How Is Ag Helping Battle Climate Change?

On the run? LISTEN to our post!

When President Joe Biden announced his goal of making the United States carbon neutral by 2050, a lot of eyes immediately turned to the agricultural sector.

After all, farming and ranching accounts for about 38 percent of land usage worldwide – more than 12.4 billion acres – with the land in the United States alone using about 44% in some form of agriculture and food production. Farming and ranching have big carbon footprints, certainly.

But the good news is that crops produced every day on this land also draw carbon from the air and store it in the earth, helping offset greenhouse gas emissions and regenerating healthy soil. The cattle on the range help enrich the soil, which grow the grasses that sequester carbon. In fact, we need carbon for our plants and trees to grow, giving ag a promising opportunity to help battle climate change through practices that will reduce costs, improve yields and boost profits on the farm.

A Solution – Carbon Trading

Here is how it works. Those businesses that emit carbon will buy carbon credits from those who sequester carbon, avoid carbon, or capture emissions. In the case of agriculture, a farmer naturally pulls carbon out of the air just by growing crops or raising cattle on the range.

Let’s say a corn farmer with 1,000 acres wants to participate in this program. The conversion is approximately 0.5 tonnes of carbon per acre, but it depends on whether the farmer utilized no-till, reduced fertilizer, restores wetlands, plants, trees, etc. They would sell their carbon credits to a broker who would then sell it to a company, such as Microsoft, or an individual who emitted carbon and wants to offset it.

What’s the story behind carbon sequestration?

The overall effort is referred to as “carbon sequestration” – a systematic approach to expanding on-farm efforts to lock carbon in the soil through better farming practices. No-till and low-till farming, use of cover crops, smart crop rotation, expanded plantings of perennials, rotation of cropping, and animal grazing all contribute to keeping or pulling carbon into the ground and out of the atmosphere. The result: less of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that many scientists say too much promotes rising global temperatures.

Today, more and more farmers and ranchers are embracing the idea of carbon sequestration, both as a responsible environmental practice and a means of improving their own economic sustainability. The government, various academic institutions, and some important private enterprises are establishing practical methods of measuring the results of on-farm carbon sequestration efforts and building an effective marketplace to establish a value for their results.

The challenge here will be to ensure a verification process that works for each farm in each state with different types of farming practices and soil health.

But the benefits to farmers and society don’t end with reduced CO2. Science also shows that these practices are important to the entire “regenerative agriculture” movement, which seeks to promote an improved and sustainable approach to generating and maintaining the healthy, vital soil needed to feed this and future generations.

It all remains very much a work in progress, but the initial efforts have proven highly appealing to the farm community and all others with an interest in a better environmental future.

A recent study by the University of Missouri’s Division of Applied Science found very encouraging results of efforts to date. Rising food production levels over recent decades have indeed raised the overall greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, the study found. But expanded use of cover crops, no-till, and other carbon-capturing techniques have helped fuel a decline in the per-unit emissions for both crops and beef. In plain English, “we are producing more units of food at less greenhouse-gas emission per unit of food than before,” according to authors Ray Massey and Cammy Willett.

Analysis done at the 2015 Paris climate conference contended that even a small increase in the levels of carbon in soil would have a major environmental benefit.  Called the “4 per 1000” initiative, scientists argued that increasing soil carbon by just 0.4 percent annually would offset an entire year’s increase in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel emissions.

What’s the Value of Sequestered Carbon?

Carbon sequestration in agriculture is in many respects an extension of a well-established environmental principle encompassing energy, industrial and other sectors. As far back as 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sought to reduce the emission of sulfur gas – and resulting “acid rain” — from coal-fired power plants.

Credits for reduced emissions helped spur the needed transition to more environmentally friendly practices – and helped usher in the idea of a marketplace for these “carbon credits.” The industry could use these credits to offset actual emissions, in effect buying time to make costly changes while still advancing the larger goal of lowering harmful emissions.

A “carbon credit” typically represents one metric ton of CO2. The prices paid for carbon credits vary widely, based upon the industry or sector involved and changing market factors. A carbon credit within agriculture currently is in the range of $30 per metric ton and remains fluid as more and more organizations enter the marketplace.

