Sunday, December 9, 2007

Food's enviro impact as great as transportation and housing

In May 2006 the European Commission released the results of research in to the Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO). Using life cycle analysis and some input/output methods they concluded that products in three sectors had the greatest environmental impact: food and drink, private transport, and housing. The report did not rank these three but says that " together they are responsible for 70 to 80% of the environmental impact of consumption, and account for some 60% of consumption expenditure." Also from the report:

Food and drink cause 20 to 30% of the various environmental impacts of private consumption, and this increases to more than 50% for eutrophication. This includes the full food production and distribution chain ‘from farm to fork’. Within this consumption area, meat and meat products are the most important, followed by dairy products. Food and drink were covered by only some of the studies so the results for that area should be treated with more caution. However, the general conclusions can be taken with a reasonably high level of confidence.

The report continues to say that passenger transport has a total impact range of 15-35%, and housing (including furnishings and appliances) has a range of 20-35%.

The next step in this work is to study the environmental improvements of products (IMPRO). how to lessen the impact of meat and dairy is to be researched with initial results due late in 2007.

Source: "Environmental Impact of Products - Analysis of the life cycle environmental impact related to the final consumption of the EU-25", European Commission Joint Research Centre, May 2006,

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Potential GHG reduction for regionally-directed food purchasing

A team of University of Washington students and professor(s) recently released a comprehensive report on the local food system entitled the "Seattle Food System Enhancement Project". Within this work is their Greenhouse Gas Report that compares the ghg emissions of a local plate of food to a comparable global plate. The team used a life cycle assessment approach using the ISO 14040 definition. Their methods are an attempt to create "A benchmark for examining the greenhouse gas impact of cultivating and transporting specific items of food into the city of Seattle."

The foods compared, and their ghg emissions:
  • Regional plate
    • WA apple, asparagus, potato; Alaska wild salmon
    • GHG emissions = 2,102 grams CO2e
  • Global plate
    • New Zealand apple, Peruvian asparagus, Idaho potato, Norway farmed salmon
    • GHG emissions = 3,083 grams CO2e
Net savings for local plate: 981 grams CO2e

I decided to start playing with this number and try to calculate potential ghg reductions if this was applied to a segment of the whole state population for part of the year.

There are about 6.4 million people in WA state. The major assumptions for my calculations are that 20% of the population would eat a comparable plate of lower carbon food for half the year (182 days). These assumptions are further tied to carbon savings that are comparable with this plate of food. Why such variables? Well, the research is just not there to elaborate on this pressing issue. We absolutely have to do more of these calculations to understand where ghg reductions can occur, but in the meantime I am going to work with such estimates. I also understand that people are not going to eat this same meal for half the year, but I will assume that 20% of the people could eat a plate of food, or total food for the day, that has a comparable ghg savings.

From these parameters comes the notion that if 20% of WA state residents ate a similar plate of lower carbon food for half the year we could reduce our food carbon footprint by 228,534 Metric Tons CO2e per year (.23 MMT CO2e/yr).

Here is a screenshot of my spreadsheet (click for larger image):

These types of savings are no small potatoes. I am a member of the Agriculture Technical Working Group for WA State's Climate Advisory Team. A medium reduction goal is 0.1 to 1.0 MMTCO2e per year by 2020.

Items for further research:
  1. What are the ghg reductions for other regional products?
  2. What are the economic impacts of such a change in purchasing?
    1. Local multiplier work shows a strong positive gain.
    2. Impacts on this trade-dependent state less clear.
Source: " Seattle Food System Enhancement Project", Program on the Environment Certificate in Environmental Management Keystone Project, 2006-2007, p.79,

Monday, October 1, 2007

Carbon footprint: vegan diet vs. Chevy Suburban

The paper Diet, Energy and Global Warming compares the carbon footprint of plant and animal-based first to each other, and then to the carbon footprint of a Toyota Prius and Camry Solara, and Chevy Suburban. From the paper:

Narrative description

" The greenhouse gas emissions of various diets varies by as much as the difference between owning an average sedan versus a Sport Utility Vehicle under typical driving conditions."

Scientific description
" While for personal transportation the average American uses 1.7 × 107 – 6.8 × 107 BTU yr−1 , for food the average American uses roughly 4 × 107 BTU yr−1 . Thus there exists an order of magnitude parity in fossil energy consumption between dietary and personal transportation choices." The key number here is the 1.7 and 4 comparison since the exponent is the same.

Source: Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, Diet, Energy and Global Warming, Earth Interactions, May 2005,

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Obesity costs greater than Iraq costs

Personal research in to comparing the costs of obesity to the costs of the Iraq war has revealed this sobering statistic: Obesity costs U.S. taxpayers more than the war in Iraq.

Here are the facts:

Obesity: $117 Billion per year, $9.75 Billion per month, $13,348,545 per hour.
" Overweight and obesity as major public health problems (are) costing U.S. society as much as $117 billion a year."1

Iraq: $108 Billion per year, $9 Billion per month, $12,321,734 per hour.
" Specific appropriations, which averaged about $93 billion a year from 2003 through 2005, have risen to $120 billion in 2006 and $170 billion in 2007... The Defense Department is currently obligating an average of almost $11 billion a month for expenses related to its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other activities related to the war on terrorism. Most of that sum (more than $9 billion per month) is related to operations in Iraq."

1) Fred Kuchler and Nicole Ballenger, " Societal Costs of Obesity: How Can We Assess When Federal Interventions Will Pay?", USDA Economic Research Service, FoodReview, Winter 2002,

2) Congressional Budget Office Testimony, Statement of Robert A. Sunshine, Assistant Director for Budget Analysis, "Estimated Costs of U.S. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Other Activities Related to the War on Terrorism", before the Committee on the Budget U.S. House of Representatives, July 31, 2007,

Saturday, June 30, 2007

UK Food System Energy Use

At the 8th ECEEE conference (June 4-7 2007), Rebecca White of the Environmental Change Insitute presented a paper entitled "Carbon governance from a systems perspective: an investigation of food production and consumption in the UK". The paper discusses the amount of energy used in UK's food system, and the percentage of total UK energy use, 10.8%, is very similar to the amount of energy found to be used in the U.S. food system as I discussed earlier. In the U.S. research shows that between 10-17% of U.S. total energy consumption is in the food system.

