Food Production

Some of us take a fully stocked supermarket for granted. With the labour and resources that go into food production, it’s no wonder that Agriculture is the biggest industry in the world. Without access to a balanced diet, people are prone to disease, malnutrition and, in severe cases, starvation. With an increasing world population, food security is at risk. Therefore, it is important to look into sustainable food production to ensure that everyone has access to food, not only today but for future generations.

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Contents
Table of contents

    Basic Knowledge of Food Production

    Food production can be summarised using the term ‘farm to table’. It essentially encompasses the 3-part food production process: input → processing → output. Each part can be referred to as follows:

    • Input = raw material, i.e. the crops or livestock from a farm - it is dependent on the diversity of species across the planet.

    • Processing = manufacturing the raw material/s, usually in a food manufacturing plant, into a food commodity.

    • Output = final product, the food commodity you would expect to see in the supermarket.

    The production of flour = unprocessed wheat grain → milling of the wheat grain → flour

    The Food Production Process

    Farming food crops and livestock in the food production process is vital! Agriculture has been around for thousands of years as many folks used to grow their own food and raise their livestock. Albeit on a smaller scale, just enough to feed themselves and their families. Nowadays, modern farming techniques are employed to produce food on a much grander scale to feed vast Populations in modern urban cities and larger towns.

    To cater to the increased demand for food, farming techniques used during food production must be efficient without compromising on yield and quality. This allows farmers to get maximum increase in animal Biomass as efficiently as possible, and the customer gets them as cheaply as possible.

    Biomass is an organism’s total amount or weight in a particular area or volume.

    Restricting the energy transfer of the animal to the environment is one method that can help improve the efficiency of food production. Animals respire, which allows them to move around and control their body temperature, but it requires energy transfer. To prevent this loss of efficiency, the following can be done:

    • Controlling the surrounding temperature - keeping livestock at a temperature that is not too hot or not too cold means the animal can use less energy regulating their body temperatures.

    • Limiting movement - keeping livestock in smaller areas means they move less and reduces the need for Respiration.

    Limiting the need for these processes means there is less Respiration, and the Animals use up less energy. This means more biomass is available for growth.

    Animals in these smaller spaces are often fed Antibiotics to help prevent disease. Some scientists believe this is adding to the antibiotic resistance in Bacteria problem. Read more about this in our article on "Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria"!

    Another method to increase the growth of animals is by feeding them high-protein foods. If we look at the food chain of certain animals that we eat, like a chicken, we can see that it eats Plants in nature. However, by the time the chicken is ready to be eaten, it has used up most of the plant’s biomass.

    Feeding the animal another animal allows for the growth rate of the animal to increase, however it does reduce efficiency. For example, traditionally, the food chain would look like plant → chicken → human, but with the introduction of fish meal to chicken in modern farming techniques, it now looks like plant → fish → chicken → human. This extra step reduces efficiency but yields bigger chickens!

    Ethical Concerns

    With the increase in demand for cheap meat and animal products, some may argue that these modern intensive farming techniques are unethical. Keeping livestock in confined spaces, like in factory farming, has the potential to spread diseases, and many think it is controversial to keep animals in unnatural conditions.

    Due to the strong ethical objections to some of these practices, rearing chickens and veal (calves) in small cages or pens have now been banned in the UK and across the EU.

    On the contrary, it can be difficult to judge what exactly is best for the chickens or cattle being reared. In places like the UK, where it gets cold, windy and rains a lot, particularly in the winter, a cow may prefer to be indoors in a barn where temperatures can be controlled. Many of the modern farming practices in the UK balance animal welfare and maximum yield.

    Food Production and the Environment

    Intensive farming practices are proving to harm the surrounding environment. With agriculture being the world’s largest industry, innovations in the different stages of farming have led to increased crop and livestock yield. Take a look at the table below to see some farming techniques, and how they impact the environment.

    Modern Farming TechniqueDescriptionImpact on Environment
    Livestock grazingMillions of acres of land are set aside for agricultural livestock grazing.- Deforestation to make space for grazing land.- Livestock are responsible for a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions, notably methane.- Overgrazing leads to environmental degradation.
    MonocultureGrowing one type of crop across large fields to maximise profits.- Reduction in Biodiversity as key nutrients are quickly lost in the soil.
    Hedgerow removalAllows fields to be bigger and easier to tend to with big farm machinery.- Loss of habitat for many species, therefore, reduces Biodiversity.
    Use of machineryMany crops are harvested, sown and/or treated with heavy machinery. Can cover larger areas.- Large machinery creates pollution.
    Synthetic fertiliser useChemical Fertilisers help to increase plant growth which in turn increases food production.- Runoff can enter watercourses leading to eutrophication - threatening biodiversity and health of native Plants and aquatic species.- Formation and release of nitrous oxide, a harmful greenhouse gas.