There is a question as to what the price has to be in order for the farmer to make a profit after incorporating some sequestering practices. It could be as high as $35 per ton. Studies on the subject provide varying estimates of just how much carbon can be sequestered per acre, depending upon the production techniques employed, soil types, water conditions, and numerous other factors. One study found no-till alone could sequester an average of 0.3 metric tons per acre per year – or roughly an extra $10 for every acre of cropland.

Sounds great. So what’s the problem?

Part of the challenge facing the carbon sequestration efforts rests in the sheer complexity of the task.

The first challenge is to collect enough data to deliver precise result metrics. The effectiveness of carbon sequestration in farming varies by several factors — soil types, soil health, climate conditions, water presence, to name a few. Fine-tuning the analytical process demands extensive data collection and careful analysis by agronomic experts. That work will be critical to developing a better understanding of the most effective practices in each production area or individual farming situation.

But an aggressive effort on that front is already underway across many leading universities and private institutions. Coupled with advances in data analysis services available to farmers, this work promises to help refine the assessment process and lower the costs of current expensive analysis.

Another big task is the development and refinement of carbon credit markets.  How will farmers and ranchers be rewarded for their success in locking away more and more of the carbon blamed for climate change?

As with any new economic phenomenon, the emergence of carbon markets has produced what may seem to be a complex and fragmented marketplace.

The government, private enterprise, and opportunistic market players all seem to be working to create markets attractive to producers, while Congress and the Biden Administration continue to wrangle over the development of comprehensive and cohesive policies and regulations for a major agricultural economic frontier. Amid all the discussion and debate, Economist J. David Aiken of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln calls the current environment “the wild, wild west.”

One major market has emerged for industries subject to stringent environmental regulations. The coal-fired energy plants that once dominated energy production helped pave the way for the development of the markets needed to buy carbon credits.

Today, energy, chemical production, waste management, forestry and lumbering, industrial manufacturing interests, and other non-agricultural enterprises actively seek to purchase carbon credits, most often through private agreements.

Efforts by the Obama Administration in the wake of the Kyoto climate accord to develop the Chicago Climate Exchange showed the difficulties that come with such an ambitious undertaking. The exchange sought to create a market for greenhouse gas credits but died amid congressional opposition to the Obama approach to GHG regulation.

Legislation to create a carbon bank through the U.S. Department of Agriculture remains before Congress, with bipartisan support from farm-state and other legislators with a genuine concern about climate change and the positive role to be played by the agricultural sector in dealing with it. Progress in advancing the bill, however, remains complicated by the larger political logjam regarding legislation deemed by political leaders as having higher national priority.

Many private and commercial entities have entered the market space, seeking to develop networks of producers willing to help build the needed data banks in exchange for financial payments based on acceptable measurement standards and techniques.

The challenge will be for companies to add up all their carbon emissions and figure out how much they need to offset with a carbon credit. This will be a time-consuming and arduous process. Economists like Aiken predict dramatic growth in these “voluntary carbon markets,” citing the work of Stephen Donofrio at Forest Trends, who projects growth of 1,500 percent by 2030 for them.  McKinsey predicts a $50 billion market by 2030.

What comes next?

The role of carbon sequestration within U.S. agriculture is increasing – but the road ahead will be long and winding.

A large part of the frustratingly slow pace can be traced directly to Washington, D.C., and more specifically, Capitol Hill. Clear direction in the form of agreed policies, standards, and regulatory guidelines would do much to advance the adoption of the environmentally friendly practices important to dealing with the climate change challenge.

But there’s good news, despite the frustration with Washington. The agricultural sector isn’t waiting for D.C. legislators and bureaucrats to find the answers needed for a climate solution.

Farmers and ranchers recognize the value of exactly the practices at the core of carbon sequestration – and the broader set of practices that contribute to soil health and comprehensive regenerative agriculture. Environmentally smart practices already are part of the production and land stewardship approach taken by farmers today. Creation of carbon markets will serve to speed and expand adoption of such practices. Not to mention offer another income source for farmers.