From White's report comes this graphic and quote:
"Table 1 shows a sectoral break down of energy use across the UK’s food system... As it stands, this equates to 10.8 % of the UK’s delivered energy consumption, excluding the air freight contribution. Further omissions include: energy used in fishing, in the production of plastic packaging and the off-farm storage of fresh fruit and vegetables, often imported, that can be stored and ripened in temperature controlled environments for considerable periods. Food related waste management has also been excluded. There is also some uncertainty around the numbers, in particular the amount of energy used to store food. Because storage occurs at a number of different points in the food chain, it is often not clear how this is allocated sector-wise. There are also very varying estimates of energy use in the retail sector. The figure used here is taken from the Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (DEFRA 2006), however an estimate from the DEFRA food miles report, published a year earlier, gives an estimate of 97.9 PJ. This alters the percentage of total UK energy use that food is responsible for to 11.8 % and increases the fossil carbon impact from 19.2 MtC to 22.9 MtC. With all figures presented in Table 1 only direct energy use on site and in the production of inputs has been included rather than any embodied energy in machinery or vehicles, which is usually included in food life cycle analyses (LCA)."

Source: Rebecca White, " Carbon governance from a systems perspective: an investigation of food production and consumption in the UK", Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University Centre for the Environment, June 2007,

UK Carbon Labelling

The UK is moving forward fast on understanding the amount of energy and carbon in their national food system. The main organizations moving forward on this are the Carbon Trust, The UK Energy Research Center (UKERC), and the Environmental Change Insitute at the Oxford University Centre for the Environment (ECI).

On May 18, 2007, various government, NGO, and private sector organizations met in London to discuss how carbon labelling of products should occur. The ECI weblink contains various documents pertaining to this symposium. This idea, one I have been discussing ever since first seeing the Carbon Trust label work, is gathering energy (pun intended) especially with the announcement by UK supermarket giant Tesco "to develop a carbon footprint labelling measure for all products sold in store, and cut the cost of many energy-efficient goods." Orion magazine reported that Tesco will spend £5 million to research methods for calculating the carbon content of retail goods.

on May 3, 2007, was an earlier Carbon Labelling Roundtable that began the discussions around what a carbon label would actually entail. A lot of work needs to be done to fully understand what is to be measured, the relationships between various segments and sectors of the food industry, and what incentives are needed to encourage low carbon foods.

One thing I want to highlight deals with this basic question: where do we start?

Various report comments touch on the idea of "Just do it" and to start moving on what we do know as we develop what we don't know. Considerations were also made as to "Which products first?". From the May 3rd Rountable report (1) :

" The participants put forward various possible criteria which would help determine which products to begin carbon profiling. The participants identified their priorities and the results are ranked below - those in bold were most strongly supported:
  • components of a standard shopping basket (as for the retail price index) (this implies that a standard shopping basket of particular goods could be introduced as a way of comparing the carbon footprint of retailers)
  • products where data available
  • biggest potential for carbon saving
  • where there is supply chain interest / enthusiasm
  • simplest to measure
  • where greatest GHG variation within category
  • organic products
  • entire categories rather than products
  • highest sales volume
  • where consumers most likely to switch
  • low food mile products
  • non-food vs food
  • non-contentious
  • most carbon intensive
The report of this meeting to the May 18 roundtable added "Driven by procurement" as another priority area.

Source: (1) Brenda Boardman, "Carbon Labelling: report on roundtable 3rd-4th May 2007, St Anne’s College, University of Oxford", UKERC/ECI

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Vitamins and Their Food Sources

So what foods are the best source for vitamins? The Seattle Times recently ran an AP article "An A-Z guide to vitamins", that lays out what different vitamins do and where to get them from food.

To note: "Americans spent $2.3 billion last year (2006) on vitamins and nutritional supplements." (1)

The main vitamin table is a pdf file that can be downloaded of viewed by clicking here. Let me know if the link goes dead.

So, how does this compare to the previous post about healthiest foods? Hmm ...

Source: (1) Hillary Rhodes (Associated Press), "An A-Z guide to vitamins", Seattle Times, Sunday June 10, 2007

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Esimating Size of Food Servings

The USDA's Nutrient Data Laboratory has created a table call Tips for Estimating Amount of Food Consumed in their publication "Nutritive Value of Foods"

" This table lists some handy tips to help you estimate the amount of food you eat when you cannot measure or weigh it."

Here is the table data:

Breads and grains
1⁄2 cup cooked cereal, pasta, rice: volume of cupcake wrapper or half a baseball
4-oz bagel (large): diameter of a compact disc (CD) medium piece of cornbread medium bar of soap

Fruits and vegetables
medium apple, orange, peach: tennis ball
1⁄4 cup dried fruit: golf ball or scant handful for average adult
1⁄2 cup fruit or vegetable: half a baseball
1 cup broccoli: light bulb
medium potato: computer mouse
1 cup raw leafy greens: baseball or fist of average adult
1⁄2 cup: 6 asparagus spears, 7 or 8 baby carrots or carrot sticks, or a medium ear of corn

Meat, fish, and poultry, cooked
1 oz: about 3 tbsp meat or poultry
2 oz: small chicken drumstick or thigh
3 oz: average deck of cards, palm of average adult’s hand, half of a whole, small chicken breast, medium pork chop

1 oz hard cheese: average person’s thumb, 2 dominoes, 4 dice

2 tbsp peanut butter: Ping-Pong ball
1⁄3 cup nuts: level handful for average adult
1⁄2 cup: half a baseball or base of computer mouse
1 cup: tennis ball or fist of average adult

Source: Susan E. Gebhardt and Robin G. Thomas, "Nutritive Value of Foods", USDA Agricultural Research Service, Home and Garden Bulletin, Number 72, rev. October 2002

Top 20 Healthiest Foods

So what are top 20 healthiest foods? I thought this would be easy research, but like most anything, the answer is: it depends. What are you measuring for: antioxidants? Vitamins? Proteins? By season? By cultural acceptance? These and other variables/parameters will control the outcome of any list making efforts.

However, there are some that appear on more lists than others.

I dove in by doing a Google search on "Top 20 healthiest foods". I selected lists from the first two Google hit pages, choosing what appeared to be the top 4 lists, alphabetized them, and then looked to see which foods appeared on the most lists. I am sure I have a subjective lens, so please chew on this and let me know if there are some additions or changes you may suggest.

Dried Beans (lentils, kidney, pinto, red, soy)
Fatty (oily) fish
Herbs, spices
Low fat dairy
Nuts and Seeds
Olive Oil
Whole grains, wheat (wheat germ, oat, whole wheat)

So what is the conclusion? A diet rich in simple, varied whole foods is the best thing for the body. This does not have to mean expensive. This searching came across a wonderful website called The Hillbilly Housewife shows with recipes and tips on convenient foods that are usually good buys.

