Industrialized farming costs the environment $3trn a year — Trucost research for UN food body

A “first step” in highlighting costs of unsustainable food production practices

Industrialized farming practices cost the environment some $3.33trn (€2.9trn) per year, according to new research commissioned by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from environmental consultants Trucost.

The study is being seen as a “first step” in highlighting the costs to society of unsustainable food production practices – while offering a way to assess alternative approaches to farming “that make environmental and economic sense”. The issue is increasingly on the agenda of investors, as demonstrated for example by private equity executive Jeremy Coller’s FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) initiative.

The research comes a year after the Committee on World Food Security, a UN committee hosted by the FAO, launched the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems.

“Unveiling the hidden costs of mainstream agriculture is necessary to convince decision-makers that investing in conversion to sustainable food and agriculture systems is a much cheaper option than current expenditures for environmental mitigation and public health,” said Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, the FAO’s Senior Natural Resources Officer.The research identifies a range of more sustainable farming practices that could cut the cost of environmental impacts and help countries handle the challenge of increasing food production for growing populations.

Trucost highlights the fact that the environmental costs of rice farming in India, for example, could be cut by 25% using a system of rice intensification.

The FAO commissioned Trucost to calculate the monetary value of environmental impacts to raise awareness about the risks to business and society. The research covers farming practices in over 40 countries accounting for 80% of production of commodity crops maize, rice, soybean and wheat) and four livestock products including beef, cows’ milk, pork and poultry.

The FAO also asked Trucost to put a financial value on the environmental benefits of a range of alternative farming practices through four case studies.

“Our research for the FAO shows how alternative approaches to agriculture can benefit farmers and the environment, ensuring sustainable and affordable food supplies for all,” said Trucost CEO Richard Mattison. Link