The farming and ranching community already is one of the most environmentally aware and committed sectors of our society.  Its members know that responsible environmental practices aren’t just the right thing to do but the smart thing to do as well. They know we all have a role to play in dealing with the climate change that threatens all of us. And they know that these practices can have a major positive effect on their own economic survival, beyond an additional income stream.

Soil sequestration practices cut costs. Over time, they enhance yields. And maybe most important in an era of rising costs and smaller margins, they mean a stronger bottom line — and their own operational sustainability.  

How safe is our food from cyberattacks?   

The United States arrests two foreign nationals months after largest cyberattack on American infrastructure.…

The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week it arrested two men, one a 22-year-old Ukrainian national, the other a 28-year-old Russian national, for their role in the cyberattacks in June that disrupted businesses and government entities in the United States. The DOJ says it also seized more than $6 million in ransom traced back to the hackers.

The arrests come on the heels of two new cyberattacks on agriculture. In September, the cyberhackers hit farm cooperatives in the Midwest, Iowa-based NEW Cooperative and Crystal Valley in Minnesota. Both entities were attacked by what experts believe is the same group that launched the ransomware attack against JBS SA, the nation’s largest meat processor, in June. This comes less than six months after President Biden said he told Russian President Vladimir Putin 16 categories of business, industry, and critical infrastructure in the United States are  “off-limits” to Russian hackers.

Food & Ag in the Crosshairs

At the summit with Putin, President Biden did not reveal what the 16 categories were, but experts believe they are likely the same ones designated as “critical” by the Department of Homeland Security, as shown below.

That’s why alarm bells went off when, after Biden’s warning, the hacker group, known as “BlackMatter”, hit NEW Cooperative for $5.9 million and Crystal Valley for an undisclosed amount? American news outlets report the Russian group posted that they didn’t think NEW Cooperative had enough volume to be a critical company.

New Cooperative disagreed about their volume, telling Modern Farmer the company “provides software to 40 percent of American grain production, as well as feed scheduling for millions of livestock animals.”

The arrests could signal to cyberhackers that future attacks won’t be tolerated.A hit on any part of the food and agricultural sector can not only harm our ability to feed ourselves but to our economy as a whole. The American food and agricultural system accounts for approximately 20% of our nation’s economy. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) reports food and ag consist of over 2 million farms, almost 1 million restaurants, and more than 200,000 “registered food manufacturing, processing, and storage facilities.”

Many people first heard of cyberattacks, ransomware, and anonymous Russian hackers hitting America’s critical infrastructure when the hackers’ work generated major headlines this past June. But this type of technology terrorism has been around for a while. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been keeping a detailed timeline of cyberattacks. CSIS says crimes of this nature have been happening since 2006. They only track cyber hacks that hit world governments, defense, high-tech companies, or other economic crimes that cause loss of more than 1 million dollars. That certainly includes the recent attacks on the co-ops as well as the attack this June on JBS SA, the world’s largest seller of meat.

Targeting the Big Players

The Wall Street Journal reports JBS SA paid the hackers $11 million dollars in bitcoin to stop the attack and prevent further damage not only to their company, but to their clients as well. “It was very painful to pay the criminals, but we did the right thing for our customers,” JBS CEO Andre Nogueira told the Journal. In a statement the company released to the press, Nogueira added, “we felt this decision had to be made to prevent any potential risk for our customers.”

Security experts estimate that JBS SA was one of 800-1,500 businesses to be hit by cyberattacks this summer. The hackers also targeted the Keystone pipeline and other government infrastructures. CNBC reports in 2020 that these attacks cost companies $350 million in cryptocurrency, a more than 300% jump from the year prior.

Breakdown of a Cyberattack

Here’s how the cyberattacks work: hackers, mostly from Russia, break into a company’s technological infrastructure using sophisticated software and take their data hostage. The hackers then threaten to cause disruptions, release private information, or delete it unless a ransom is paid (hence the name “ransomware”). These attacks are different from physical attacks on infrastructure in that it is the threat of damage, not the damage itself, that gets companies and governments to react.