Other sources for nutrition info for various foods:

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

More Energy in Food

Ken Meter, with the Crossroads Center in Minnesota, has compiled some wonderful facts regarding food markets. Here is one such fact:

" Annual cost of energy used in food system (production, processing and distribution), at current consumption rates (2005): $139 billion."

And here is how Ken figure this out, as noted in the footnotes:
"Calculated from ratio determined by FEA study cited above, using current Department of Energy data for energy consumption ($694 billion in 2001 -- DOE Table 1.5 Energy Consumption, Expenditures, and Emissions Indicators, 1949-2004,, viewed Nov. 27, 2005). Bureau of Labor Statistics data on consumer expenditures for food,, viewed February 7, 2006."

Source: Ken Meter, "U.S. Food Market Highlights", Crossroads Center, rev. Sept. 5, 2006,

Monday, June 4, 2007

Study: Farmers market food costs less

An article in the Seattle Times today discussed research done by a Seattle University economics class that compared the cost for farmer market food with nearby markets. The results go against the perception. From the article:
"The farmers market was slightly less expensive pound for pound, on average, for 15 items that included Fuji apples, red potatoes, baby carrots, spinach and salad mix."

Full article is available at the Seattle Times, entitled "Farmers-market food costs less, class finds".

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Nitrous Oxide in Ag, Part 2: Nitric Acid Production

I am trying to do a life cycle analysis of synthetic fertilizers and their impacts on climate change. I am having to do a rough analysis of production process and ingredients to start.

As previously discussed, Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions:
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions from ag make up over 75% of the U.S.'s total N2O emissions.
  • N2O is found in ag primarily from fertilizer application and management of solid waste from animals.
  • N2O has 296 times more impact on the climate than CO2.

Let's add a defintion by the EPA: "Nitric acid (HNO3) is an inorganic compound used primarily to make synthetic commercial fertilizers. It is also a major component in the production of adipic acid⎯a feedstock for nylon⎯and explosives."(1)

So this shows pretty solidly that synthetic fertilizer production has a major impact on climate change.

A few questions come to mind:
  1. What are the source ingredients for Nitric Acid? Can we find a replacement for Nitric Acid and still grow enough food and materials?
  2. What is the power source for the industrial plants?
  3. What are the best substitutes and are there enough of them?
  4. Which crops receive the most? Which the least?
  5. What industrial processes have more impact on the climate?
To answer the last question first (since it is the easiest), we can turn to the EPA's U.S. Inventory Report chapter for Industrial Processes.

The top 10 Industrial Processes for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions are listed below. The numbers represent teragrams (tg) of CO2 Eq, with 1Tg equal to 1 million metric ton (MMT CO2 Eq.)(2)

Top 10 GHG Emitting Industrial Processes (3)
  1. Substitution of Ozone Depleting Substances (123.3)
  2. Cement Manufacture (45.9)
  3. Iron and Steel Production (45.2)
  4. HCFC-22 Production (16.5)
  5. Ammonia Manufacture & Urea Application (16.3)
  6. Nitric Acid Production (15.7)
  7. Lime Manufacture (13.7)
  8. Electrical Transmission and Distribution (13.2)
  9. Limestone and Dolomite Use (7.4)
  10. Adipic Acid Production (6.0)
Major source ingredients for Nitric Acid production are:
  • Ammonia
  • Nitric oxide
And as we can see, ammonia manufacture is the #5 highest emitter.

EPA, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks,1990-2003", :1990 – 2003, April 2005, p.161.
2) U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2000", Appendix F (Common Conversion Factors), 2000
3) EPA, "U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Reports", Chapter 4 "Industrial Processes", April 2007,

Nitrous Oxide in Ag, Part 1: EPA definitions

As discussed earlier:
  • Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions from ag make up over 75% of the U.S.'s total N2O emissions.
  • N2O is found in ag primarily from fertilizer application and management of solid waste from animals.
  • N2O has 296 times more impact on the climate than CO2.
So N2O has bad mojo on the climate, and the biggest source of U.S. emissions is from spreading fertilizers on the land.

As anyone who deals with government knows, a key issue is how terms are defined. So what is the definition used for ag lands as it pertains to this issue? The term used is "Agricultural Soil Management" (IPCC Source Category 4D), and the EPA defines this term this way: "Only direct emissions from agricultural lands (i.e., croplands and grasslands), along with emissions from PRP manure."
PRP is defined as "the deposition of manure on soils by animals on pasture, range, and paddock (PRP) (i.e., by animals whose manure is not managed)."

"Agricultural soils are responsible for the majority of U.S. N2O emissions. Estimated emissions from this source in 2003 were 253.5 Tg CO2 Eq. (818 Gg N2O)." (p. 19 in pdf)

So I want to know if this: do coventional ag practices have more or less N2O than organic or sustainable ag practices (e.g. low-till), and by how much?

As a starting point comes this quote from the EPA's Climate Change Inventory Report:
"Heavy utilization of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers in crop production typically results in significantly more N2O emissions from agricultural soils than that occurring from less intensive, low-tillage techniques."

But a few pages later in the report comes this:
"N2O emissions cannot be partitioned into the contribution of N2O from different N inputs (e.g., N2O emissions from synthetic fertilizer applications cannot be distinguished from those emissions resulting from manure applications). Therefore, it was not possible to separate out these individual contributors to N2O flux, as is suggested in the IPCC Guidelines." (pdf p.21)

To further refine the definitions, there are major crops and non-major crops.
  • Major cropping systems are "corn, soybean, wheat, alfalfa hay, other hay, sorghum, and cotton" and "represent approximately 90 percent of total cropped land in the United States."
  • Non-major crop types "include fruits, nuts, and vegetables, which account for approximately 5 percent of U.S. N fertilizer use (TFI 2000) and other crops not simulated by DAYCENT (barley, oats, tobacco, sugar cane, sugar beets, sunflower, millet, peanuts, etc.) which account for approximately 10 percent of total U.S. fertilizer use."

Source for quotes: EPA, "US Emissions Inventory 2005: Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks,1990-2003", Chapter 6 Agriculture, pp. 195-227.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Brand Exposure to Climate Change

The UK's Carbon Trust took a look at company and brand exposure in a report aptly entitled Is your brand at risk from climate change? The report looked at various business sectors and analyzed different criteria, including brand value, direct and indirect operational exposure, and ability to differentiate products on the issue of climate change.

The report is not too surprising: brands are exposed to an increase in risk from climate change. What is surprising is that the food industry is more exposed than the oil and gas industry. The food and beverage sector has the second highest risk percentage, and the largest financial exposure.

The attached graphic is from the report and shows that while the total market value for food and beverages is £66.5 billion (English pounds), the sector has a risk exposure of 10% with a value of £6.6 billion. This financial exposure is higher than Airlines, Oil and Gas, Banking, Telecomunications, and Food Retail.