    Factors affecting Food Production

    Think about the importance of food. With over or under consumption of food, people are susceptible to diseases, malnutrition, or starvation. A balanced diet is necessary for world health. This means that food production is necessary to ensure Populations all across the globe get the food they need.

    However, it is not just about ensuring that enough food is grown or produced, it also covers access. What good is it if all this food is available, but no one can get their hands on it, either by growing it themselves or by buying it in the supermarket? This is where food security comes in.

    Food security is the measure of having enough food to feed a specific population. This population could refer to a range of different scales of people such as a household, a region, a whole country etc. Food security indicates the availability of food, whether it is suitable for consumption (a measure of quality) and if people of specific populations can access it.

    There are biological factors which can threaten food security. These are listed in the table below:

    Biological factorsIts impact on food security
    An increasing world populationIncreasing birth rates, particularly in developing countries, and better access to medical care means that the world population is rising. A possible threat to food security as there may not be enough food to go around.
    Changing dietsIn places like Europe and North America, the increase in demand for more interesting foods means that scarce food resources from other countries (usually developing countries) are sent over. Therefore, the local population is deprived of their traditional food, or the prices are hiked up.
    Environmental changesSuch as global warming which has brought about severe weather like droughts and floods. This has devastating effects on food security as crops fail to grow, animals die, and people can starve.
    New pests and pathogensWorld travel and climate change have led to an increase in new pests and pathogens moving from one place to another. These can affect food crops or livestock.
    Increased farming costsAgricultural inputs cost money. Things such as machinery, Fertilisers, seeds, water irrigation systems, livestock etc can be expensive. So instead of helping with yield, it can hinder food security.
    ConflictsSince infrastructure can get destroyed during conflicts of war, it can affect the availability of water and food and increase food costs.

    Sustainable Food Production

    With an increasing human population across the globe, sustainable food production is a necessary step. This is about ensuring that everyone gets enough food, and this supply can continue for many years.

    Implementing sustainable farming and food production methods can help to overcome food shortages, help those with food security issues and ensure that resources are not used faster than they can be renewed. It involves implementing actions such as:

    • Reducing the number of stages in a food chain to improve food production efficiency, such as using Microorganisms.

    • Soil quality maintenance, so that plants can grow for successive generations.

    • Looking after the fish in our oceans and seas to ensure stocks aren’t depleted.

    Organic Farming

    Intensive farming methods reduce biodiversity, increase pollution, and degrade the surrounding environment. Many object to this type of farming. As a result, some farmers have started to become more organic. Organic farming intends to reduce the extent of damage that intensive farming has. It does this by reducing the use of machinery, avoiding pesticides, and using natural fertilisers like manure or compost.

    Some organic farmers also rotate their crops, avoiding monoculture. This helps to:

    • promote biodiversity
    • maintain soil health.

    These more natural methods of organic farming are more labour intensive and make crops vulnerable to disease due to the lack of pesticides. This increased risk of crop failure and extra labour means organic produce is more expensive.

    Food Production - Key takeaways

    • Food production can be summarised as a 3-part process: input → processing → output.
    • Modern farming techniques aim to maximise animal biomass as efficiently as possible while keeping costs down for the customers. However, it does come with ethical concerns.
    • Intensive farming practices reduce biodiversity, increase pollution, and degrade the surrounding environment.
    • Food security is the measure of food availability for a given population, and many factors can threaten this, including an increasing world population, conflict, and climate change.
    • Sustainable food production is necessary to ensure that everyone gets fed today and for future generations without using resources faster than they can be renewed.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Food Production

    How can we make food production more sustainable?

    It involves implementing actions such as:

    • Reducing the number of stages in a food chain to improve food production efficiency

    • Soil quality maintenance so plants can grow for successive generations

    • Looking after the fish in our oceans and seas to ensure stocks aren’t depleted

    What are the factors affecting the amount of food we have?

    • An increasing population
    • Changing diets
    • Environmental changes
    • New pests and pathogens
    • Increased farming costs
    • Conflicts

    What are some examples of food production?

    Catching fish, raising livestock, collecting eggs, growing food crops

    What is the role of food production?

    To produce food to feed large populations.

    How are microorganisms used in food production?

    They help to improve food production efficiency by reducing the number of stages in a food chain.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is the definition of 'Farming' in the context of biology?

    How does farming and fishing influence ecosystems?

    How can farming and fishing influence the balance among species in ecosystems?

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