Few Americans had ever heard of JBS SA, NEW Cooperative, or Crystal Valley before this year or likely understood how high-tech and sophisticated farming has become. In America, there can be a nostalgic view of farming. Farming has come a long way from the horse and plow. Farmers have tractors working off of GPS, sophisticated technology that enables them to manage their crop inputs, and access to markets to assess the futures market at harvest time. That means our ability to keep grocery store shelves filled with affordable food could be more impacted by technological disruptions than extreme weather events.

Bringing in the Experts

Cybersecurity experts, such as Susan Duncan (right), predict this is just the beginning of ransomware attacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure, with food and agriculture being a high-value target for hackers.

Susan Duncan is the Associate Director for the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and Director of the Center for Advanced Innovation in Agriculture at Virginia Tech. Her work is focused on technology and innovations developed and used in agriculture, food, and nutrition.

D2D interviewed Duncan to understand how the food supply chain is recovering from this summer’s ransomware attacks, how vulnerable agricultural technology is, and what’s being done to limit disruptions from hackers.

D2D: Did the ransomware attack carried out in June against JBS surprise you?

Susan: I wouldn’t say [the ransomware attacks] surprised me in the sense that all of us are vulnerable. Also, it wasn’t the first one that happened. Over the past several years, other agriculture and food companies have had ransomware attacks. They just didn’t receive as much publicity, and the general public was less aware of them.

D2D: Now that the average consumer is more aware of the threat, how should we understand the role technology plays in the food we find in the grocery store?

Susan: You are asking about the connection of technology with our food supply, grocery stores, and the restaurants where we typically find our food. Of course, we all recognize that apples come from orchards, bread from wheat, and the meat cuts in the refrigerated unit at the supermarket came from an animal, but what you might not recognize is that we have the technology behind all of that. Those products likely had some form of technology used on the farm, such as drones, robots, sensors, computers on tractors, computer-controlled irrigation systems, and guided technology for managing animal feeding.

These technologies on the farm level generate data, which can be analyzed and translated into information to alert farmers or help them make decisions about how to manage their farm, protect the environment, and protect their crops and animals from extreme weather events like frost or drought. [It can also tell farmers] when to harvest and sell their crops or animals, so the quality and productivity is the highest. They are using technology to watch for weeds and pests growing in their field crops.

D2D: How vulnerable are these technologies? How secure are the systems?

Susan: Great question. We think incorporating agricultural technologies is safe and needed, but some changes are happening that introduce risks that we haven’t previously thought about or focused on. The connectivity of technology, the increased opportunistic and malicious players that seek access to data and computer-controlled equipment, the lack of awareness for protecting the equipment, computers, and software [all] increase vulnerabilities.

The agriculture and food system is huge, complex, and very diverse. As we saw, major companies, like the meat producer and processor JBS, have vulnerabilities. If you operate a small farm with one computer used to manage your business, store your drone data, analyze your crop data, you may not have sufficient financial resources, personal capacity, and experience to secure your computer. But at the same time, you most likely will not be a target. Cyber thieves are looking for targets with a lot of assets. Farmers should continue to use data and technology – the benefits still far outweigh the risks.

D2D: What questions should the farmer be asking upfront when they purchase technology then?

Susan: If [a farmer] purchased an inexpensive drone, what do you know about the security of the data? If there is backdoor access for control where the data from the drone may be used by a company in other way? How could a cyberattack affect your capacity to manage your business operation? Can you trust the drone data? Is the data corrupted or modified, and how might that influence your decisions for the appropriate management of your crops or animals?

These are all hypothetical questions. We don’t see this happening in the marketplace right now. However, I ask these questions so farmers know to read the fine print on all their technology and make sure they know how their data is being used. Overall, we want farmers to continue to use technology and we believe the benefits outweigh the risk by a significant amount.

Farmers using their technology resources and how to use them is just a smart protection measure. I compare it to wearing a seatbelt while driving. Overall, our risk of a car accident is very low, but we still wear a seatbelt. Well, that’s what we advise farmers to do. Read the fine print, understand how your data is collected, used, and secured. It’s precautionary and wise.

