Consumers challenged to re-think sustainable agriculture

Jon Condon, 22/06/2011


Australian consumers have been challenged to change their thinking about what they see as sustainable sources of food.

As the world struggles to feed more than nine billion mouths by 2050, visiting US sustainability expert Dr Roger Cady told a conference in Sydney this week that relieving hunger and ensuring food security were inextricably linked to adoption of new technology.

Quoting from FAO reports, he said global food production would have to double by 2050 and 70 percent of the increase in production would come from new technology due to limitations in land and natural resource availability.

Dr Roger CadyDr Cady was speaking at a conference held by the Australian agricultural ‘think-tank’, the Australian Farm Institute, titled “Can agriculture also be consumer friendly?”

He told delegates that consumers were being ‘greenwashed’ into thinking that certain types of technology-intensive agriculture were not environmentally friendly.

“Consumers are constantly being misled about the impact of some types of agriculture, and this is often biasing their food choices,” he said.

Dr Cady told conference it was easy to be swayed by impressions and intuition, without considering the science, productive efficiency, and environmental impact per unit of output.

“Intensive agriculture is actually significantly more sustainable than most people are aware,” he said.

“Today’s technology-aided intensive agriculture is far more environmentally sustainable than historical agriculture because fewer resources, less water, and less land are used with less greenhouse gases produced per unit of food grown than by historical farming methods.”

Brett StewartAnother speaker, Brett Stuart, from the Denver-based US company Global AgriTrends, told the conference that most consumers did not understand the ‘social’ implications of their perceived ‘socially-responsible’ purchasing.

“Organic, locally-grown, free-range, and other anti-technology production methods typically increase the use of water and feed resources, and can lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions,” Mr Stewart said.

He said it was actually socially-irresponsible to impose choice-restrictions on producers that then lead to higher food costs, felt mainly in the third world.

“Because lower technology production is less efficient per unit of output, it inevitably contributes to the record food prices we’ve seen this year, pushing millions into food-insecurity.”

“Utilising technology effectively will mean that while we need to double agricultural production by 2050, we will only occupy 13pc more land to do it than was used in 2008,” he said.


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