Recently, a number of questions have been asked about the contents of our food, be it the horsemeat scandal in Europe or prevalence of persistent organic pollutants.
Often these have been about the introduction of un(mis)labelled products or harmful foreign substances. This has called for tougher legislation and security of production processes, which are hopefully being implemented.
However that is not all we should be worrying about. We should also consider what has been the cost in the course of production of ‘good’ food as well.
How has the environment fared where one’s breakfast cereal was grown, meat reared or fish harvested?
Often the cost in terms of biodiversity (not considered by many a consumer) can be very steep.
One could consider forests cut to prepare the farmland, many innocent pollinator species killed by applied pesticides or fish dumped back because they don’t meet ‘quality’ criteria?
All these erode the biodiversity, which actually had enabled the food being made available in the first place.
Biodiversity, for example the diversity of life in our planet has a number of important roles for its inhabitants. This could be through direct provision of resource materials as well as through ecosystem services, which are often mediated by different forms of life.
Ecosystem services could include support and regulation of environmental processes eg, nutrient cycling, crop pollination. Sadly, these benefits are often difficult to monetise and often are ignored by far removed consumers and even producers. Watch this talk by Pavan Sukhdev: What is the price of nature?
Glimmer of hope
Recently economic assessment tools (and decision making models) that can correctly and clearly account ecosystem services have been developed. This coupled with increased environmental awareness of business/government/public has resulted in improved appreciation of the value of ecosystem services.
There have been many examples of initiatives that attempt to value ecosystems services.
From the famous applied example of the Catskills Watershed Corporation supplying New York City’s water, to smaller initiatives aimed on Biodiversity and Wine Initiative’s of South Africa; to policies integrated within many government and international bodies (eg, EU, IPBES).
The key theme in these is the need for solutions to address economic, social and environmental sustainability aspects. That will ensure, at the very least our ‘good’ food wouldn’t be tainted with the ‘guilt’ of having destroyed biodiversity.