As agriculture is increasingly influenced by computers and becomes more reliant on digital data, we want to address the gaps in awareness and skills that are created. These are the most significant sources of vulnerability.

D2D: There is a need then for more education and awareness for farmers?

Susan: Awareness is important. Knowing the technology vendor and what the small print of the contract says is essential. The data you generate from the tractor, drone, sensor, or other technology may actually be owned by the company, and you don’t own your own farm data. Older systems probably need software upgrades to improve security. You know we all went through that experience with our computers. Haven’t we all experienced the situation when our old computer or smartphone couldn’t use the new software or apps? Old software, with its outdated security and coding systems, may not work on our new computer. It’s best to check on the security and get updated software and security systems on computers.

D2D: What else do farmers and processors need to think about as they deliver their products to market?

Susan: We have to think about how the organization or farm transfers information and knowledge to other entities within the food supply chain. There’s that gap between what you did in your company or what your farm might need versus what the upstream or downstream companies might be introducing.

Are you prepared to accept the risks imposed by the company that you work with if they are not attentive to the security of their technologies and computers? The security of our technology is really dependent on the age of the system. It’s also dependent on the amount of expertise within the company, how much they focus on security, and whether or not they’re willing then to take steps so that they have at least that fundamental baseline security process in place. Because most of the agricultural network comprises small and medium-sized farms and companies, they don’t necessarily have all those resources.

D2D: As farmers become more aware and ask the right questions about their technology, what is being done in the agricultural industry to prevent and protect from cyberattacks?

Susan: Several years ago, a colleague who had worked for years in national security talked with us about cyber biosecurity, which is a developing domain at the intersection of cybersecurity, biosecurity, and cyber-physical systems with applications in the life sciences such as agriculture. That introductory conversation has led to a pretty intensive and expansive engagement for us and at a significant time for our country. This is relevant to securing our production agriculture, biotechnology, and food supply chain and making certain that U.S. consumers and people worldwide do not suffer from a lack of food due to malicious cyber-attacks. Academia, the private sector, and government agencies at the state and federal levels are all working together to ensure our farmers and food can remain safe. It is a continuing effort and not one that has a specific beginning and endpoint. There is also not one solution but a myriad of options from better data management to security to preventing the attacks altogether.

D2D: How safe then is our food supply system?

Susan: Our agricultural food system is extremely safe. It’s not just safer from food borne illnesses, but we are building the technology and public/private infrastructure to address these cyberattacks. Sure, these attacks are scary. But the agricultural community has been through worse, and we’ve always come up with solutions. While bad actors will always be in the world, American farmers are responsive and adaptive, and we are tackling this problem head-on. Farmers and consumers should know there is large community of private and government entities working together to address the vulnerabilities in our food system.

5 Reasons the Holidays Cost More This Year

Whether you’re looking for quick information, or want something to impress your friends at dinner, here’s our Featured 5 of the Week!

Are you ready to pay more this holiday season? Food prices are still rising at an alarming rate, and our elaborate holiday feast is not immune to this. According to the Farm Bureau, the average cost of Thanksgiving dinner last year was $47, and this year it’s estimated to cost up to 5% more. Why? Here are a few reasons:

1. Disruptions in the supply chain

Food prices in the U.S. remain low most of the time because of how efficient our food chain runs, but when one segment of the chain is not as efficient, it affects the entire food chain. Right now, we’re seeing inefficiencies in multiple parts of the chain, specifically in moving, collecting, processing, producing, warehousing, distributing, and retailing. So, what does this do? Increase the prices.

2. Higher cost of materials

There are many different materials in a typical Thanksgiving dinner, and all of these materials are more expensive and continue to rise in price. For example, grains, oils, and oilseeds have significantly increased over the past year, which affects our bread, stuffing, and more. The price of corn has gone up, and since corn is fed to turkeys, the price of turkeys will rise, too. The cost of raising animals has also gone up.

3. Higher transportation costs

Remember during Covid when we would thank all of the truck drivers delivering our goods to us? Well, it seems we’ve since forgotten about them. But higher fuel costs and a lack of drivers contribute to the inflating food prices we’re seeing. Will this lack of drivers also cause a shortage? Probably not. But, it will definitely affect the cost of our food.