(Click on image for larger picture)
(FTSE refers to the FTSE All-Share Index, an index representing 98-99% of UK's financial market capitalization.)

Source: Carbon Trust, "Is your brand at risk from climate change?", March 2005,

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ag Energy Compared to Oil Production Per Day

As I work to translate how much energy we use to grow, make and move the food we eat I decided to correlate the energy to the amount of oil that OPEC and non-OPEC nations produced each day.

To do this I had to simplify some numbers and I did this mainly be equating all energy use to gasoline. I expect that some people would call this way to much simplification for a very complex set of variables. For many others, however, this can help make sense, bring home, and simplify this complexity. Also, gasoline has a middle of the road energy rating, with diesel having more British Thermal Units (Btu), and propane having less (see BPA's Conversion table), so it is arguably the best vehicle for this work (pun intended).

Using the percentages of energy use discussed in a previous posting about Energy Use in Food, I calculated the number of days of the world's daily oil production across each segment of the ag and food sector:
  • Ag Production: 5.1 days of world oil production
  • Transportation: 3.4 days
  • Processing: 3.9 days
  • Packaging: 1.7 days
  • Food retail: 1.0 days
  • Restaurants & catering: 1.7 days
  • Home preparation & storage: 7.6 days
Here is a screenshot of the worksheet I used to make these calculations. Click on the image for a bigger version. If we just use OPEC's daily output there are almost twice the number of days for each segment.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Obesity Factoid

Good quote:

“Obesity is associated with a 36% increase in inpatient and outpatient spending and a 77% increase in medications, compared with a 21% increase in inpatient and outpatient spending and a 28% increase in medications for current smokers.”
Source: Strum, R., 2002, "The effects of obesity, smoking, and drinking on medical problems and costs", Health Affairs, 21(2), 245-253

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Ag Emissions and GWP, part 2

I am trying to uncover more Global Warming Potential (GWP) impacts from our food system. Some segments of agriculture are already tracked by the EPA (discussed in Part 1 of this chain): enteric fermentation in domestic livestock, livestock manure management, rice cultivation, agricultural soil management, and field burning of agricultural residues. There are some gaps that need addressing, and would best be aligned with other research like Heller/Keoleian's report and the resulting breakdown of energy use by segment: ag production (EPA), transport, processing, packaging, food retail, restaurants, home refrigeration, and then waste disposal (but not in Heller report).

Let's start with what we know. The US DOE's Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2005 report details Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) emissions as well as other GHG gases.

CH4 is produced as part of normal digestive processes in animals(1). It is also a byproduct of landfills and decomposition, and landfills have already been tapped for this energy source. The EIA methane report shows that from what we measured in 2005 for anthropogenic methane emissions we know:
  • Methane has a GWP rating of 23.
  • Total U.S. Methane Emissions were 26.6 million metric tons
    • 611.9 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (CO2e)
  • Agriculture released 173.4 million metric tons CO2e
    • 28.3% of total emissions
Of note: "emissions increases from enteric fermentation and animal waste management more than offset small decreases in emissions from rice cultivation and crop residue burning. Of total estimated methane emissions from agricultural activities, 93 percent (170.9 MMTCO2e) results from livestock management, of which 68 percent (115.6MMTCO2e) can be traced to enteric fermentation in ruminant animals and the remainder (55.3 MMTCO2e) to anaerobic decomposition of livestock wastes. A small portion of U.S. agricultural methane emissions result from crop residue burning and wetland rice cultivation."(2)

We need to calculate the other ag and food emissions from other data sets.

Nitrous Oxide
N2O is found in ag primarily from fertilizer application and management of solid waste from animals . If applied properly as a fertilizer, nitrogen is taken up by the plants, but "Indirect emissions from nitrogen fertilization result from adding excess nitrogen to the soil, which in turn enriches ground and surface waters, such as rivers and streams, and results in emissions of nitrous oxide."(3)

What we do know:
  • Nitrous oxide has a GWP rating of 296.
  • Total U.S. N2O emissions for 2005 were 1.2 million metric tons
    • 366.56 million metric tons CO2e
  • Agriculture (what is measured) released 279.9 million metric tons CO2e
    • 76.4% of total emissions

Of note: "
Nitrogen fertilization of agricultural soils accounted for 78 percent of U.S. agricultural emissions of nitrous oxide in 2005. Nearly all the remaining agricultural emissions (22 percent) can be traced to the management of the solid waste of domesticated animals."(4)

This means that nitrogen fertilization adds 218.3 million metric tons of nitrous oxide emissions, which is 60% of total U.S. nitrous oxide emissions from this one act. Now, nitrogen is a critical component to plant fertilization. The question is: how do we make that fertilizer, and are we applying efficiently?

Another question that arises is: why the increase in nitrous oxide in the last couple years? Is our land yielding less and therefore requiring more fertilizer?

(2) ibid.
4) ibid.

Ag Emissions and their Global Warming Potential, part 1

There is a lot of buzz about carbon emissions and their impacts on global warming. But what other emissions are heating up the planet?

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has become the trusted international body for much of this info. They track different gases in relation to their Global Warming Potential (GWP). The DOE's Energy Information Administration (EIA) has a very good definition about GWP and which gases are considered.

The main item I want to highlight right now is that the GWP ranks gases according to their carbon dioxide equivalent, the "radiative efficiency (heat-absorbing ability) of each gas relative to that of carbon dioxide (CO2 ).(1)". So, while CO2 while has a GWP rating of 1 (against itself), Methane (CH4) has a GWP of 23, and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) a GWP rating of 296. There are ten other gases that are tracked, but these three are the more commonly discussed .

The EPA's U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Reports tracks the gas emissions and sinks (where GHG gases are taken in/reduced), and has a chapter devoted to agriculture impacts. It has a graph of GHG emissions from 2004 and states that "In 2004, the agricultural sector was responsible for emissions of 440.1 teragrams of CO2 equivalent (Tg CO2 Eq.), or 6 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. " The report, though, only measures a few ag components: enteric fermentation in domestic livestock, livestock manure management, rice cultivation, agricultural soil management, and field burning of agricultural residues. There is a lot more that needs to be included to understand the full GHG impacts of our food system, and then what potential solutions exist for reducing our carbon equivalent footprint.
(1) US DOE EIA website page Global Warming Potentials, viewed April 1, 2007.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

School Lunch and Obesity cost comparison

I have been vexed (hexed?) in my attempts to verify some of the secondary research numbers in my Taxing Burden of Obesity post, so I am trying to piece together my own research. Thanks for the comments from Ken who has helped me revisit the numbers. I need some more research to complete the comparison in that post. I need more work on nutrition costs beyond obesity numbers (e.g. heart disease).

