Yellow Track (C-33): Food Production

- Session Description (click to collapse)

Energy is an essential component of today’s globalized, high-input food system.  The mainstream food supply depends on oil for activities including fueling farm machinery, producing pesticides, and transport.  Natural gas is a key ingredient in fertilizer production. Electric energy from coal, nuclear, and renewable sources, is the key source for food processing and for maintaining the cold storage needed for food preservation and food safety.  An additional way food systems are impacted by energy scarcity, is that biofuel production rises when oil prices rise, thus linking food prices directly to oil prices.  For all these reasons, energy scarcity will have critical implications for food supply and food prices, and accordingly, for food security and equity.  

In this session, we will discuss questions including the following:
  • Where in the food system are the most important vulnerabilities?
  • What parts of the food system are most resilient?
  • What food system changes are needed?
  • What information is needed to support those changes?
  • What are barriers to change?
  • What, if anything, will motivate precautionary change?
  • What populations face the greatest risk, and what strategies are needed to help minimize the disparities in harms?
  • The linked threats challenging future food security and food systems go well beyond climate and energy, to include population, soil, water, and more.  What systems tools and other approaches are most helpful for addressing these “simultaneous equations”?
  • What is the role of public health in addressing these concerns?

After raising a set of issues, we will use technological tools and discussion to arrive at sets of priority needs for research and actionable information. This discussion will draw upon the following frameworks, as well as concepts brought in by participants:
  • Risk management, in which priorities are set based on likelihood of a threat coming to pass, and magnitude of potential consequences;
  • A public health oriented framework, in which priorities are set based on factors including the extent to which an approach is likely to be effective, feasibility of action, cost, ethical acceptability, political and social will, and potential for unintended risks. [drawn from the Intervention Decision Matrix by Fowler & Dannenberg]

- Moderator (click to collapse)

Roni Neff

Roni Neff is the Research and Policy Director of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future (CLF) and is an Assistant Scientist with the school’s Departments of Environmental Health Sciences and Health Policy & Management. Her research focuses on public health policy and social science themes relevant to understanding and changing food systems, including addressing disparities and promoting environmental sustainability. Particular interests include public health links to food system ecological concerns (climate change, peak oil, soil), public health and agricultural policy (especially the Farm Bill), and access to sustainably produced/healthy food. Her climate change research has focused on food-related greenhouse gas emissions and on measuring and communicating these impacts. Dr. Neff is editing a textbook on food systems and public health on behalf of the Center for a Livable Future, to be published by Jossey Bass.  She oversees the Center for a Livable Future's policy activities, including efforts to advance public health priorities in the 2012 Farm Bill.  She also oversees the Center's research activities, including doctoral fellowships and directed research.  CLF is an academic center focused on connections between diet, food production, environment, and public health (

Dr. Neff has worked in public health research, policy, and practice for 20 years. She is a member of the Delta Omega Public Health Honor Society, Alpha Chapter.


Ph.D., Public Health, The Johns Hopkins University, 2006
S.M., Health and Social Behavior, Harvard University School of Public Health, 1997
A.B., Brown University, 1989

- Notes (click to collapse)

Started session at 1:43 pm

Dr. Neff (RN) introduced herself followed by introductions around the room.
RN then began her power point presentation on peak oil and its effect on food prodcution. 
- Gave an overview of the role of petroleum throughout the food production system.
  - Production, packaging, transport, consumer use/demand, waste
  - Other energy uses - cooking, fertilizer production, cold storage, food processing, biofuel 
  - Food energy impacts - used to produce a lot more energy than consumed, now flipped. 
  - Eating to reduce petroleum use - minimize food waste, eat lower on food chain, eat local!
  - Energy scarcity worsens climate change (CC) challenges - challenges in adaptation, food 
     supply chain, agricultural equipment, increased food prices
  - 4 changes predicted to happen in ecosystem - reduced oil in food production, increased food 
     system energy efficiency, decreased food transport distance, changed food consumption 
  - Questions to the group - what are the most important vulnerabilities in food security? 

Esther Aranda - access to water, quantity (some areas will get more, some much less)
Mitra Ebrahimi - also, water scarcity and problems with food quality (toxins in food secondary to additives, land degradation, processing)
Mohamed Behnassi (MB)- difficulty in convincing corporations to invest in eco-friendly farming and for farmers to take that on because it does not yield short-term profits.  
RN - will their be a certain tipping point to where corporations/farmers take this on?
MB - Yes, economic shifts help move things toward the tipping point. One example in sustainable agriculture and responsible trade - very limited impact. But in the long term, can be another new market that can convince famers and corps to shift their values. This first requires support from government and business and to limit independence on oil in agriculture.
Katie Lima - a vulnerability is access to land as most world's population is living in urban areas. Example, Baltimore City is now able to have urban farming. Access to land can provide a challenging problem 
Larry Paxton - Increasing populaiton in industrialized nations. Hits land 2 ways - a) Cities are built on the best land (flat, near water); b) agragraian cultures change the entire economy of outlying areas. 
Ben Zaitchek - Where does "green water" fit in? Some people think that there needs to be more trade. Interesting point of tipping point in terms of food security - will be spikes and valleys. How can we make this happen? (variability versus trends)
RN - Trade is important. Variability is important question - economic modeling of some indications/volatility of food prices to make change. No answer as of yet...something to think about, esp in terms of public policy. Will be a challenge.
MB - The last food crisis showed that control of food market is extremely powerful. This trend is pushing food, water and land access control into developing countries. Important research points - how to improve the unknowns in trade. Very political problem that can't be changed in the short-term.
Katie Lima - Loss of knowledge secondary to extremely industrialized food industry is a vulnerability if needed to shift over to agricultural system. Traditional farmers already know how to do that.
Kristyna Solawetz - Knowledge in production strategies and indigenous farming knowledge is understated and being lost. Loss of innovation in agriculture today. Researchers could identify areas to go back to to learn more.
Jared Marguiles - How will food aid to developing countries be affected if oil runs out?
RN - need for more research
Kristyna Solawetz (KS) - US is the biggest donor and has policies in place to protect local markets in case of shortage. 

