Hearing Looks at Climate Consequences of Food Choices

Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who also serves as chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming began on Feb. 26 looking into the choices people make on food and agriculture and how those choices affect the environment, specifically the "carbon footprint" of growing, transporting, packaging, disposing and otherwise providing sustenance to people around the world.

Changing the way the world creates and consumes energy is an effective way to combat global warming, however, "lifestyle" choices increasingly will play an important role in making immediate cuts in the pollution that causes global warming.

The hearing starts by looking at the food service industry and the food choices and serving options Congress makes available in the House of Representatives.

Agriculture and food issues are only starting to be fully understood. Recent studies have uncovered the following impacts:

• A 1999 British study showed that the purchase of local apples resulted in an almost 3,000 percent reduction in energy use and 87 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions than apples imported from New Zealand.

• Produce in the United States travels, on average, 1,300 – 2,000 miles from farm to consumer.

• A 2006 International Solid Waste Foundation study predicted that by 2025, food waste will increase by 44 percent worldwide.

• When food waste rots, it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the United States.

But more and more food suppliers are learning that by using locally grown foods, environmentally friendly packaging, and waste-recycling processes, the environmental and global warming impact of the food service industry can be reduced. Food service giants like Sodexho, Aramark, and the Capitol's own vendor, Restaurant Associates, are working with cafeterias to provide more local food and less waste.

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