For now, here are some facts from a 2005 USDA Food and Nutritions Service presentation entitled "School Meal Program Performance: What Do We Know?"(1):
  • 94,622 schools (grades K-12) participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
    • Over 90% of all public schools participate.
  • Almost 49 million students participate in NSLP.
    • 8.9 million participated in National School Breakfast Program (NSBP).
  • School cafeterias served 4.8 billion lunches.
  • Over 29 million lunches per day.
  • Over 9 million breakfasts per day.
  • The NSLP also provided 154 million afterschool snacks.
  • About half of all lunches and 3/4 of all breakfasts are served free.
  • The cost to USDA of providing lunches and snacks was $7.6 billion(2).
  • The cost for the NSBP was $1.9 billion(3).
If we take the numbers out a little further we can form a crude estimate of how much the NSLP costs per year: $155.10 per student who participated. For breakfasts, the cost per participant is $213.48. So, annual costs per child who actually eats school breakfast, lunch and/or snack is $368.58.

For comparison, according to the 2001 Surgeon General's " Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity": "
  • Approximately 300,000 U.S. deaths a year currently are associated with obesity and overweight (compared to more than 400,000 deaths a year associated with cigarette smoking). (4)
  • The total direct and indirect costs attributed to overweight and obesity amounted to $117 billion in the year 2000."(4)
  • 32.9% of our population is considered obese(5).
    • 32.9% = 860,182,371 Americans considered obese in 2000.
    • The 2000 U.S. population was 283 million (when cost determined)(6)
So this suggests we are spending $136 per person per year on obesity. This number does not directly include related health issues like heart disease and diabetes. More work to connect these costs will be the work of another post.

(1) Alberta C. Frost, "School Meal Program Performance: What Do We Know?", presentation, USDA, Dec. 15, 2005
(2) Newman & Ralston, "Profiles of Participants in the National School Lunch Program: Data From Two National Surveys", USDA ERS Economic Information Bulletin, Number 17, August 2006
; or USDA ERS website, " Child Nutrition Programs: National School Lunch Program", viewed March 29, 2007.
(3) USDA Food and Nutrition Services, School Breakfast Program Fact Sheet, viewed March 29, 2007.
(4) Office of the Surgeon General,
US Health and Human Services, " The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity", 2001, viewed March 29, 2007.
(5) Dept. of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention website " Overweight and Obesity: Home",
viewed march 29, 2007
(6) US Census,

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Price of Fresh Fruits and Veggies

The USDA Economic Research Service released a report in 2004 called "How Much Do Americans Pay for Fruits and Vegetables?". From the executive summary:

"Among the 154 forms of fruits and vegetables we priced, more than half were estimated to cost 25 cents or less per serving. Consumers can meet the recommendations of three servings of fruits and four servings of vegetables daily for 64 cents. Since this represented only 12 percent of daily food expenditures per person in 1999, consumers still had 88 percent of their food dollar left to purchase the other three food groups. Even low-income households still had 84 percent left.

" The study also found that after adjusting for waste and serving size, 63 percent of fruits and 57 percent of vegetables were least expensive in their fresh form. Even though fresh fruits and vegetables may be less expensive to eat than processed, for many fruits and vegetables the difference in price per serving between the least and most expensive versions was often less than 25 cents. For some, this price difference may be a small price to pay for the conveniences - such as longer shelf life, ease of preparation, and greater availability - associated with processed forms."

Source: Reed, Fraz√£o, Itskowitz, "How Much Do Americans Pay for Fruits and Vegetables?", USDA Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. (AIB790) 39 pp, July 2004

Fruit and Veggie Consumption Findings

FoodNavigator-USA's recent article, "Americans not eating enough veggies - study", discusses the findings of recent studies in to fruit and vegetable consumption.

One particular study, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research, aggregated research from previous National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and covered 1988-2002. This Johns Hopkins/Welch study concludes that "Despite campaigns and slogans, Americans have not increased their consumption, with 28 percent and 32 percent meeting USDA guidelines for fruits and vegetables, respectively, and less than 11 percent meeting the current USDA guidelines for both fruits and vegetables."(1)

Other factoids from this study(2):
  • Approximately 62% did not consume any whole fruit servings
  • 75% did not consume any fruit juice servings; about half of the participants reported no whole fruit and no fruit juice servings.
  • Approximately 25% of participants reported eating no daily vegetable servings.
  • About half of participants reported consuming at least one serving of garden vegetables.
  • About 28% met vegetable guidelines when fried potatoes were excluded as a vegetable.
  • Roughly 12% consumed at least one serving of legumes.
  • Roughly 14% reported no daily vegetable and no daily fruit servings.
  • After adjusting for age, gender, and ethnicity, mean energy and fiber intakes were higher for those consuming more fruits and vegetables.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks were less likely to meet fruit and vegetable guidelines than non-Hispanic whites (7% vs 11%).
  • "With two thirds of the US adult population overweight or obese, the implications of a diet low in fruits and vegetables are extensive…New strategies, in addition to the 5-A-Day Campaign, are necessary to help Americans make desirable behavioral changes to consume a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables."(3)

(1) FoodNavigator-USA, "Americans not eating enough veggies - study", March 19, 2007,
(2) Casagrande, Wang, Anderson, Gary, "Have Americans Increased Their Fruit and Vegetable Intake? The Trends Between 1988 and 2002", American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 32, Issue 4 , April 2007, Pages 257-263
(3) Ibid.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Carbon Footprint of a Bag of Potato Chips

Across the pond in the UK, the dinosaur in our food is being uncovered. Working with an emerging program from the Carbon Trust to develop a label for carbon in products, Walker Chips, a division of Pepsico, is researching the amount of carbon in a bag of their popular potato chips. While this work is prelminary, it shows the motivation, and business incentive, to track the energy and carbon use in our food.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

School Community Food Assessment Toolkit

Family Cook Productions has created a School Community Food Assessment Toolkit that can be downloaded from their website. The toolkit is comprised of two pdf files and a powerpoint presentation and addresses the challenges and offers solutions to implementing school wellness policies and receive buy-in from principals, teachers, PTA leaders and students. " By bringing a research-based framework and process to such efforts at school-wide changes in food," the toolkit hopes to show "that snacks, celebrations, fundraisers etc. are all opportunities to set examples and practice better behaviors in school when it comes to food. Such consensus building, while exciting with its potential, can also be challenging to achieve."