4. Labor

We’ve already talked about the labor shortage, and this shortage of willing workers is only driving costs up more. A lack of drivers, supply chain works, retail workers, and others contribute to both the inefficiency of the food chain and the rise in prices.

5. A more demanding consumer

After this last year, we’re all looking to capture the warm, fuzzy feelings that the holidays bring, especially since it’ll be the first one with our friends and family in over a year. We don’t want to make sacrifices and are willing to pay more, which is not a bad thing. But consumers are keeping the demand high, and supply simply cannot keep up.

A Stick or a Carrot to Help Us Eat Healthy?

On the run? LISTEN to our post!

It’s no secret that poor dietary habits have real – and unpleasant – consequences. But what can be done? What’s the best approach to helping people everywhere make better food choices?pr

What’s going on in the U.K.?

U.K. restauranter, Henry Dimbleby, was commissioned by the U.K. government to independently review their entire food system. While it began as an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses from farm to fork, they particularly focused on issues of hunger and ill-health brought about by Covid. Their National Food Strategy was written as an extensive analysis of the various food issues facing consumers, along with a set of specific policy recommendations designed to deal with them.

The “Dimbleby Report” has brought to light the already heated debate on the “right” food policy for a modern world. One of their recommendations was to put a sugar tax on foods since too much sugar can contribute to obesity and poor health. As the report notes, junk food contributes to 64,000 deaths each year in the U.K. In the United States, medical expenses to combat obesity total over $150 billion, sometimes reaching $210 billion a yearThe report suggests simple economics as a possible solution, in the form of new taxes on the sugar and salt common to unhealthy food.

The U.K. also recognized that the answer to decreasing obesity doesn’t lie in one simple approach to food policy. It demands a comprehensive set of tools for leading citizens to a better, healthier future – one that accommodates the nutritional and economical needs of people and the maintenance of a sustainable food system.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson immediately announced his opposition to the tax proposals. And in the United States, critics of the “tax the sin” approach pointed to the controversial results of similar attempts to tax sugary drinks. So that leaves us with one question: What works best to create consumer behaviors leading to healthy people: a punishment or a reward for better decision-making?

The National Food Strategy Report – The Evidence, July 2021.

What is a sugar tax?

A sugar tax is a surcharge that’s levied on sugary foods and beverages, including soda, candy bars, cereal, etc. The Dimbleby Report is also considering a salt tax, designed to reduce the consumption of chips and other salty snacks and junk food.

There are different ways to impose this tax, including taxing per ounce or adding a percentage of the cost. Ireland imposed a soda tax in 2018 with 30 cents per liter added to any sugary drinks with more than eight grams of sugar per 100ml.

The Dimbleby Report proposes a tax of about $4 US per 2.2 pounds of sugary and salty foods. This kind of tax would raise over $4 billion US. But where will the money go? It said that some will provide fruit and veggies to low-income communities, but how realistic is this?

And who is this tax targeting, realistically? It’s no secret that sugary, salty, processed junk foods are cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables, making them staples for low-income consumers. For example, a Mediterranean meal for two of salmon, quinoa, and broccoli could cost up to $20 or more. While a box of mac and cheese for two only costs as little as 98 cents.

18% of the U.K. population is considered low-income and 20% of working-age adults are considered living in poverty, plus 30.7% of children. This is much more than the 10.5% poverty rate in the U.S.

In fact, the Food and Drink Federation predicts that poor families will face an 11% annual increase in their grocery costs. This is equal to the total amount they spend per year on fresh vegetables.

Could it actually work?

Simply put, maybe. It could work in the short term if the tax was high enough, but no one wants that. Philadelphia imposed a tax on sugary drinks that increased their prices by almost 2 cents per ounce. Researchers found that the purchasing of these taxed drinks went down 39%. They also found that there was even more of a drop in neighborhoods with higher rates of chronic diseases.

However, only two months after the tax was put into effect, both grocery stores and distributors announced that they had to start cutting jobs and laying off employees because of the drop in sugary drink purchases. Pepsi laid off almost 100 employees and blamed the tax for it. It was also unclear if people were traveling outside the city to avoid the tax.

