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We hear a lot about the importance of eating organic and eating local, but left out of the conversation are the growing methods of some of our staple foods, and how much forest land has been lost to grow (or raise) products like beef, rice, and palm oil-the latter of which is in more foods than you might realize.
When agricultural land becomes unproductive (usually after about three years), it is often cheaper to clear new land than to fertilize it or replenish nutrients that were drained from the soil. Monocrop agriculture is a major factor in how modern food production has become unsustainable, but coffee and banana production both serve as examples of smooth, successful transitions. They have been drivers of deforestation in the past, but more recently farmers have been using more intercropping and forest cover (ever heard of shade-grown coffee?), which helps to prevent deforestation and preserve biodiversity. This is surely due in no small part to activist campaigns waged in recent years to educate consumers and to generate change in the supply chains.
This is a quick look at common foods contributing the most to deforestation-and as a result, to climate change-around the world.
Beef is by far the biggest contributor to deforestation, both because of its direct role in forest clearing as well as the land converted for cattle feed, according to Rhett Butler of Mongabay, a kickass site for environmental reporting around the world. Despite efforts to combat deforestation through illegal logging, the Amazon is actually losing forest cover faster than ever, largely due to the cattle industry, which has been growing in Brazil by an average of 3 million head per year since 1974.
Palm oil production is not only one of the greatest drivers of deforestation-destroying, along with old-growth trees, crucial habitat for the endangered orangutan and Sumatran tiger-it is also one of the world's largest sources of greenhouse gases. One of the more widely reported environmental disasters, deforestation for palm oil plantations has led Indonesia to be ranked the third-largest contributor to climate change. And it's hard to avoid: not only will you notice the ubiquity of palm oil once you start looking, in everything from cookies to bread to baby food, it's often disguised on labels as the generic 'vegetable oil.'
Greenpeace / Daniel Beltra
Covering 11 million hectares of South America, soy is another leading driver of deforestation-not because of some sudden spike in demand by tofu-consuming humans, but because it is used mainly as feed for chickens, cows, and pigs in Europe. Much of the deforestation affiliated with soy is indirect: while soy farmers have done some of the clearing, it's more often that soy is grown on already-cleared land and drives ranchers deeper into the forest.
Much of Asia's forest land has been converted to rice paddies, not only leading to the universal effects of deforestation such as habitat loss and threatened biodiversity, but these fields are also the largest source of methane produced from human activity. Rice fields emit between 50 and 100 million tons of methane each year, though that amount could be reduced with changes in farming methods such as draining the fields more often.
An estimated 38 percent of the world's mangrove deforestation is linked to shrimp production. Commercial shrimp farms have been developed in coastal regions from southeast Asia to Africa and often displace natural low-lying mangrove forest ecosystems, which are generally regarded as not ecologically important, but which actually protect coastal regions from erosion and storm damage, as well as serve as a natural space for spawning and hatchery-directly and adversely affecting the very industry that is taking their place.
U.S. subsidies of the ethanol industry have driven corn production through the roof, both in the U.S. and in the Amazon. While that sparked discussions in the U.S. about prices of corn and the ethics of growing food for fuel rather than-well, food, it's also driving deforestation that counteracts any environmental benefits that result from using biofuels instead of fossil fuels.
AP Photo/Andre Penner
Like corn, sugarcane has expanded rapidly in the last few years for ethanol production. Seen as a more efficient source of biofuel than corn, sugarcane has been pushed hard in Brazil, which has gained a reputation as the first sustainable biofuels economy. How sustainable is it, though, if the world's largest rainforest is destroyed in the process?
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.