Climate Change Impact on Harvest Yields

A recent (Feb 2007) report from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Dept. of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution investigated the impact that climate change has had on harvest yields for the world's main crops: wheat, maize, rice, soy, barley, sorghum ("Production of these crops accounts for over 40% of global cropland area, 55% of non-meat calories and over 70% of animal feed"(1)).

The short paper considered not only temperature and precipitation changes but also technological advances. While not all crops were impacted to the same amount (rice and soybeans less), they did come to the conclusion that "At the global scale, warming from 1981 to 2002 very likely offset some of the yield gains from technological advances, rising CO2 and other non-climatic factors." (2)

In other words, technology increased yields but climate change appears to have taken those gains away for some crops.

The question becomes: can agriculture technology continue to advance crop yields at the same rate it did during this period, or will the temperature and precipitation change faster than technology gains thereby decreasing overall yields at a time of increasing population?


Sources for (1) and (2): David B Lobell and Christopher B Field, "Global scale climate–crop yield relationships and the impacts of recent warming," Environmental Research Letters, Volume 2, Number 1, January-March 2007,

Monday, March 12, 2007

So how much energy do we use to make ... energy?

I am working hard to nail down The Number that represents how many calories of fuel energy it takes to make one calorie of food. My previous post about dinosaurs in your food describes how this Number is on average 10 calories of fuel to make one calorie of food.

So where does this number come from? Below is a narrative followed by references to the researchers mentioned.

I accept the 10:1 ratio because I have read various data sets and combed numerous papers and studies related to this issue. Further research on this issue is needed, something I am pursuing every day, and I will revisit this ratio if needed.

The ratio is based off of a complex number of variables: amount of energy used in the food system, definition of food system used, amount of calories per person per day to be considered, the role of import and exports, and what percentage of total U.S. energy is used by the food system.

Pimentel and, separately, Hall have estimated the average to be 10:1, while Heller/Keoleian has estimated 7.3:1. Heller/Keoleian say that the food system consumes 10.2 quadrillion Btu's (quads) of energy and provides 1.4 quads back out, based off a diet of 3,800 calories per person per day (because we produce more food than we need, eat too much of it, and then throw some away). If we use a 2,500 calorie diet, we would get an 11:1 ratio; a 2,000 calorie diet means a 13.8:1 ratio.

On the side, grain-fed beef requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced (Horrigan), and a can of diet soda that provides maybe 1 calorie of energy needs 2,200 calories to produce (70% tied up in the aluminum can)(Heller/Keoleian).

I am still dissecting Heller/Keoleian's comprehensive paper. Heller/Keoleian estimates food energy use at 10% of total U.S. energy. Hendrickson studied 8 different studies from the 1970's and found an average for food system energy use to be 15.6%. This suggests we are already reducing energy use in ag. The Earth Policy Institute (EPI) created some nice graphs showing total U.S. and farm energy use base off the more current numbers. In one graph EPI show the whole U.S. food system uses 10.25 quads of energy (10,250 quadrillion Btu's) and ag production accounts for 21% of energy use, or 2.125 quads. What

What I take from this is this: if Heller/Keoleian are correct that ag uses 10% of energy, this number would roughly align with the 1.691 quad number, but if we use the 21% figure that comes from Heller/Keoleian, the amount of embedded energy (and therefore the calorie ratio) is much higher than Heller/Keoleian report. I am trying to get hold of the Heller/Keoleian team to ask them about these discrepancies.

In the meantime I accept 10:1 to be an average ratio I can support. I will keep resarching this issue and updating as needed. Thanks to Cookson Beecher, a reporter with the Capitol Press (Olympia, WA), for asking me to source this fact.


Heller and Keoleian's article "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System" is very comprehensive.

One article by Pimentel and Giampietro is "The Tightening Conflict: Population, Energy Use, and the Ecology of Agriculture".

Sustainable Table has a good article "Fossil Fuel and Energy Use" with strong references at the bottom.

Hall, C. A. S., C. J. Cleveland, and R. Kaufmann, "Energy and Resource Quality" Wiley Interscience, New York: 1986.

Heller, Martin C., and Gregory A. Keoleian, "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System", Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, 2000.

John Hendrickson, “Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: A Summary of Existing Research and Analysis” Sustainable Farming, Vol. 7, No 4, 1997

Horrigan, Leo, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker. "How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture." Environmental Health Perspectives 110, no. 5 (May 5, 2002)

David Pimentel and Mary Pimentel, "Energy Use in Fruit, Vegetable, and Forage Production", in "Food, Energy, and Society", ed. D. Pimentel, and M. Pimentel, revised edition. University Press of Colorado, Niwot, CO, 1996,
pp. 131-147.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Change in Added Sugar Consumption

Here are some graphs I made from the servings.xls spreadsheet at the USDA Economic Research Service website that show the growth of per capita (per person) consumption of added sugars between 1970 and 2004.

(1) Total added sugars includes all corn derived sweeteners plus edible syrups and honey, which showed up on the graph near zero so I did not include them.
(2) All corn sweeteners include High Fructose Corn Syrup, Glucose, Dextrose, and Corn Sweeteners.

Source for both: USDA/Economic Research Service 2006 data,

The Growth of Obesity Across the Country

We have been hearing that obesity is an epidemic across the nation. But what does an epidemic really look like?

The Center for Disease Control's web page Overweight and Obesity: Obesity Trends: U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2005 includes a powerful powerpoint presentation (or pdf) that illustrates the growth of Body Mass Index (BMI) across time.

For a quick snapshot, here are a couple of images that show what an epidemic looks like. Notice how in the year 2000 they added a new higher category, and in 2005 they added two more.

Source: "Overweight and Obesity: Obesity Trends: U.S. Obesity Trends 1985–2005", U.S. Dept of Health and uman Services, Center for Disease Control,; viewed March 10, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

So What is a Quad?

(Didn't think I would need to know this, but then again I didn't know what I didn't know)

A Quad is a term for a quadrillion Btu's of energy use. 1,000,000,000,000,000 British thermal units. 1 QBtu equals the annual energy output of 40 1,000MW power plants (1).

So what does that have to do with the price of bread? I'm getting to that; but for now let's take a look at the post about Energy Use In Food. As the graphic shows from the year 2000, the US food system used 10.25 quadrillion Btus of energy. That's the same amount as the annual energy output of 410,000 1,000 MW power plants.

For comparison, a modern wind turbine is capable of generating 1-2 MW of energy. The entire installed wind energy capacity of the U.S. is 11,603 MW (2).

The total U.S. energy supply is 100.278 QBtu (3).

