A recent report from The University of Melbourne identifies the environmental footprint required to feed the city of Melbourne. This report shows how much land, water, and energy it takes to feed a rapidly growing city and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions generated from food production.
Currently, each person living in Melbourne requires 3.45 kilograms (7.6 pounds) of food to be produced daily. This figure represents a total and includes foods consumed and edible and inedible food wasted throughout the food chain.
This report also shows approximately 16.3 million hectares of agricultural land is required to feed the population of Melbourne for one year, the majority - almost 90 percent, for beef and lamb production. According to Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia primarily uses an open grazing approach to beef and lamb production rather than smaller land-print production processes, such as a feedlot system. Beef and lamb production required a significant amount of land; however, according to MLA, land used is mostly unsuitable for other food production and needs little to no irrigation. By 2050 the land required to feed the city will have almost doubled, according to authors of the foodprint report.
To grow this food for Melbourne’s population requires a minimum of 475 liters (125 gallons) of water a day per person. Beef and lamb products (26.3 percent) and dairy products (53 percent) represent three-quarters of Melbourne’s water footprint. The amount of water required per day is; however, an underestimate as it doesn’t take into account rainfall, or water used at other stages of the food supply chain, such as food processing.
The amount of food consumed by the Melbourne population accounts for over 0.9 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per person, per year. These are conservative figures according to the report’s authors and don’t include emissions generated through the food supply chain, such as processing, transporting, refrigerating, cooking or wasting food. These emissions are primarily related to the production of beef and lamb (58 percent) and a further 21 percent due to dairy production.
Thirty-two percent of edible food is wasted, according to the report. This level of waste is equivalent to approximately 200 kilograms (441 pounds) per person, per year - enough to feed more than 2 million people for a year. “Our research shows that more than 60 percent of food waste is generated before food reaches your fridge or freezer,” said Dr. Rachel Carey, Research Fellow at Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab and co-author of the report.
The city is faced with a range of vulnerabilities now and in the future to continue feeding Melbourne’s population. These include the loss and degradation of farmland, water scarcity, and climate change; whereby rising temperatures, reduced availability of water and extreme weather events will affect food production.
There are opportunities to protect Melbourne’s food production, including reduced urban sprawl and protection of existing farmland by increasing urban density to house the increases in population. Authors of this report also suggest reducing red meat consumption as another way of protecting future food production levels, because approximately 58 percent of greenhouse gas emissions associated with Melbourne’s food production is due to red meat production.
Lastly, reducing food waste, as outlined in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, will reduce pressure on resources such as, land and water and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. There has been an announcement by the current Australian Government’s Environment Minister to develop an Australian national food waste strategy – the National Food Waste 2025 Strategy, to reduce food waste in Australia; however, at this stage, there has been no further action on the development of this strategy.