Scientists issue report advising cereal makers how they help improve the environment

Farmers and cereal companies need to find ways to make some of our favorite breakfast foods more sustainable and environmentally friendly, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is here with a report to help them out.

We have to face facts, our food supply is an unsustainable mess that is wreaking havoc on the environment and is contributing to the current climate crisis.

Right now, we produce more food than we actually need, enough for 10 billion people, and a lot of it is wasted.

In fact, cereal makers have so much supply that does not hit the market for a variety of reasons that beer companies are using it to make unique brews in the United Kingdom in an effort to reduce waste.

But a lot of the problems come from the farming that grows the grains from which cereal is produced.

For instance, much of the corn grown in the United States is produced in ways that poison water resources.

According to Karen Perry Stillerman of the UCS:

Most of that corn is grown in environmentally damaging ways. Much of the nitrate in Iowa’s drinking water is due to corn. Toxic algae in Lake Erie is largely due to corn. Coastal “dead zones” — especially the one in the Gulf of Mexico that is forecast to be the size of Massachusetts this summer — are largely due to corn. While it wasn’t part of our analysis, a recent study revealed that corn is also a major source of air pollution. Today’s dominant corn production system damages our soil, pollutes our water, releases heat-trapping gases and misses the opportunity to store carbon in the soil.

As a solution to this problem, Stillerman suggests looking at Cheerios.

Those O’s, whether plain or honey-nutted, are mostly whole oats; other oat-based cereals include Honey Bunches of Oats and Lucky Charms. U.S. farmers used to grow a lot of oats, but they’ve been replaced by other crops (see “corn,” above). Now, oats are seen as a key to diversifying Corn Belt landscapes. A long-running Iowa State University study has shown that rotating oats and other crops with corn and soybeans can dramatically reduce soil erosion and pollutant runoff while maintaining farmer profits.

Indeed, crop rotation and the planting of cover crops in the off season is proven to reduce nitrate run-off.

Planting more wheat would also save water and increase soil health.

Like corn, wheat is grown across large swaths of the country, with similar effects on the soil. But there are soil-health building practices available to these farmers, too. For example, Montana farmers have found that crop rotations that include lentils — a legume requiring little moisture — have helped build soil health and increase farm resilience in that arid region, with added economic benefits.

In the end, however, the real power to make change is in the hands of consumers who could choose what cereal they purchase. If more people started buying more organic cereals or even oatmeal, companies would have to switch their strategy, which means so would farmers. It’s the kind of cause and effect that would go far to help our environment and make our food supply more sustainable in the long term.

To read the report, click here.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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