Now if we look at the energy use graph in the other post: this means the US food system use 10% of our energy output. Some articles have said 17% on average, but I am guessing that some of that research, being from the late 70's and early 80's (4), is outdated, and that the US energy supply growth has been faster than the growth of energy use in the food system. Still, 10% is a Big Number, and if we are serious about reducing our carbon emissions then we have to include reducing the amount of energy we use to grow the food we eat.

(1): Architecture 2030 website, "U.S. Energy Consumption, Greenhouse Gas Emissions"
(2): American Wind Energy Association (viewed Mar 9, 2007)
(3): Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Overview (2005)
(4): See John Hendrickson, " Energy Use in the U.S. Food System: a summary of existing research and analysis," Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, UW-Madison

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Energy Use on the Farm

A previous post mentioned an Earth Policy Institute report that discussed the amount of oil in food. From that same article comes this graphic showing what type of energy is used on the farm.

Source: Earth Policy Institute, Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge - DATA, May 9, 2005

Energy Use in Food, Part 2

There is a good article entitled "Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge" by Danielle Murray
at the Earth Policy Institute. From the article and an accompanying page with wonderful graphs (and sources) comes this graphic that shows where energy is used in ag. It's numbers are similar
to a previous post on this issue.

Primary: M. Heller and G. Keoleian, Life-Cycle Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System, Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Sustainable Systems, University of Michigan, 2000, p. 41
Secondary: Earth Policy Institute, Oil and Food: A Rising Security Challenge - DATA, May 9, 2005

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Agriculture Irrigation Volumes

Seventy percent of all fresh water use is for one purpose: agricultural irrigation.

Irrigation water is being depleted in many of the world’s grain producing regions:
China: Four-fifths of China’s grain production is dependent on irrigation water.
India: Three-fifths of India’s grain production is dependent on irrigation water.
United States: One-fifth of U.S. grain production is dependent on irrigation water.

Aquifers in some parts of China are dropping at the rate of 10 feet per year. Some farmers are now pumping from a depth of 1,000 feet.
Aquifers in some parts of India are dropping at the rate of 20 feet per year. Some farmers are now pumping from a depth of 3,000 feet.

The Ogallala Aquifer in some regions of the Southwest (Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas) has water tables that have dropped more than 30 feet, causing some wells to go dry.

Source: Lester R. Brown, "Plan B 2.0", Earth Policy Institute

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How to Replace Vending Machine Fundraising

So got to thinking:
  • In 2005 WA state had 1,013,189 enrolled in public school (OSPI report card).
  • According to IATP's report on vending machine fundraising (see post), " School beverage contracts generate an average of $18 per student per year for schools and/or school districts."
  • Therefore, to get rid of the temptation to make money by selling our kid's soda pop at school is to increase the state education budget by roughly $18 million.
  • Could it really be that easy? Doubt it, but it's a doable number to propose.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Changes in Food Prices, 1985-2000

Nice graphic and quote from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

" Within the United States, the real cost of fresh fruits and vegetables has risen nearly 40 percent in the past 20 years. The real costs of soda pop, sweets and fats and oils, on the other hand, have gone down."

Source: Schoonover and Muller, " Food Without Thought: How U.S. Farm Policy Contributes to Obesity," Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2006,

Food or Fuel?

As we begin to use more of our acreage to grow crops for fuel, many people are asking: food vs. fuel? That question is underlying a lot of research and debate these days. The Big Question concerns corn and ethanol. As we use more corn for fuel, does that mean less for food? If not, where will the corn come from? The USDA suggests it will come from diverting corn meant for export, but as the graph below shows, that has yet to happen.
Source: Economic Research Service Feed Grains Database, USDA ,

There is a lot of speculation about how much cropland will really be needed to meet the ethanol boom. For more info read the Institute For Agriculture and Trade Policy paper " Staying Home: How Ethanol will Change U.S. Corn Exports".

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Health Costs on the Federal Budget

Most of us have probably heard that obesity is a problem and raising the cost of healthcare in the U.S. Here is a chart from the USDA's Economic Research Service (2003) showing the growth of health costs as a percentage of the federal budget.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service, " FoodReview: Weighing In on Obesity," Vol. 25, No. 3

School Vending Machine Contracts

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) studied vending machine contracts and found that they are not very efficient fundraisers. The attraction lies in the fact that the dollars gained are discretionary and can be used where they are most needed. "Though perceived as lucrative," said Margo Wootan, one of the studie's authors, " we found that school beverage contracts usually raise less than a quarter of one percent of school districts' budgets. That modest amount of money can be replaced"
From CSPI's report "Raw Deal: School Beverage Contracts Less Lucrative Than They Seem"
" School beverage contracts generate an average of $18 per student per year for schools and/or school districts... Revenue to schools/districts ranged from about $0.60 to $93 per student per year."

" The majority (67%, on average) of revenue generated from school beverage sales goes to beverage companies rather than to the schools, making beverage vending an inefficient way for schools to raise money. Children (and their parents) have to spend one dollar in order for their school to raise 33 cents. Alternatively, fundraisers in which schools sell products, such as gift wrap and candles, usually provide schools with profit margins of about 45%, though the revenue to the school is determined by the volume sold."

Source: Joy Johanson, Jason Smith, Margo G. Wootan, "Raw Deal: School Beverage Contracts Less Lucrative Than They Seem", Center for Science in the Public Interest,December 2006

Healthy vending machines can mean more money

According to USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “students will buy and consume healthful foods and beverages – and schools can make money from selling healthful options.” Their survey of 17 schools and school districts found that, after improving school foods, 12 schools and districts increased revenue and four reported no change.

Source: Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and U.S. Department of Education. FNS-374, " Making it Happen! School Nutrition Success Stories," Alexandria, VA, January 2005.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Canned Fuel Corn

We use a lot of energy from gas and other sources in order to make the food we eat. As this diagram illustrates, it take over 3,000 calories of energy to produce one can of corn. That corn offers the body only 375 calories of food energy. Other examples:
  • " Breakfast cereals, which contain about 3600 kcal of food energy per kilogram, require on average 15,675 kcal/kg to process and prepare."
  • " A 12-ounce can of diet soda requires a total of 2200 kcal to produce (over 70% of which goes toward the aluminum can) and may provide only 1 kcal in food energy.
Source: Martin C. Heller and Gregory A. Keoleian, "Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System", Center for Sustainable Systems, U. of Michigan, Report No. CSS00-04, December 6, 2000

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

WA small farm stat

" About 89 percent of Washington farms fit the U.S. Department of Agriculture definition of small farms: less than $250,000 in gross annual sales, with the day-to-day labor and management provided by the farmer and/or the farm family that owns or leases the productive assets of the farm."

For comparison, the Small Business Administration considers any business with less than $500,000 in sales to be small.

