Food policy to stop climate change and health crises

Further news breaking on 12 March 2019: Changing rainfall patterns could threaten major crops worldwide in just 20 years, study warns Climate change is likely to alter rainfall patterns in some of the world’s most important food crop growing areas over the next 20 years, a new study says, reports Press Association. The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences, suggests that by 2040, up to 14% of land dedicated to wheat, maize, rice and soy will be permanently drier than in 1986-2005, while 31% will be wetter. The rapid speed of the change means that many farmers are going to have to act quickly to adapt, the authors warn, according to Press Association.

Emergence of robust precipitation changes across crop production areas in the 21st century Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Any amount of future climate change could alter rainfall patterns in the world’s major crop-growing regions, research finds. Using modelling, the research team investigated how regional rainfall is likely to change in parts of the world important for crop cultivation under different levels of warming. The research finds that patterns of increased precipitation in high latitudes, including areas in North America and Europe, could emerge as early as the 2020s, or have already emerged. Patterns of decreased precipitation in areas such as the Mediterranean, western Mexico, Chile, South Africa, and Australia could emerge by midcentury, the researchers add.

Air temperature optima of vegetation productivity across global biomes, Nature Ecology & Evolution, A study maps the optimum temperature for maximum plant productivity (or growth) across the globe. The researchers say that tropical forests, in particular, are already at their optimum growing temperature and are likely to fall below optimum productivity “under all scenarios of future climate”. This suggests that there could be “a limited safe operating space for these ecosystems under future warming”.

Robust abatement pathways to tolerable climate futures require immediate global action Letter | Published: 11 March 2019 A study uses a Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy (DICE) model to “distangle” the potential impact of policies for climate change action from “uncertainties” in the Earth’s natural system. “Despite wide-ranging [Earth system] uncertainties, the growth rate of global abatement (a societal choice) is the primary driver of long-term warming,” the authors say. “It is not a question of whether we can limit warming but whether we choose to do so.”

By Georgina Gustin, 

An influential group of investors has added its voice to a growing chorus of health professionals and scientists who are calling for radical changes to agriculture and food consumption in an effort to fight climate change, malnutrition and obesity.

A handful of new reports emphasize that climate change and the world’s worsening health are urgent, intertwined crises. One of them calls for an international treaty to address the problem.

scientific study published last month also shows how “food production shocks” linked to climate change have been rising globally, putting food security at risk. The researchers identified nearly 230 food production shocks, in 134 countries, from 1961 to 2013, and said the frequency of crop production shocks driven by extreme weather had been increasing steadily. Food shocks threaten to destabilize the global food supply and drive up global hunger rates, which have started to tick up in recent years.

“Land-based crop and livestock production are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events such as drought, which are expected to become more frequent and intense with climate change,” said Richard Cottrell of the University of Tasmania, the report’s lead author.

The drumbeat for change in food and nutrition gained volume this month with the release of a detailed plan by an international commission organized by the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. The plan urges a major overhaul in food production and diets, or what one of the report’s authors called “nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.”

A second Lancet-convened commission, this one focused on obesity, issued a report on Sunday arguing for an international treaty to address global diets and climate change, similar to a landmark 2005 global treaty that aimed to cut tobacco use.

Then on Tuesday, 80 investor groups representing more than $6.5 trillion in assets called on six of the largest fast food companies, including McDonald’s and the corporate owners of KFC and Pizza Hut, to set targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from their meat and dairy supply chains.

Food production, globally, is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions, largely from meat and dairy production. Nearly 85 million Americans—or nearly a third of the population—eat at a fast food restaurant on any given day. But, as the Lancet report on obesity notes, demand for convenience and protein are rising in the developing world, too.

“This is the largest-emitting sector that doesn’t have a low-carbon plan,” said Brooke Barton, a senior director with Ceres, the sustainability group that co-organized the investor campaign. “While some companies in some high-emitting industries, like the electric power industry, are starting to set goals and transform their business models in line with the Paris climate agreement, the meat and dairy industry is digging in its hooves.”


The Lancet Commission on Obesity, made up of more than 40 experts from 14 countries, says that, while its original mandate was to address obesity, it reframed its mission to address the pandemics of obesity, malnutrition and climate change—or what it called “the triple-burden challenges of The Global Syndemic.”

“We decided we have to look at this with a systems approach. It’s not people’s fault,” said Vivica Kraak, a professor of food and nutrition policy at Virginia Tech who contributed to the report. “The environments they live in foster overconsumption and unsustainable choices.”

The authors say that malnutrition, obesity and other diet-related conditions are the leading cause of poor health globally and that climate change will amplify them.

“It’s about poor diet quality whether you’re in a high-income country or a low-income country. And with climate change, you have greenhouse gas emissions with animal agriculture, but we also have a lot of food waste,” Kraak said. “We really need to radically change the food system and the way we eat. It’s all connected.”

The report says that obesity is increasing in every region of the world largely because “the systemic and institutional drivers of obesity remain largely unabated” and are being driven by “powerful commercial interests.”

As with climate change, the commission says, “the enormous health and economic burdens caused by obesity are not seen as urgent enough to generate the public demand or political will to implement the recommendations of expert bodies for effective action.” But, it says, the dangers are as critical.