The city of Philadelphia faced even more trouble in 2016 when the American Beverage Association, several business owners in Philadelphia, and others filed a lawsuit against the tax because it went against the “Tax Uniformity Clause.” The case was dismissed in the end. New York even attempted to put a similar law in place to tax sugary drinks, but lost in court.

A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 estimated that a 20% tax would lead to a reduction in the prevalence of obesity in the U.K. of 1.3%, or around 180,000 people, with the greatest effects occurring in young people. They also reported that there would be no significant differences between income groups. But I wonder…how?

A tax of 20% is no small feat, especially for the economically disadvantaged, which we already know takes up a large portion of the U.K. population. This proves the point that for any real change to occur, a much higher tax is needed…

…a tax that no one wants and the economically disadvantaged can’t afford.

There is also a parallel here to tobacco taxes. Currently, the federal cigarette tax in the U.S. is $1.01 per pack. Despite this sizeable added cost to the consumer, there are still over 34 million adults and 1 million teenagers who smoke in the U.S. If people are still buying cigarettes now, even with this astronomical tax, do we think they won’t pay a little more for a candy bar, a bag of chips, or a bottle of soda?

Also, using a tax to persuade people to quit smoking is much different than using it to take food away from those who may not be able to afford anything else. The study above states taxes will work especially with low-income communities, but is our goal really to punish people for making food choices that sometimes are the only ones that can make?

What’s ‘the carrot’, then?

In lieu of a tax, a strategy proposed in 2020 by the U.K.’s Department of Health and Social Care was designed to decrease obesity and help the population fight Covid-19. This is similar to Chile’s successful campaign to combat obesity. With Chile’s stop-sign method, consumption of sugary drinks decreased by about 25% in the first 18 months.

This all-channel strategy included:

  • A ban on advertisements for junk food before 9pm online and on television
  • Ending “BOGO” sales in grocery stores on unhealthy foods
  • Displaying calories on menus
  • Showing calories for alcoholic drinks
  • Expanding weight management services through platforms, like self-care apps
  • Putting nutritional information on the front of food packages with a ‘traffic light’ system to encourage consumers to make healthier choices

Would a stop sign stop you? The Chilean Food & Advertising Law in effect, as shown within red circles above.

What are some other solutions?

There are solutions that don’t involve punishment or telling people what to eat. Here are some possible solutions to decreasing the obesity rate:

  1. Using an app to incentivize consumers to choose healthy foods. Boris Johnson proposed an alternative to Dimbleby’s report that includes creating an app consumers can use. When consumers make healthy food purchases, like fruits and veggies, they’ll accumulate points on the app. The points can then be used for discounts, free tickets, and more rewards. The app will also track calorie consumption and physical activity.
  2. Labeling policies have been shown to lead to greater impact than federal policies in Latin America. For example, Chile imposed a “stop-sign” method, where unhealthy foods had a black stop sign on them to decrease purchasing. In just two years, it led to a 24% decrease in the consumption of sugary drinks.
  3. Making fruits and vegetables cheaper and easier to prepare. Along with the sheer cost of fresh fruits and vegetables, some families also don’t have the time to cut, peel, and prepare. Cheaper and more accessible frozen and pre-chopped produce could allow consumers to purchase them.
  4. Early Education. Of course, the best way for consumers to eat healthier is through education. Knowing that we need to eat to be healthy and live a long life is incredibly important and should be taught at a young age. This is why we’ve partnered with the Farm Journal Foundation on an education initiative to teach students about nutrition, global food, and agriculture.
  5. Ending BOGO sales. We don’t really see many ‘buy one, get one’ sales on produce, but a lot on chips, candy bars, and other snacks. By ending sales of unhealthy foods in grocery stores, consumers may be less likely to purchase them or purchase as much.
  6. Advertising Policies. Creating stricter guidelines for junk food and sugary drink advertisements may also decrease consumer purchasing. It is the old, ‘out of sight, out of mind’ trick. If we don’t see junk food, we’ll be less likely to think about it and crave it, therefore we won’t purchase it as often.