The next few years could be pivotal for sustainable food in the realms of organic farming, sustainable fishing and plant based meat alternatives.
Americans love to eat. Each person devours, on average, 1,996 lbs – or nearly a ton – of food per year. The enormous effort to satisfy that big appetite creates significant environmental impacts, from fertilizers leaching into our water supplies and overfishing to massive die-offs of bees from pesticides and habitat loss.
Our eating habits come with tremendous social costs, too. More than 70% of the adults in the US and about a third of children are overweight. The medical cost of treating people who are grossly overweight, or obese, reached $147bn within the past decade.
Increasingly, businesses from farms to retailers are under pressure to reduce the environmental and social impact of growing produce and processed food. Here are five challenges we face in 2017 and beyond.
Illegal bounty from the sea
Americans love seafood, consuming nearly 5bn lbs of it in 2015 and importing as much as 90% of the edible sea creatures they buy. Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon are the top choices. While this can create great economic opportunities, it also leads to poaching, slavery and other problems.
The good news is consumers are demanding more sustainably caught and produced seafood than ever before, prompting big retailers such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Whole Foods to sell fish that’s been sustainably caught. These changes in preference have forced fishing fleets and seafood wholesalers to change how they catch fish, reduce bycatch and treat laborers fairly.
In the tuna-rich waters off Palau, for example, the Nature Conservancy has dispatched scientists to show fishermen the benefit of using fishing hooks that can reduce catching unwanted or protected species. Palau, Soloman Islands and Asian countries also plan to experiment with using artificial intelligence to identify illegal catch.
Coming up with alternatives to conventional fish food is another major industry wide effort to preserve a healthy fish population. Fish farming is a major source of seafood – the World Bank predicts that nearly two-thirds of the fish consumed by 2030 will be raised rather than wild caught. Fish farms usually use feed made with wild-caught fish. They will also see more options for feed that’s made with insects like black soldier flies.