Tasty as it is, your lunch may be killing the planet

ABERFELDY, Scotland, August 12, 2004 (ENS): Your lunch could be killing the planet, says WWF Scotland. On a new website, the organization demonstrates that many everyday items eaten in an ordinary office lunch are implicated in environmental destruction on a global scale.

The new website is titled, "Is your lunch killing the planet?" and it features authors who are contributing to WWF Food Debates at the Edinburgh Book Festival on August 22.

Using two popular British sandwiches - the tuna mayonnaise and the bacon, lettuce and tomato - and a can of fizzy juice the WWF Scotland website shows the hidden consequences that the production of some everyday foods can have on the environment.

Bread, for instance, used as a staple food across the world, damages the planet in many ways, according to the environmental organization. "Some of the worst environmental impacts of wheat come from the fact that it demands a lot of water. Wheat is the second most irrigated crop globally. Irrigation can lead to salinisation, erosion and the pollution of the water that people and nature depend on."

"Wheat farming is also a big user of pesticides - herbicides, soil fumigants, insecticides and fungicides - whilst quantities per hectare are not larger by comparison to other crops," the group says. "As there is so much land growing wheat large quantities of chemicals are used and get into the environment."

Most people never consider these impacts while munching their luncheon sandwich, but WWF Scotland says keep these thoughts in mind for the sake of the planet.

Mass-produced bread often contains fat made from palm oil. Demand for this versatile oil is a major cause of virgin rainforest clearance in southeast Asia, driving the orangutan closer to extinction.

European support for growing sugar beets in Europe is bankrupting poor sugar cane farmers across the world and exhausting vital water supplies in dry countries.

Most mayonnaise is made with soya oil grown in vast plantations, destroying the habitats of endangered species such as the jaguar and toucan in South America.

EU subsidies are supporting a system of tuna aquaculture which involves the capture of wild bluefin tuna and fattening them in cages - driving the species towards extinction.

The vast amount of water used to irrigate salad crops in Spain is causing an environmental disaster and forcing already struggling species like the Iberian lynx towards a losing battle for survival.

Wheat grown in the UK is used to feed animals to supply cheap meat, while most of the country's breadmaking wheat is imported.

One featured author, Felicity Lawrence, penned the book "Not on the Label: What really goes into the food you eat."

She writes, "Corn, sugar, soya, palm and rapeseed happen to be among the most heavily subsidized crops in the world. Fresh fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, are not subsidized. The former, when processed, are blessed with a long shelf life but are high in calories and low in nutrients; the latter are high in vitamins and minerals but have a tiresome habit of going off. Straightforward economics dictate what goes into the processed food we eat today."

Elsewhere on the new site WWF points out that meat farming for bacon produces massive amounts of waste that is polluting rivers, estuaries and oceans. "In the UK we eat something like 900 million animals every year," the organization states. "Amongst those are the eight million pigs kept in this country."

Feeding animals is taking land and water away from human food, the organization warns. "The EU imports 70 percent of the high quality protein it uses in animal feed, some from countries such as Brazil, Indonesia and Senegal where there is widespread poverty. Two thirds of the world's agricultural land is used for feeding animals. Even in the UK more than 75 percent of agricultural land is devoted to livestock."

"Consumers have the power to make a difference in a very significant way," says WWF Scotland. Every household spends hundreds of dollars every month on food, so food choices are economically powerful. "Thinking about where food and its ingredients come from, and how they are produced, may help us to choose more sustainable foods."

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