Global food in a 'farm-to-table' world

Pigs at Randy Spronk's farm.
Pigs at Randy Spronk's farm on Feb. 12, 2016.
Annie Baxter | Marketplace

It has been estimated that by 2050 the world will need to feed more than 9 billion people, requiring at least 70 percent more food than we consume today. That's amid growing concerns over water depletion and threats to biodiversity worldwide caused by food production.

So the question is, how can the agriculture industry produce food in ways that are environmentally sustainable?

A key element to answering this question lies in global trade.

"We need to grow food where it's best suited to be grown, and then move it to where it's needed most," said Mike Robach, vice president of Corporate Food Safety, Quality and Regulatory Affairs at Cargill.

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However, in doing this consumers need to know that when food is traveling to the areas in need, a number of safety concerns should be taken into consideration.

Minnesotans who buy strawberries in the winter, for example, will want to think about where that fruit was grown and in what conditions — it's not wise to assume you're getting the same product you would if you were ordering from a source closer by, rather than thousands of miles away, said Ruth Petran, vice president of Food Safety and Public Health at Ecolab Inc.

What works best for a local community and what works best for a global community are not always the same thing, she said. Different pesticides and practices may need to be used to produce the quantity needed for certain areas, which could mean a larger carbon footprint.

Asking questions about the process, and perhaps considering what food products we can cut back on as a result, is an important step in the right direction, said Jessica Hellmann, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

"It is undoubtedly true that if we rely solely on globalization without care for sustainability we literally could destroy the planet," Hellmann said. "On the other hand we will not be able to feed some people around the world only on local food supply."

Finding the balance between global food production, and farm-to-table production is essential to solving our hunger and environmental problems, she said.

The event was held February 21, 2017 as part of the Strommen Series at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, moderated by Minnesota Public Radio's Chris Farrell.

To listen to their discussion, click the audio player above.

Further reading

• Trends: 'Farm to table' a lie at some restaurants

• Jonathan Foley: Food, water and the global environment

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