In the Lancet’s other recent report on climate change and diet, the EAT-Lancet Commission called for a “comprehensive shift” in global diets, including cutting meat consumption roughly in half, and for governments to factor sustainability into their dietary guidance.

This week’s report underscores the urgency of that guidance and points out how industry pressure has undermined the process.

“For example, when the USA and Australia tried to include sustainability in their national dietary guidelines, vested interests from food industries leaned heavily on their governments to eliminate sustainability from the terms of reference,” the report says.

“Reducing the consumption of red meat is a cornerstone for healthy, sustainable diets,” the report adds, “but achieving this will be formidable given the current supply and demand dynamics. Western-style fast foods might also be part of aspirational diets for some populations in low-income countries.”


Yen-Hsun Tseng, Swomitra K. Mohanty, John D. McLennan, Leonard F. Pease. Algal lipid extraction using confined impinging jet mixersChemical Engineering Science: X, 2019; 1: 100002 DOI: 10.1016/j.cesx.2018.100002ago

University of Utah. “Engineers develop fast method to convert algae to biocrude.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2019. <>

Biofuel experts have long sought a more economically-viable way to turn algae into biocrude oil to power vehicles, ships and even jets. University of Utah researchers believe they have found an answer. They have developed an unusually rapid method to deliver cost-effective algal biocrude in large quantities using a specially-designed jet mixer.

Packed inside the microorganisms growing in ponds, lakes and rivers are lipids, which are fatty acid molecules containing oil that can be extracted to power diesel engines. When extracted the lipids are called biocrude. That makes organisms such as microalgae an attractive form of biomass, organic matter that can be used as a sustainable fuel source. These lipids are also found in a variety of other single-cell organisms such as yeasts used in cheese processing. But the problem with using algae for biomass has always been the amount of energy it takes to pull the lipids or biocrude from the watery plants. Under current methods, it takes more energy to turn algae into biocrude than the amount of energy you get back out of it.

A team of University of Utah chemical engineers have developed a new kind of jet mixer that extracts the lipids with much less energy than the older extraction method, a key discovery that now puts this form of energy closer to becoming a viable, cost-effective alternative fuel. The new mixer is fast, too, extracting lipids in seconds.

The team’s results were published in a new peer-reviewed journal, Chemical Engineering Science X. The article, “Algal Lipid Extraction Using Confined Impinging Jet Mixers,” can be downloaded here.

“The key piece here is trying to get energy parity. We’re not there yet, but this is a really important step toward accomplishing it,” says Dr. Leonard Pease, a co-author of the paper. “We have removed a significant development barrier to make algal biofuel production more efficient and smarter. Our method puts us much closer to creating biofuels energy parity than we were before.”

Right now, in order to extract the oil-rich lipids from the algae, scientists have to pull the water from the algae first, leaving either a slurry or dry powder of the biomass. That is the most energy-intensive part of the process. That residue is then mixed with a solvent where the lipids are separated from the biomass. What’s left is a precursor, the biocrude, used to produce algae-based biofuel. That fuel is then mixed with diesel fuel to power long-haul trucks, tractors and other large diesel-powered machinery. But because it requires so much energy to extract the water from the plants at the beginning of the process, turning algae into biofuel has thus far not been a practical, efficient or economical process.

“There have been many laudable research efforts to advance algal biofuel, but nothing has yet produced a price point capable of attracting commercial development. Our designs may change that equation and put algal biofuel back in play,” says University of Utah chemical engineering assistant professor Swomitra “Bobby” Mohanty, a co-author on the paper. Other co-authors are former U chemical engineering doctoral student Yen-Hsun “Robert” Tseng and U chemical engineering associate professor John McLennan.

The team has created a new mixing extractor, a reactor that shoots jets of the solvent at jets of algae, creating a localized turbulence in which the lipids “jump” a short distance into the stream of solvent. The solvent then is taken out and can be recycled to be used again in the process. “Our designs ensure you don’t have to expend all that energy in drying the algae and are much more rapid than competing technologies,” notes Mohanty.

This technology could also be applied beyond algae and include a variety of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, or any microbial-derived oil, says Mohanty.

In 2017, about 5 percent of total primary energy use in the United States came from biomass, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Other forms of biomass include burning wood for electricity, ethanol that is made from crops such as corn and sugar cane, and food and yard waste in garbage that is converted to biogas. The benefit of algae is that it can be grown in ponds, raceways or custom-designed bioreactors and then harvested to produce an abundance of fuel. Growing algae in such mass quantities also could positively affect the atmosphere by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.

“This is game-changing,” Pease says of their work on algae research. “The breakthrough technologies we are creating could drive a revolution in algae and other cell-derived biofuels development. The dream may soon be within reach.”

Yen-Hsun Tseng, Swomitra K. Mohanty, John D. McLennan, Leonard F. Pease. Algal lipid extraction using confined impinging jet mixersChemical Engineering Science: X, 2019; 1: 100002 DOI: 10.1016/j.cesx.2018.100002ago

University of Utah. “Engineers develop fast method to convert algae to biocrude.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2019. <>