilogram of fresh produce, such as tomatoes and peppers Source — page 15. This makes greenhouse-grown crops as energy-intensive as pork meat (40-45 MJ/kg in the USA).”

Did you know that Canada has several native cacti species? These are all in the Opuntia family of cacti – commonly called prickly pears. Opuntia (prickly pears) are more commonly found in Latin America, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA – though grow throughout the Americas. Indigenous and Latin American peoples have used the species for centuries as sources of dyes, fibers, and food. One common cuisine produced from Opuntia (prickly pears) are Nopales – which are grilled cacti pad. Thornless varieties or cacti pads with the thorns (glochids) removed are preferred for culinary applications. Prior to colonization, cacti were only native to the Americas.

However – attention has been drawn to the species in recent years due to its drought resistance and its potential to become an essential crop in areas presently facing and/or at risk of droughts. The cactis are a source of minerals and additionally store significant quantities of water in arid and desert environments.

Here is a report from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nation around the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Cactus pear deserves a place on the menu: Turning a useful food-of-last-resort into a managed and valuable crop
Author: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Date: 30 November 2017
News Agency: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Link: http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1070166/

Article Excerpt:

“Climate change and the increasing risks of droughts are strong reasons to upgrade the humble cactus to the status of an essential crop in many areas,” said Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

[…]

Cactus pear cultivation is slowly catching on, boosted by growing need for resilience in the face of drought, degraded soils and higher temperatures. It has a long tradition in its native Mexico, where yearly per capita consumption of nopalitos – the tasty young pads, known as cladodes – is 6.4 kilograms. Opuntias are grown on small farms and harvested in the wild on more than 3 million hectares, and increasingly grown using drip irrigation techniques on smallholder farms as a primary or supplemental crop. Today, Brazil is home to more than 500,000 hectares of cactus plantations aimed to provide forage. The plant is also commonly grown on farms in North Africa and Ethiopia’s Tigray region has around 360,000 hectares of which half are managed.

The cactus pear’s ability to thrive in arid and dry climates makes it a key player in food security. Apart from providing food, cactus stores water in its pads, thus providing a botanical well that can provide up to 180 tonnes of water per hectare – enough to sustain five adult cows, a substantial increase over typical rangeland productivity. At times of drought, livestock survival rate has been far higher on farms with cactus plantations.

Projected pressure on water resources in the future make cactus “one of the most prominent crops for the 21st century,” says Ali Nefzaoui, a Tunis-based researcher for ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

Here is a YouTube Video from the UNFAO on the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Opuntia cactus: a useful asset for food security
Author: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Date: 24 November 2017
News Agency: UNFAO (YouTube)
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–0EdaCtR_4

Did you know that Canada has several native cacti species? These are all in the Opuntia family of cacti – commonly called prickly pears. Opuntia (prickly pears) are more commonly found in Latin America, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA – though grow throughout the Americas. Indigenous and Latin American peoples have used the species for centuries as sources of dyes, fibers, and food. One common cuisine produced from Opuntia (prickly pears) are Nopales – which are grilled cacti pad. Thornless varieties or cacti pads with the thorns (glochids) removed are preferred for culinary applications. Prior to colonization, cacti were only native to the Americas.

However – attention has been drawn to the species in recent years due to its drought resistance and its potential to become an essential crop in areas presently facing and/or at risk of droughts. The cactis are a source of minerals and additionally store significant quantities of water in arid and desert environments.

Here is a report from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nation around the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Cactus pear deserves a place on the menu: Turning a useful food-of-last-resort into a managed and valuable crop
Author: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Date: 30 November 2017
News Agency: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Link: http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1070166/

Article Excerpt:

“Climate change and the increasing risks of droughts are strong reasons to upgrade the humble cactus to the status of an essential crop in many areas,” said Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.

[…]

Cactus pear cultivation is slowly catching on, boosted by growing need for resilience in the face of drought, degraded soils and higher temperatures. It has a long tradition in its native Mexico, where yearly per capita consumption of nopalitos – the tasty young pads, known as cladodes – is 6.4 kilograms. Opuntias are grown on small farms and harvested in the wild on more than 3 million hectares, and increasingly grown using drip irrigation techniques on smallholder farms as a primary or supplemental crop. Today, Brazil is home to more than 500,000 hectares of cactus plantations aimed to provide forage. The plant is also commonly grown on farms in North Africa and Ethiopia’s Tigray region has around 360,000 hectares of which half are managed.

The cactus pear’s ability to thrive in arid and dry climates makes it a key player in food security. Apart from providing food, cactus stores water in its pads, thus providing a botanical well that can provide up to 180 tonnes of water per hectare – enough to sustain five adult cows, a substantial increase over typical rangeland productivity. At times of drought, livestock survival rate has been far higher on farms with cactus plantations.

Projected pressure on water resources in the future make cactus “one of the most prominent crops for the 21st century,” says Ali Nefzaoui, a Tunis-based researcher for ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

Here is a YouTube Video from the UNFAO on the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Opuntia cactus: a useful asset for food security
Author: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Date: 24 November 2017
News Agency: UNFAO (YouTube)
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–0EdaCtR_4

For those of you interested in the Ontario context, here is an article and a website about the Opuntia (prickly pears) native to Ontario.

