Sunday, 12 September 2010

CASE 059 - The food industry

The food industry is a complex, global collective of diverse businesses that together supply much of the food energy consumed by the world population. Only subsistence farmers, those who survive on what they grow, can be considered outside of the scope of the modern food industry. Most food industry systems, standards, distributions and laws are set by a central government, with many departments. Processed food sales worldwide are approximately US$3.2 Trillion.


Agriculture is the process of producing food, feed, fiber and other desired products by the cultivation of certain plants and the raising of domesticated animals (livestock). The practice of agriculture is also known as "farming", while scientists, inventors and others devoted to improving farming methods and implements are also said to be engaged in agriculture. More people in the world are involved in agriculture as their primary economic activity than in any other, yet it only accounts for four percent of the world's GDP.

Processing food

Food processing is the methods and techniques used to transform raw ingredients into food for human consumption. Food processing takes clean, harvested or slaughtered and butchered components and uses them to produce marketable food products. There are several different ways in which food can be produced.

One Off Production This method is used when customers make an order for something to be made to their own specifications, for example a wedding cake. The making of One Off Products could take days depending on how intricate the design is and also the ability of the chef making the product.

Batch Production This method is used when the size of the market for a product is not clear, and where there is a range within a product line. A certain number of the same goods will be produced to make up a batch or run, for example at Gregg's Bakery they will bake a certain number of chicken bakes. This method involves estimating the amount of customers that will want to buy that product.

Mass production This method is used when there is a mass market for a large number of identical products, for example, chocolate bars, ready meals and canned food. The product passes from one stage of production to another along a production line.

Just In Time This method of production is mainly used in sandwich bars such as Subway. All the components of the product are there and the customer chooses what they want in their product and it is made for them fresh in front of them. This way is a very unethical way


A vast global transportation network is required by the food industry in order to connect its numerous parts. These include suppliers, manufacturers, warehousing, retailers and the end consumers. There are also those companies that, during the food processing process, add vitamins, minerals, and other necessary requirements usually lost during preparation. Wholesale markets for fresh food products have tended to decline in importance in OECD countries as well as in Latin America and some Asian countries as a result of the growth of supermarkets, which procure directly from farmers or through preferred suppliers, rather than going through markets.
The constant and uninterrupted flow of product from distribution centers to store locations is a critical link in food industry operations. Distribution centers run more efficiently, throughput can be increased, costs can be lowered, and manpower better utilized if the proper steps are taken when setting up a material handling system in a warehouse

The food industry includes:

Regulation: local, regional, national and international rules and regulations for food production and sale, including food quality and food safety, and industry lobbying activities

Education: academic, vocational, consultancy

Research and development: food technology

Financial services insurance, credit

Manufacturing: agrichemicals, seed, farm machinery and supplies, agricultural construction, etc.

Agriculture: raising of crops and livestock, seafood

Food processing: preparation of fresh products for market, manufacture of prepared food products

Marketing: promotion of generic products (e.g. milk board), new products, public opinion, through advertising, packaging, public relations, etc.

Wholesale and distribution: warehousing, transportation, logistics

Please read CASE 030 - The meat industry



In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. Hydrocarbons from which one hydrogen atom has been removed are functional groups, called hydrocarbyls. Aromatic hydrocarbons (arenes), alkanes, alkenes, cycloalkanes and alkyne-based compounds are different types of hydrocarbons.
The majority of hydrocarbons found naturally occur in crude oil, where decomposed organic matter provides an abundance of carbon and hydrogen which, when bonded, can catenate to form seemingly limitless chains

Fossil Fuels and Industrial Farming

Conventional food production and distribution requires a tremendous amount of energy—one study conducted in 2000 estimated that ten percent of the energy used annually in the United States was consumed by the food industry.ix Yet for all the energy we put into our food system, we don’t get very much out. A 2002 study from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimated that, using our current system, three calories of energy were needed to create one calorie of edible food. And that was on average. Some foods take far more, for instance grain-fed beef, which requires thirty-five calories for every calorie of beef produced. x What’s more, the John Hopkins study didn’t include the energy used in processing and transporting food. Studies that do estimate that it takes an average of seven to ten calories of input energy to produce one calorie of food.xi

Accounting for most of this wasteful equation are the industrial practices upon which our food system is built. These include inefficient growing practices, food processing, and storage, as well as our system of transporting foodstuffs thousands of miles between the field and the end consumer.

Growing Practices

The biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals. As much as forty percent of energy used in the food system goes towards the production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides. xii Fertilizers are synthesized from atmospheric nitrogen and natural gas, a process that takes a significant amount of energy. Producing and distributing them requires an average of 5.5 gallons of fossil fuels per acre. xiii

Manure could be a more energy-efficient alternative to synthetic fertilizers, but because it is heavy this applies only when it can be used a short distance from where it is produced—and our industrial system precludes this option. xiv The problem is over-consolidation: We raise large numbers of livestock in one place and raise the grain they eat in other places. This means that the livestock produce an excess of manure where there’s no cropland for it to be spread on, making it a pollutant rather than a tool. Meanwhile, the fields that grow feed must draw their fertility from synthetic sources.xv We end up with concentrations of unusable manure in one place, and concentrations of chemical fertilizers in the other—and a whole lot of fuel wasted trucking feed and fertilizer around the country.

The extent of this waste is underscored by the fact that it’s largely unnecessary. Small, pasture-based livestock farms take advantage of natural cycles: the animals feed themselves on grass and distribute their manure themselves, fertilizing the pasture as they go. Rather than fossil fuels, they need only rain and sun to make the system work.

Packaging, Processing, and Storing Food

Approximately twenty-three percent of the energy used in our food production system is allocated to processing and packaging food.xvi Another thirty-two percent is burned in home refrigeration and cooking.xvii While no study has quantified the potential energy savings of buying locally, the practice of eating whole foods generally decreases the use of fossil fuels for processing, packaging, and storing foods. (Compare all the energy and packaging behind say, a can of tomato sauce, to simply buying some tomatoes, basil, and garlic, and making it oneself.) If the consumer chooses to store foods for long periods of time at home, this can often be done in a more energy-efficient manner than commercial packagers choose to use. One estimate suggests that reusing a glass jar five times at home can save about half of the energy a commercial packager uses to make five disposable containers.xviii

Food Transportation

Because industrial farming draws on the economy of scale, our food is increasingly grown in concentration in specific areas of the country. This is so common that it has shaped much of our country’s geographic identities—the western Plains are wheat country, the Midwest is the Corn Belt—but it has reached extremes. For instance, approximately ninety percent of all the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States are grown in California’s San Joaquin Valley.xix

This national-scale system is possible only because it uses large quantities of fossil fuels to transport food products to the consumer. It is now common practice to ship food not just around the country, but around the world. (In 2005, more than $120 billion of agricultural products crossed U.S. borders as imports and exports.)xx As a result, the average American foodstuff travels an estimated 1,500 miles before being consumed

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