Organic Consumers Association

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Cook Organic not the Planet Campaign

Is Your Food Cooking the Planet? By Ronnie Cummins

For Related Articles and More Information, Please Visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center Page and our Organic Transitions Page.

Global warming. Climate change. You'd rather not think about it, right? It's too big. You're just one person. A person who has to heat your house after all. And probably drive your car to work. What can you do?

Overwhelmed by the scope and complexity of climate change, many of us choose to live our daily lives in denial. Hoping that some yet-to-be-discovered technology will come to the rescue. Before it's too late.

But what if the solution lies in old technology, in time-tested traditional practices? And what if we could help bring these traditional practices back? Simply by making different food choices?

We can. Because as it turns out, the worst offender when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. isn't all those SUVs on the road. It isn't all those factories spewing smoke. It isn't even Big Oil and Big Gas.

The single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in this country is Big Food. Our modern energy-, chemical- and GMO-intensive industrial food and farming systems are the major cause of man-made global warming.

That means the fastest route to averting a climate disaster is to reform our current food production methods. How do we do that? By changing the way we eat.

Scientists concluded that industrial farming is the biggest contributor to global warming by analyzing the statistics from several different perspectives. First, by taking a more inclusive look at the scientific data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions -- not just carbon dioxide (CO2), but also methane and nitrous oxide. Next, by doing a full accounting of the fossil fuel consumption and emissions of the entire industrial food and farming cycle, including inputs (chemical fertilizers), equipment, production, processing, distribution, heating, cooling and waste. And finally, by factoring in the indirect impacts of contemporary agriculture, which include deforestation and wetlands destruction.

When you add it all up, the picture is clear: Contemporary agriculture is burning up our planet. And factory farms, or in industry parlance, Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are at the heart of today's food and farming system.

CAFOs contribute directly to global warming by releasing vast amounts of GHG into the atmosphere--more than the entire global transportation industry. According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of all human-induced GHG, including 37 percent of methane emissions and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions. The Worldwatch Institute says livestock emissions account for 51 percent of GHG.   
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