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Technology and science at the service of global food

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Every human gesture, from the simplest behaviors associated with our consumption patterns to the production of goods and services, involves the emission of carbon dioxide2 or other greenhouse gases (GHG).

Obviously, the primary activity of food production involves a share of emissions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, from a historical course perspective, the contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions of anthropogenic origin derived from agri-food systems It has declined in the past twenty yearsincreasing from 38% in 2000 to 31% in 2020. In fact, globally per capita emissions related to food systems by nearly a third from the levels recorded in 2000, amounting to 2 tons of carbon dioxide2 Opposite.

This is a correct decrease in absolute terms, thanks to the efforts of the food industry to reduce its footprint and its consumption at all levels, and in relative terms, taking into account the continuous increase in the world population which has increased from 6.1 billion in 2000 to 7.8 in 2020: this means that The food sector has been able to feed an additional 1.7 billion people in 20 years, while reducing the impacts at the same time. Moreover, the agri-food sector is the only sector that has shown a consistent decline in per capita emissions when compared to the exponential growth of greenhouse gas emissions from other major human activities that depend on Fossil fuelssuch as the manufacturing industry – chemical in particular – and the residential sector, electricity production and transport.

Compared to the 31% mentioned above, animal supply chains as a whole (cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep and goats) are responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. However, thanks to the special efficiency of the animal husbandry systems adopted in the European Union, this percentage in this geographical area is halved compared to the world average and equals about 7%, and it is more efficient in Italy where, according to the latest Ispra data, it is about 5.6%. .

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Almost half of these emissions consist of methane, which is derived primarily from the intestinal fermentation of ruminants. Impacts that can be mitigated by improving agricultural and animal practices. Advanced livestock systems are able to play an active and positive role in reducing carbon dioxide2 In the atmosphere, it combines production efficiency with animal care. Areas that show promising margins for improvement are carbon sequestration (so-called “carbon farming”), regenerative agriculture, use, for example for ruminants, of food additives such as tannins, blioflovanoids and algae to reduce emissions, production of biogas and biomethane from agricultural and industrial biomass .

Production efficiency is the main lever available to mitigate the impacts. This is also evidenced by the project results Live Beef Carbon, coordinator for Italy by the Center for Animal Husbandry and Aquaculture of the CREA Institute. A project aimed at formulating measures to reduce the carbon footprint of meat farms in France, Ireland, Italy and Spain and lasted 6 years (January 2016 – December 2021), which recorded important results in terms of reducing carbon traces (carbon footprint) of the produced meat, which highlights the key role played by improving production performance in reducing emissions intensity.

The measures that proved most effective in the area of ​​mitigation were, for example, improving animal rations, using animal manure for renewable energy production, and managing animal manure to fertilize fields. In Italy, for example, it was possible to cut emissions by an average of 10% in the first three years, with a peak of 15% when several mitigation strategies were adopted simultaneously.

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