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THE 10 BEST THINGS THAT HAPPENED FOR OUR FOOD SYSTEM IN 2019

This year felt harder than most in terms of having to embrace bad news and stay motivated to keep working towards creating a sustainable future. But we’ve pretty much made it through the year and we would be admitting defeat if we let ourselves believe that this year had no good news to celebrate. In the spirit of hope and joy, and all those other warm-and-fuzzy feelings that the holidays bring, we wanted to share some positive stories that came out of 2019. If we’ve missed some (which we most definitely have), please write them in a comment below!

 

1- Canada launched a nation-wide strategy to eliminate plastic waste

 

In June of this year, Environmental Ministers approved the first phase of the Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste (1). This first phrase outlines how the government will support the implementation of the strategy’s focus areas: prevention, value recovery and clean-up (2).

 

The launch of this strategy will help address the 8 million tonnes of plastic that ends up in our oceans every year, while also increasing recycling rates and reducing the production of single-use plastic. The Government aims to improve these focus areas through adopting a circular economy framework (3). If you aren’t yet familiar with the term ‘circular economy’ you can check out our other blog about it here!

 

2- South Korea’s rate of recycling for food waste improved from 2% to 95%

 

South Korea used to be one of the biggest contributors to food waste, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. Today, the country is leading the way in food waste management by recycling the vast majority by turning it into fertilizer, biogas, or animal feed (4). South Korea’s success has been attributed to their city-wide disposal bins and their “pay-as-you-recycle” scheme which funds the program (5).

 

3- The United States banned twelve pesticides containing an ingredient found dangerous for bees

 

The chemical, known as Neonicotiniods, is now illegal to use in the United States for its detrimental impacts on the health of bees (6). First created in the 1990s, this pesticide was introduced as a way to defend crops from damage done by particular insects, however it proved to not discriminate against honey bees (7). Honey bees, as essential components to agriculture as natural pollinators, were found to be experiencing impaired nervous system functions and dying at higher rates (8). With the US Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to ban the chemical, scientists and farmers alike are hopeful that honey bee populations will bounce back in the near future.

 

4- Peru signed an agreement to ensure sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production

 

Joining Columbia, as the only other South American country to make such a commitment, the Peruvian government agreed to end deforestation associated with palm oil production by 2021 (9). The agreement was made in collaboration with various parties. These parties included the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers’ Association (JUNPALMA), conservation groups, and local farmers (10). With palm oil output doubling since 2001, this policy change will be crucial in conserving Peru’s natural landscape (11).

 

5- Canada revised the 1868 Fisheries Act to protect fish and other marine populations

 

The updated Fisheries Act has two key improvements: One, for fish populations that are depleting, it is now required by law to make rebuilding plans (12). Second, the import and export of shark fins in Canada is now illegal (13). 

 

Am I the only one that is surprised that these two laws weren’t already in place years ago??

 

The Government of Canada sees the revision of the act as a “victory for the environment, independent fishers, and all Canadians today” as it aims to restore the health of marine habitats while ensuring economic stability (14).

 

6- Governments across the world declared a climate emergency

 

This one doesn’t sound like good news, I know, but it does have a silver lining. When a government declares a climate emergency, it is publicly affirming that it acknowledges the seriousness of climate change and that greater measures need to be taken to mitigate it. In 2019, the European Parliament, representing 28 member states, declared a climate emergency (16). Here in Canada, “460 municipal, provincial, territorial and federal governments…have declared a Climate Emergency” (17). Climate change impacts every industry, but our food system is particularly vulnerable to it since agriculture relies so heavily on weather patterns and stable environmental conditions.

 

7- Plant-based alternatives grew in popularity and accessibility throughout food industry

 

From fast-food businesses like A&W to grocery stores like SPUD.ca, plant-based meat alternatives are popping up everywhere and people are ecstatic about it! Even if you are a meat eating advocate, this news should still be celebrated as it indicates that the food industry is better meeting the needs of people with differing dietary needs and preferences that previously were not being met. In other words, it is creating a more inclusive food system, from a dietary perspective! Further, by food providers offering more tasteful meat alternatives, it provides those who are interested in lowering their meat consumption for environmental reasons or otherwise, with more opportunities to do so.

 

8- Canada released its first-ever national food policy aimed at building a healthier and more sustainable food system

 

After two years of public consultations, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada launched the first Food Policy for Canada, backed by a $134 million budget (18). The policy aims to address three main areas: 

  • Help alleviate the approximate one million Canadian households that are food insecure
  • Improve the health of almost ⅔ of Canadian adults that are overweight or obese
  • Reduce the amount of food that is wasted in Canada, which makes up almost ⅓ of food produced

 

By addressing these three areas, Canada will effectively work towards achieving four of the UN Sustainable Development goals, while improving the health of all Canadians and reducing our food system’s environmental impact.

