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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Organic food industry: Is it enough?

Sustainability of the food industry is a hot topic right now. After being largely ignored for years, the White House has now vowed to encourage a more nutritious and sustainable food supply. This is encouraging news for advocates of organic and locally grown food. But are 'organic' and 'locally grown' food sustainable answers to feeding our global population?

In the same way that carbon emissions are a common measure for tackling climate change, what measure should the food industry use to ensure that micro-efforts will be sustainable if replicated on a macro-basis.

I noticed a very interesting factoid in 'Lets Grow America' in the March/April issue of Mother Jones. The article is a fascinating illustration of the complexity of sustainability in just one industry sector. The item that caught my attention states, "In 1940 one calorie of energy produced 2.3 calories of food. Today it takes 10 calories of energy to produce each calorie of food sold at supermarkets."

My initial instinct is that if it takes more calories to create the product than the product provides then it is inherently not sustainable. That may not be the case if an unlimited supply of a renewable energy source is one of the inputs. But this metric still intrigues me.

Do you know what the target should be or other comparable measures that you would like to share?

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