Source: Washington State House of Representatives Office of Program Research Bill Analysis, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, HB 1311, " Continuing the small farm direct marketing assistance program."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Media and Obesity

The Kaiser Family Foundation released a report in 2004, The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity, that brings together research from a variety of disciplines for the first time in a document that looks exclusively at the role of media in contributing to and potentially helping to reduce rates of childhood obesity.

From the press release:
The typical child sees about 40,000 ads a year on TV, and that the majority of ads targeted to kids are for candy, cereal, soda and fast food... Exposure to food advertising affects children’s food choices and requests for products in the supermarket.

The report also highlights ways media can play a positive role in helping to reduce childhood obesity, through programs that encourage children to be active and help teach good nutrition, through public education campaigns aimed at children and parents, and by using popular media characters to promote healthier food options to children.

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, The Role of Media in Childhood Obesity, Feb. 2004

The taxing burden of obesity

Ann Cooper wrote a paper for the Food and Society Policy Fellows with this quote (and source):

"It costs approximately $6,000 to feed a child lunch during the entire tenure of their K-12 education, and it costs our health care system and our taxes approximately $175,000 per adult, for illnesses related to poor childhood nutrition."

Sources: “National School Lunch Program,” USDA: Child Nutrition Webpage: FNS Online, February 2002; “Nutrition and the Health of Young People: Fact Sheet,” USDA:CDC, June 1997.

More obesity facts

Quotes (and original sources) from the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Improve School Foods program:
  • " According to the USDA, healthier diets could prevent at least $71 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and lost lives."
    • Source: Frazao E. "High Costs of Poor Eating Patterns in the United States." In America's Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. Edited by Elizabeth Frazao. Washington, D.C.: Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1999. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 750, pp. 5-32.
  • " U.S. health-care costs due to obesity are $94 billion a year, half of which ($47 billion) is paid through Medicare and Medicaid."
    • Source: Finkelstein EA, Fiebelkorn IC, Wang G. “State-level Estimates of Annual Medical Expenditures Attributable to Obesity.” Obesity Research 2004; 12:18-24.
  • " From 1979 to 1999, annual hospital costs for treating obesity-related diseases in children rose three-fold (from $35 million to $127 million)."
    • Source: Wang G, Dietz W. "Economic Burden of Obesity in Youths Aged 6 to 17 Years: 1979-1999." Pediatrics 2002, vol. 109, pp. e81.

What's In The Foods You Eat

The USDA has created a website that allows you to see the nutrient profiles for 13,000 foods commonly eaten in the U.S. You can search on items ranging from raw apple to McDonald's apple pie.

Where Energy is Used in Agriculture

Here's how agricultural energy consumption is broken down in the U.S.:
  • 31% for the manufacture of inorganic fertilizer
  • 19% for the operation of field machinery
  • 16% for transportation
  • 13% for irrigation
  • 8% for raising livestock (not including livestock feed)
  • 5% for crop drying
  • 5% for pesticide production
  • 3% miscellaneous

Source: McLaughlin, N.B., et al., "Comparison of energy inputs for inorganic fertilizer and manure based corn production," Canadian Agricultural Engineering, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2000.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Food Dollar

In 1999 consumers spent $618 billion for food. 80% ($498 billion) of this amount covered the transporting, processing, and distributing of foods that originated on U.S. farms, while the remaining 20 percent ($121 billion) represents the gross return paid to farmers.

Source: USDA Agriculture Factbook 2001/02,

Do you know how our diet has changed?

The USDA Factbook for 2001/02 (the latest year for figures) has this to say about the changing American diet:

  • In 2000, Americans consumed an average 57 pounds more meat than they did annually in the 1950s, and a third fewer eggs.
  • Americans are drinking less milk and eating more cheese.
  • The average consumption of added fats increased by two-thirds between 1950-59 and 2000.
  • The per capita consumption of fruit and vegetables increased by one-fifth between 1970–79 and 2000.
  • Consumers eat too much refined grain and too little whole grain, while the annual average grain consumption was 45 percent higher in 2000 than in the 1970s.
  • America’s sweet tooth increased 39 percent between 1950–59 and 2000 as use of corn sweeteners octupled.

Source: USDA, "Agriculture Factbook 2001-2002," chapter 2,

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

The Cost of Obesity

A recent National Academy of Sciences report, "Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance", described how the best way to fight the increasing obesity youth epidemic is to reform a number of separate yet interrelated social sectors. From the report’s Sept. 30, 2004 press release:

"We must act now and we must do this as a nation," said Jeffrey Koplan, vice president for academic health affairs, Emory University, Atlanta, and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Koplan chaired the committee of 19 experts in child health, nutrition, fitness, and public health who developed the report in response to a request from Congress for an obesity prevention plan based on sound science and the most promising approaches.

"Obesity may be a personal issue, but at the same time, families, communities, and corporations all are adversely affected by obesity and all bear responsibility for changing social norms to better promote healthier lifestyles," Koplan added. "We recognize that several of our recommendations challenge entrenched aspects of American life and business, but if we are not willing to make some fundamental shifts in our attitudes and actions, obesity's toll on our nation's health and well-being will only worsen.

“ Among specific steps recommended by the report is a call for schools to implement nutritional standards for all foods and beverages served on school grounds, including those from vending machines.”

The Insitute of Medicine's Prevention of Obesity in Children and Youth program website continues to show the costs that society carries for such issues by showing that “Obesity-associated annual hospital costs for children and youth more than tripled over two decades, rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 to $127 million in 1997-1999. After adjusting for inflation and converting to 2004 dollars, the national healthcare expenditures related to obesity and overweight in adults alone range from $98 billion to $129 billion annually.”

Obesity and diabetes discussion are dominating most health discussions these days, including a cover story by Time and expanded coverage around a TIME/ABC News Summit on Obesity. The executive summary mentions items the attendess disagreed on as well as these items of agreement: “The challenge is to shift from an economy and eating habits that are quantity-driven to ones that are quality-driven… Our economy and longstanding government policies are based on providing plentiful, cheap — and often low-quality food. That needs to change.”

At the summit, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona said

" As we look to the future and where childhood obesity will be in 20 years... it is every bit as threatening to us as is the terrorist threat we face today. It is the threat from within."

Together these facts and concerns show the realities of how some of our current ag, nutrition, and education policies are affecting our children’s health, and our public health system financially. The calls for needing social norm-busting approaches is clear, and a new approach that impacts what we feed our children has been mentioned from those within our federal government. Since changing what people feed their children at home is extremely difficult and brings in to play invasion of privacy arguments, we can collectively utilize our public funds to address these issues.