RN - Shift of discussion. What changes are needed to adapt to expected shifts? What tools and data, assistance, etc.? 
Referred to list from yesterday's session on water supplies and food scarcity.Took a few minutes to review the top priorities needing research/addressing on those issues.
1. Availability of infrastructure-info systems
2-Database of hydro characteristics by region
3- Land characteristics of crops/water
4- Health implications (for policy makers)
5- Scaling up indigenous knowledge
6- Security implications (for policy makers)
7- Better communication to policy makers
8- Food loss and supply chain - more info
9- Options for adapting to changing rainfall (crops, GM)
10- Cost analysis (for policy makers)

What changes would you make in terms of research in food security?
- Missed comment - Esther Aranda
- Land characteristics, different assumptions of transportations and fertilizer
- Owndership of land, type of land use. Better understanding of international development mechanisms
- Where we produce our foods in relation to where we live (big cities)
- Security and policy (example, countries have to make difficult decisions in cases of oil shortages - rationing)
RN - We may need to ration energy to leave a certain amount of energy for food, etc. What other research questions are there in there? What would it take governemtn to go in that direction in the US?

KS - Has there been resource budgeting by local governments for water supplies, etc? 
RN - Increased interest in ecosystems' services - to document how much is needed for our ecosystems...may influence policy
KS - Economic valuing of ecosystems. 
KAtie Lima (KL) - We need to map the hydrology and water resources in order to attribute value to it. Would then be able to ration it. 
Esther Aranda (EA) - Water for cities, estimates by utility officers are used. They compete with farmers. Adds another layer of complexity. 
RN - understanding those layers would be useful
Paul Turner - Is there any knowledge of producing non-nutrient type foods in comparison to nutrient-type food? Could the cost be federally adjusted (could benefit energy use and health)?
RN - Great point. There is not very good updated data on the actual energy that goes in to food production. 
Ashley Maltz - that would contribute immensely to the public health field by increasing the price of processed food and decreasing that of health foods.
Ben Zaitchek - biofuel industry is incredibly involved in analysing uses. Could potentially use their methods.
RN - life-cycle analysis data exists. Could be accessed to conduct further research
UNknown speaker - Water subsidies are given to grow soy, corn, etc (water calue vs crop value)
MB - Developing renewable energy in agriculture
RN - Back to stakeholders and planning to bring peak oil issues in to the equation. Food policy councils already exist, however, noone is talking about energy. What do we need to do to inform them and bring awareness to the topic?

Kimberly Mitchell (KM)- planners need to consider existing state regulations. Can create lots of conflict. 
RN - What types of regulatory changes would you suggest?
KM - Price differences, taxes 
EA - Incentives too. Planners must think at the local level and consider economic development, future growth and where people may be more affected. Problems occur at individual level and with vulnerable populations. Need to address issue of poverty. There is a lot being done with efficient construction, but not much being done with food. Economic development is super important. 
KL - There was a shift toward more automobile friendly cities, but now shifting toward pedestrian friendliness. Can improve health but will take a long time to accomplish. 
EA - Can provide public land for farming, allow urban farming, etc. 

Jared Marguiles (JM) - distribution is an issue in face of oil production crisis sec to transportation needs. Food processing has become extremely centralized
AM - Terrorism is another topic that hasn't been addressed.
Larry Paxton (LP) - farming and zoning. Tax structure changes when farming comes. Discussed Santa Clara, California's transformation from fruit production to Silicone Valley.
EA - What have other countries done during post-war time periods? Were they not very individualized? Should be looking at models from the past.
RN - 2 very interesting models - Cuba and N. Korea during Cold War. Cuba considered international model for sustainable agriculture. But these countries and situations are very different from US
BZ - How much are WTO rules for food commodities constraining our current market.
MB - WTO rules are less liberal, competition-based. There are established cultures that are difficult to overcome. Need pressure on these parties to liberalize the sector. 

RN - Poll on "What are the best opportunities for action/impact for research actions?"
LP - Encouraged participants to add comments to the website and fill out profiles, etc.

Poll results - 

Motivating change in behavior e.g. prices and volatility
14% (96)
Regulatory changes - including incentives, General urban development strategies
13% (90)
Documenting food energy use (updated)
10% (67)
Developing renewable energy in agriculture
8% (52)
Disaster preparedness
7% (48)
Water value vs crop value
6% (44)
5% (38)
Trade as a solution
5% (35)
Zoning strategies
4% (31)
Additional topics - worsening spending on mycotoxins, characteristizing the impacts of CC on food production systems  




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Water quality by Katie.Lima
Food security by Paul Turner
reducing food vulnerability by Larry.Paxton
the flip side by Jared.Margulies