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Call for closer attention to sources of nutrition

By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-07 09:14

With an eye on COP28, experts advocate focus on carbon footprint in Gulf region

With interest growing in Gulf countries for sustainable and climate-friendly food such as that based on plant-based diets, experts have warned that carbon footprint logistics and supply chains of such produce need to be carefully assessed and upgraded.

They have also said food production must be climate-friendly, especially when heat waves and disastrous windstorms are hitting many places.

"Carbon-neutral food is defined by the impact of both upstream and downstream processes of food production," said Dalal AlGhawas, founder and chief executive of the agri-food consultancy and trading company SWAPAC in Singapore.

"Carbon neutral certification labels for consumer packaged goods have been growing in popularity."

In countries that belong to the Gulf Cooperation Council, logistics and supply chains need to be clearly assessed when it comes to the carbon footprint, given that they import 80 to 90 percent of their food, AlGhawas said.

However, plant-based products are being produced in the United Arab Emirates, with recent opening of pilot plants such as the IFFCO Group's Thryve and the UAE food technology company Switch Foods.

Carbon-neutral labels need to assess the life-cycle assessment, AlGhawas said, especially because the main ingredients are imported from large soybean producers in the Americas such as Brazil and the United States that may need to be individually audited with regard to their carbon neutrality.

This is so particularly with regards to the decrease in biodiversity and deforestation associated with soy production, she said, citing a World Wide Fund for Nature study of 2014.

Most oil-producing states in the region have established national visions to help diversify their economies.

As such, with Qatar's staging of the FIFA World Cup last year and the UAE's impending hosting of the United Nations Climate Conference, COP28, in Dubai from Nov 30 to Dec 12, there has been a lot of momentum on how these events can be more sustainable from the organizing aspect down to the food consumed. It is also about strengthening resilience and food security, being in one of the most vulnerable regions in the world when it comes to the impact of climate change.

Affordable options

The COP28 President-Designate Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber of the UAE, who is also managing director and group chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, has written to youth activists guaranteeing the availability at the conference of plant-based food options that are "affordable, nutritious and locally and regionally sourced, with clear emissions labeling".

His letter, dated May 17, was addressed to YOUNGO, or the Children and Youth Constituency to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

His letter followed outreach from the youth groups in April, sent by YOUNGO and Food@COP with support from ProVeg International, that called for at least three-quarters of all food options on the menu to be plant-based.

Last month officials of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture of Saudi Arabia signed two agreements to turn agricultural plant products into plant-based foods with animal protein flavor, according to a report by Arab News. A ministry research center focused on advancing agricultural product development will be established, it said.

Lana Weidgenant, a youth activist and campaigns and policy officer at ProVeg, a food awareness organization, said: "This year the UAE presidency of the climate conference is also prioritizing consultations with young people, so that has helped us to bring forward this important ambition in addressing agriculture and food sustainability at the climate conference."

AlGhawas said the COP28 committee's decision to replace animal protein with plant-based alternatives (mainly from soy), "will have the greatest impact with beef and dairy in comparison to other ruminants, poultry and seafood".

Nadim Farajalla, director of the Climate Change and Environment Program at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon, said that while many are calling for low carbon, it would also be "better to look for means of using the carbon footprint of wasted food".

There is growing interest in the urban form of agriculture, or "vertical agriculture", he said, but this uses a lot of energy and water and does not fully plug the gap that is needed to feed people.


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