In the last few decades, the food processing industry has been scaling new heights. This is because businesses are aggressively manufacturing processed foods and we are more aggressively consuming them. Whether you give this credit to their taste or applaud their marketers, the truth is that we alone are responsible for such a huge production of processed foods. In fact, we do not even consider the fact that the production of processed food hurts the environment terribly.
We are satisfying our taste buds at the cost of environmental health. Today, you are going to learn 5 different ways about how the production of processed foods affects the environment.
1. Shortage of Fertile Land
By evaluating the market of processed foods, you will find that the major portion is occupied by animal-based and added sugar products. For the production of animal-based foods, large areas are used to keep the livestock (it can be non-arable) and fertile land is required to grow food for them. On the other hand, the production of sugar crops also occupies a lot of space and evaluation reveals that sugar production is not coming down in the near future. All this leads to the unavailability of fertile land.
2. Loss of Biodiversity
Production of processed foods affects biodiversity in different ways. For example:
- In order to increase the land needed for producing processed foods, deforestation is taking place at a rapid pace. As a result, it destroys the natural flora and fauna.
- To increase livestock production, more and more natural land is being transformed into pastures. Moreover, the areas where livestock graze and all other nearby surroundings become less natural and not fit for agriculture.
- The marine ecosystem is severely affected by the production of processed foods. The fertilizers and pesticides used in sugarcane and beet crops run down into the nearby water bodies during rainfall. This contaminates the water bodies and damages the marine ecosystem.
3. Reduction of Fossil Fuels
All the raw materials needed for manufacturing processed foods are transported from their origin to factories. Then after production, these finished processed foods are transported from factories to distributors, dealers, and then to your nearby stores. During this transportation, a large amount of fuel is burnt, and harmful greenhouse gases are emitted – and greenhouse gas emissions are the main reason behind the depletion of the ozone layer. All this harms the environment and also increases the amount of fossil fuels causing further damage.
4. Water Scarcity
Water is probably the major necessity for producing any kind of food; you require it for growing the crops and feeding the animals as well. A massive increase in the production of processed foods has also directly increased the consumption of water. The production of sugarcane requires a large amount of water in comparison to other crops. Moreover, meat products also require a large quantity of water; firstly, animals need a lot of water to drink and secondly, the crops they eat require water to grow. This critical need for water is often fulfilled by nearby natural water streams but increased use of these natural resources is causing water shortages.
5. Increased Waste
Processed foods come packed. When these foods are consumed, their packaging is of no use and goes into landfills. Any expired packaged food is also sent to landfills. All this increases the amount of waste which further creates problems for the environment. During the decomposition of this waste, methane gas is released. As you know, methane is one of the greenhouse gases and many scientists believe it adversely affects the temperature and climate of our earth. So, it can be concluded that one of the major reasons behind global warming or change in climate is increased waste.
Every step involved in the production of processed foods – production, processing, transporting, storing, distributing, and marketing – impacts the environment in one way or the other. A lack of awareness is behind the increased demand for processed foods, and food manufacturers in order to earn more profits, are avoiding facing the environmental impact of producing their processed foods. Yet, a few mindful decisions made by end consumers like you, can prove to be decisive in saving the environment.
The scenario today is so dire that it is hard to decide whether we are destroying the environment or if it is destroying us! But after thoroughly evaluating our eating practices, we find extensive evidence for damage it has caused to the human race and environment.
One of the biggest culprits is added sugar, the sugar carbohydrates put into food and beverages while they are made. From production till the time it is added to food and beverages, sugar harms the environment in many ways. Here are the 5 crucial side-effects on the environment when producing added sugar foods:
1. Heavy Carbon Footprint
Like every other crop, sugar-producing crops also have carbon footprints. It is estimated that around 145 million tons of sugar is produced globally of which sugarcane contributes 70% and sugar beet 30%. According to research from Brazil (Greenhouse gas emission associated with sugar production in southern Brazil), the equivalent of around 531,314 pounds (241 kgs) of CO2 is released into the atmosphere when producing 1 ton of sugar. Out of this total emission, 44% comes from burning the residue; synthetic fertilizers contribute 20%, and 18% contribution is from fossil fuel combustion. This heavy carbon footprint implies that the production of added sugar foods not only harms the health of consumers but damages the environment as well.
2. Depletion of Soil Nutrients
The intense focus on producing added sugar is depleting nutrients in the soil. The sugarcane and beet crops are cultivated in rotation with other crops, and in order to increase their production, farmers do not hesitate to put artificial fertilizers rich in potassium, phosphorous, and nitrogen into the soil. This aggressive use of commercial fertilizers disturbs the soil’s biochemistry and decreases the number of nutrients in it. In other words, they break the ecological link where nutrients in the soil help to grow the crops. As a result, when other crops are cultivated in the same soil, the produce lacks essential nutrients.
3. Depletion of Fertile Land
Soil erosion is a common problem in regions under beet or sugarcane cultivation. As sugarcane is mostly grown in tropical areas, we find that the rate of soil erosion is more than the rate of soil formation in these regions. Though there are many reasons behind soil erosion, improper irrigation, extensive rainfall, and cultivating sugarcane on slopes are the major ones. Also, removal of soil at the time of harvesting, leads to the loss of fertile soil under the sugarcane crops. All this not only decreases the soil quantity but quality as well.
4. Harms Agro-Ecosystem
Different organisms linked with the sugar crops are often overlooked but they play a major role in maintaining a healthy agro-ecosystem. For example, vertebrates and birds present in sugarcane fields are often considered as pests and steps are taken to control them. But, most of them are beneficial to the crop as they are the natural enemies of other pests and weeds. Moreover, they are an important resource for other wildlife which is a vital part of the food chain.
5. Freshwater Pollution
Beet and sugarcane crops are processed in mills to obtain sugar. In countries with weak environmental laws, when the sugar mills are cleaned annually, a large amount of waste material is released directly into streams. This waste material is usually rich in organic compounds and when decomposed in water streams, it reduces the level of oxygen of the water. This affects the natural biochemical procedures and the marine life present in those water bodies. The most common pollutants present in the waste released from sugar mills are oil, heavy metals, cleaning agents, and grease.
To add to this, the smoke released from sugar mills and cane burning cause massive air pollution. Governments and various trustworthy authorities in different parts of the world are taking crucial steps to reduce the environmental impacts of producing sugar.
But effort directly helps in decreasing the side-effects of producing sugar. Are you wondering what you may do? We just need to make a simple decision – not to consume added sugar. A little effort decreases the demand for sugar which further reduces its production, which negates the side-effects of producing sugar. Note that this is a timely process, the result is guaranteed but patience is required.