Title: Eastern prickly pear cactus
Author: Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Date: 2009 / 2014
News Agency: Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Link: https://www.ontario.ca/page/eastern-prickly-pear-cactus

Title: Prickly pear cactus at home anywhere
Author: Lee Reich
Date: 5 November 2008
News Agency: The Toronto Star
Link: https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/outdoor_living/2008/11/05/prickly_pear_cactus_at_home_anywhere.html

How is fish farming coming along? Is there any way to do that sustainably and without using antibiotics to prevent fish diseases? It seems to me that ought to be a big solution.

I agree. And I too haven’t heard anything about it lately. Have any of you folks?

In the late nineteenth through mid-twentieth century, the United States (among other nations) used arsenic and lead based pesticides in agricultural contexts. Arsenic was additionally used to make green paint at this time. I wonder what the legacy of this trend is on environmental health. Could this be impacting bees and/or human health? It is unclear to me how long the compounds stay in the soil – though even the subsequent generations of pesticide chemicals were toxic too.

“In the early 20th century – enthusiastically supported by the U.S. government – the most popular pesticides were arsenic compounds. How popular? In the year 1929, almost 30 million pounds of lead arsenate and calcium arsenate were spread across this country’s fields and orchards.

And how enthusiastic was the government? Well, in 1935, on a weekly radio program sponsored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the host suggested that the old-time school rhyme “A is for Apple” be changed as follows:

A is for Arsenate/Lead if you please/Protector of Apples/Against Archenemies.”

“I’m indebted to the work of public health historian, James Whorton, for the information above. A more detailed history of arsenic pesticides can be found in his 1974 book, Before Silent Spring: Pesticides and Public Health in pre-DDT America. As the book title indicates, the arsenate pesticides were edged out in the years after World War II, with the rise of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, like DDT, and organophosphates, like malathion. Even so, arsenate pesticides were not officially bannedin the United States until the 1980s. (And modified arsenic pesticides such as MMA and DMA are still approved for use on cotton). Their story remains a fascinating one. An important one. And one that still affects us. The residues of lead arsenate and calcium arsenate still haunt us, tainting acres of farmland still in use today. Scientists say that a major source of inorganic arsenic in rice from the American southeast is from pesticide residues, seeping from lands once used to raise cotton. During the early 20th century, calcium arsenate was the number one pesticide used by growers to fight the cotton boll weevil. “There’s a legacy of arsenic in some of those fields,” Joshua Hamilton, a senior toxicologist with the Marine Biological Laboratory, told me recently.

Pesticides in our Food

China allegedly continued using arsenic-based pesticides until the early 2000s.

“By the 1920s, U.S. fruit growers were plastering on lead arsenate in such amounts that they were starting to poison their customers. In 1919, the Boston Health Department destroyed arsenic contaminated apples because people were getting sick. The follow year, it had to do it again. In 1919, California health officials discovered with alarm that arsenic residues tended to stick to fruit, meaning the poison was hard to remove. A historyfrom Washington State University notes, however, that until the DDT era farmers continued to use the compounds because they were the most effective. That report also notes that arsenic tends to concentrate in the top layer of the soil and – thankfully – that most food crops don’t take it up in any measurable way.

Rice is an exception to that. Scientists have discovered that the rice plant, because it’s designed to pull silicon out of the soil (it strengthens the grain) does the same with the structurally similar arsenic. Researchers at Dartmouth College’s Toxic Metals Superfund Research program note that rice has been described as a natural arsenic accumulator. Most of this accumulation, of course, is due to naturally occurring arsenic in soil and water. But some is due to residual contamination from arsenate pesticides – and that’s what makes rice from the United States so interesting in this regard.”

How do the big corporate powers get to damage the environment this way?


Pesticides in our Food

Environmental considerations is a rather broad category in this circumstance. I am particularly curious around this in relation to remote areas – such as the South Pacific states. A number of these areas have exceptionally poor nutrition statistics, with high rates of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, etc. From my understanding – many of these issues arose in the post-war era with the increasing urbanization of these islands. Additionally, salinization of fresh water sources – through climate change – results in limited arable land to grow traditional crops like breadfruit and taro. Of course importing food to remote areas will have a significant impact on emissions due to the sheer volume of fuel required to get food to these places in the first place. I The other consideration is that there is often a significant price related to importing food to remote regions – such as the South Pacific – and as such – often trade offs with the type and quality of food. For example – there is often a lack of fresh produce on remote islands – and as such a high rate of processed foods are imported. Is there an opportunity for a global standard when it comes to food and environmental impacts or should it be considered on a case-by-case, region-by-region metric?

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Got milk? Not so much. Health Canada’s new food guide drops ‘milk and alternatives’ and favours plant-based protein
Sharon Kirkey
January 22, 2019
Canada’s new food guide, the first update in more than a decade, recommends fruits and vegetables make up half our plates at any meal. . . Drink water. Go light on the animal products. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fruit juice is liquid sugar, not fruit. Avoid processed foods. Limit booze.. . .

Are we still supposed to eat eggs? They are animal protein, but they don’t create as much greenhouse gas as beef, for example.

Howard, we should ask a vegan. They are presumably setting the standards for the rest of us to follow. I think Bill Clinton is a vegan now, isn’t he? Do vegans eat eggs?

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What’s the future of meat? This vegetarian meal looks delicious but where’s the protein?