 

9- Scientists from the United States discovered that feeding cows seaweed reduces their production of greenhouse gas emissions

 

Cows are gassy creatures! In fact, cows contribute to climate change through their methane-producing burps. Methane is a gas that is thirty times more potent than carbon (19). By adding algae into cow’s feed, cow’s digestive processes are altered in a way that reduces the amount of methane being produced by 99%. Not only is this news good for the environment, but it also could dramatically support farmers around the world that must meet emission reduction targets. 

 

10- Trash was collected for recycling from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch for the first time in history

 

After many rounds of trial and error, an invention created by a nonprofit called the Ocean Cleanup, is finally collecting and removing plastic from the ocean (20)! To add to this exciting news, the technology is working better than expected. Since improvements have been made, the technology is effectively collecting microplastics in addition to large pieces of plastics, which the inventors did not assume the technology would be able to do (21). 

 

This technology will improve the health our all marine habitats, which is good news for seafood lovers! 

 

Sources:

  1. 1) “Zero plastic waste: Canada’s actions.” Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/pollution-waste-management/zero-plastic-waste/canada-action.html.
  2. 2) Ibid.
  3. 3) “Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste.” Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 2018. https://www.ccme.ca/files/Resources/waste/plastics/STRATEGY%20ON%20ZERO%20PLASTIC%20WASTE.pdf.
  4. 4) Broom, Douglas.“South Korea once recycled 2% of its food waste. Now it recycles 95%.” World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/04/south-korea-recycling-food-waste/.
  5. 5) Ibid.
  6. 6) Bendix, Aria. “The US just abnned 12 pestiicides that are like nicotine for bees. Here’s how dangerous they are. “ Business Insider. May 30, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/epa-banned-pesticides-killing-bees-2019-5
  7. 7) “Pollinator network @ Cornell.” Cornell University. https://pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/threats-wild-and-managed-bees/pesticides/neonicotinoids/
  8. 8) Bendix, Aria. “The US just abnned 12 pestiicides that are like nicotine for bees. Here’s how dangerous they are. “ Business Insider. May 30, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/epa-banned-pesticides-killing-bees-2019-5
  9. 9) Peru to End Palm Oil Driven Deforestation by 2021. Ecowatch. August 23, 2019. https://www.ecowatch.com/palm-oil-deforestation-peru-2639993403.html
  10. 10) Ibid.
  11. 11) Furumo, Paul Richard, and T. Mitchell Aide. “Characterizing commercial oil palm expansion in Latin America: land use change and trade.” Environmental Research Letters 12.2 (2017): 024008.
  12. 12) Canada Passes Most Progressive Fishery Act Yet, Requiring the Rebuilding of Fish Populations”. Good News Network. July 22, 2019. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/canada-passes-most-progressive-fishery-act-to-rebuild-fish-populations/
  13. 13) Ibid.
  14. 14) Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “A stronger, modernized Fisheries Act becomes law.” Government of Canada. June 21, 2019. https://www.canada.ca/en/fisheries-oceans/news/2019/06/a-stronger-modernized-fisheries-act-becomes-law.html.
  15. 15) Sutherland, Scott. “What is a Climate Emergency, and what does it mean?” The Weather Network. October 17th, 2019. https://www.theweathernetwork.com/ca/news/article/toronto-declares-climate-emergency-what-does-this-mean.
  16. 16) “Climate emergency declaration.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_emergency_declaration#List_of_countries_and_dependencies
  17. 17) Sutherland, Scott. “What is a Climate Emergency, and what does it mean?” The Weather Network. October 17th, 2019. https://www.theweathernetwork.com/ca/news/article/toronto-declares-climate-emergency-what-does-this-mean
  18. 18) Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Food Policy for Canada. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/aafc-aac/documents/20190614-en.pdf.
  19. 19) Hegarty, R. S., et al. “Cattle selected for lower residual feed intake have reduced daily methane production.” Journal of animal science 85.6 (2007): 1479-1486.
    “A more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane emissions will leap as Earth warms.” ScienceDaily. March 27, 2014. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140327111724.htm
  20. 20) Madden, Duncan. “Ocean Cleanup Project Successfully Catches First Plastic From Great Plastic Garbage Patch.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/duncanmadden/2019/10/03/ocean-cleanup-project-successfully-catches-first-plastic-from-great-pacific-garbage-patch/#462765114689
  21. 21) Bendix, Aria. “The massive plastic-cleaning device invented by a 25-year-old is finally catching trash in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” Business Insider. October 2, 2019. https://www.businessinsider.com/ocean-cleanup-catches-plastic-great-pacific-garbage-patch-2019-10

Michelle Austin

Michelle is SPUD's Sustainability Lead. She believes a sustainable food system is the key to creating a environmentally-friendly and just world. You can often find her in the mountains biking, hiking or skiing!

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