Thursday, January 29, 2015

Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow

[The Independent] The world has entered an era of “peak food” production with an array of staples from corn and rice to wheat and chicken slowing in growth – with potentially disastrous consequences for feeding the planet.
New research finds that the supply of 21 staples, such as eggs, meat, vegetables and soybeans is already beginning to run out of momentum, while the global population continues to soar.
Peak chicken was in 2006, while milk and wheat both peaked in 2004 and rice peaked way back in 1988, according to new research from Yale University, Michigan State University and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany.
What makes the report particularly alarming is that so many crucial sources of food have peaked in a relatively short period of history, the researchers said.
“People often talk of substitution. If we run out of one substance we just substitute another. But if multiple resources are running out, we’ve got a problem. Mankind needs to accept that renewable raw materials are reaching their yield limits worldwide,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, of Michigan State University.
“This is a strong reason for integration ... rather than searching for a one-for-one substitution to offset shortages,” he added.
Peak production refers to the point at which the growth in a crop, animal or other food source begins to slow down, rather than the point at which production actually declines. However, it is regarded as a key signal that the momentum is being lost and it is typically only a matter of time before production plateaus and, in some cases, begins to fall – although it is unclear how long the process could take.
“Just nine or 10 plants species feed the world. But we found there’s a peak for all these resources. Even renewable resources won’t last forever,” said Ralf Seppelt, of the Helmholtz Centre.
The research, published in the journal Ecology and Society, finds that 16 of the 21 foods examined reached peak production between 1988 and 2008.
This synchronisation of peak years is all the more worrying because it suggests the whole food system is becoming overwhelmed, making it extremely difficult to resurrect the fortunes of any one foodstuff, let alone all of them, the report suggested. Read More