global challenge

Image: Mike van Schoonderwalt


Zeroing deforestation is essential, but it does not eliminate the threats posed by the global agrifood system to human health, animal welfare and ecosystem services

“Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has a passion for simplifying it.” Rachel Carson's phrase, in Silent Spring, published in 1962, gained more relevance than ever. The complaint focused on what Rachel Carson called biocides, which are essential components of the Green Revolution: selected seeds realize their high potential under the effect of nitrogen fertilizers, in environments whose monotony favors the attack of invasive weeds, insects and fungi. , which will be combated using pesticides (biocides). Soils lose their biodiversity, release carbon into the atmosphere and this group is responsible for different forms of pollution and attacks on human health.

In animal husbandry, genetic transformations (especially in poultry and pigs) and the homogeneity of breeds also favor the spread of viruses and bacteria, the spread of which is now combated by antibiotics. In Germany, during the 200 days of a pig's life, antibiotics are administered for 48,5 days. In Brazil, these drugs are absorbed during 78% of the lifetime of the dominant pig farms, according to an article published in the prestigious scientific journal Animals.

73% of the antibiotics produced today (93 tons in 2020 and, according to current estimates, 150 tons in 2030) are intended for animals in these concentration camps. The consequence is the advance of antimicrobial resistance, which exposes society to the emergence of viruses and bacteria that known drugs are unable to combat. Public discussion of this topic is recent. In 2000, only five countries publicly reported the consumption of antimicrobial products.

This number has increased, but still, today only 47 countries expose this data. Brazil, with almost 8% of the global consumption of animal antibiotics (second in the world, well behind China with 45% of the total, but ahead of the United States with 7%), does not have an open record of this use. Second important work of researchers from Fiocruz state supervision on the subject could hardly be more precarious. recent document from US Academy of Sciences calls for the G20 meeting to be held in India in September to address the global advance of antimicrobial resistance

The monotony of agricultural landscapes and the reduction in the genetic variety of animals that, from the 1960s onwards, actually contributed to reducing world hunger, have become one of the most crucial global challenges. IPCC reports show that agriculture accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is categorical in placing the sector as the most important vector of erosion of biodiversity.

Halting deforestation is essential, but it does not eliminate the threats posed by the global agrifood system to human health, animal welfare and ecosystem services. And, since these threats derive from a system supported by long and internationalized production chains, the discussion on the emergence of regenerative agriculture and an accessible and healthy food supply has a global reach (and interest for the G20), for two reasons basic.

The first is of a geopolitical nature. The world knows 7.039 edible plants, of which 417 are cultivable. However, only fifteen products account for 90% of human food and four of them (rice, soy, corn and wheat) for about 60% of the total. These products are concentrated in a few countries and, within these countries, in a few regions. It is no coincidence that these regions are especially susceptible to the impacts of extreme weather events, such as the recent droughts in Brazil, Argentina, India, the North American Midwest and in producing regions in Europe. The importance of global agricultural trade cannot hide the risks of a system based so strongly on long and concentrated production chains as the current ones.

This agricultural monotony has become the fundamental basis of diets that harm human health and this is the second reason why the topic must be discussed globally. The importance of ultra-processed products is growing, made from a few agricultural products, to which components are added that offer flavors, colors, aromas and textures that simulate diversity and whose content induces the organism to consume them compulsively. These products are at the root of the global obesity pandemic and the world's deadliest diseases.

On the other hand, almost half of the global grain supply is destined for consumption by animals, in a world whose protein consumption is much higher than the metabolic needs of people, with the exception of some regions of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The most important thing today in facing the global food challenges is to increase the quantity of fruits, vegetables, fresh products, and not to generically increase the supply of grains, animal proteins and ultra-processed products. In this sense, an economy of proximity (with the advance, for example, of urban agriculture) is a promising path.

The Josué de Castro Chair of the USP School of Public Health and the Comida do Amanhã Institute presented a paper to the G20 meeting in India exposing the risks of the monotony of the agro-food system and recommending the diversification of both supply and consumption, based on appreciation of different territories, the recovery of local productive and culinary cultures and regenerative technologies. Of the 300 works that the G20 received, ours is among the twenty that will compose a book to be released in November this year, within the scope of the Indian presidency of the G20.

There is no country better able to lead this unavoidable transition process than Brazil and this should be a priority agenda for the Brazilian presidency of the G20 that will take place among us in 2024.

*Ricardo Abramovay is a professor at the Josué de Castro Chair at the Faculty of Public Health at USP. Author, among other books, of Infrastructure for Sustainable Development (Elephant).

Juliana Tangari He holds a master's degree in civil law from the Universitá Degli Studi di Camerino.

Originally published in the newspaper Economic value.

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