The year 2019 has had its share of reports published about the state of the biodiversity crisis, the undeniable causes and devastating impacts of climate change, the worsening state of food security and nutrition worldwide, and the compounding catastrophic consequences that these issues will have on present and future generations to come.
Dozens upon dozens of studies, reports, and accompanying campaigns this year alone have cited evidence that a shift in food production and consumption patterns, and their enabling factors, are urgently needed in order to halt and reverse the climate crisis, save entire ecosystems, and deliver healthy and nutritious diets to billions of people worldwide.
A few examples include:
- As mentioned in our previous blog post, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Climate Change and Lands states that a large-scale shift towards plant-based diets presents an opportunity for climate change mitigation and adaptation. It also includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.
- The much quoted report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) states that “Feeding the world in a sustainable manner, especially in the context of climate change and population growth, entails food systems that ensure adaptive capacity, minimize environmental impacts, eliminate hunger, and contribute to human health and animal welfare.” It also identifies agriculture as “a fundamental driver of global biodiversity loss through its area expansion and the increase of pollutants and resources used in production.”
- A joint report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Bridge Collaborative finds that “unsustainable livestock practices are a global stressor for biodiversity, climate, and water. There are also linked human health risks from overconsumption of animal-source foods, particularly for red and processed meats.” It also states that “growing consumption of animal-source protein by well-nourished adults takes a significant toll on the planet’s fragile natural resources. It suggests “improved production techniques, reduced food loss and waste, and expansion of diets with a greater proportion of protein from plants and other nutrient-rich, more sustainable sources” as solutions to addressing the major environmental threats of food production and consumption.
- The UNDP is currently also running a campaign on The Hidden Costs of Unsustainable Food Production, which highlights that “Diseases from meat and dairy-based diets are exploding”, “the way we produce our food is corroding a sustainable future” and that to limit global warming “we must change our diets and reform the entire system of food production, consumption and distribution.”
- The Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), as detailed in our blog post, calls for the reduction of meat consumption to ensure sustainable food systems, going so far as to say that allocating land for livestock rearing in some areas is a “non-rational use of resources.” The report explicitly calls for “significant reductions in meat consumption where current rates are high” and states that “In many developed countries, consumers could reduce the demand for animal products and improve their health by eating less meat, that is, adopting meat-light or meat-free diets.”
- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recently released guiding principles on Sustainable Healthy Diets. These state that “animal source foods have higher environmental impacts per calorie or grams of food produced than do most plant-based foods” and that “global adoption of a low-meat diet [...]is estimated to reduce diet-related GHGs by nearly 50 percent, and premature mortality by nearly 20 percent”.
- The Draft of the Fifth Global Biodiversity Outlook report, which will be finalized in May 2020, states that “A transition to healthier diets that include more moderate consumption of meat, promote a greater emphasis on plant-based foods, and dramatically cuts waste in food supply chains” is one of the conditions necessary to achieving the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity. This echoes the findings of the Fourth Global Biodiversity Outlook report, published in 2014, which highlighted that an “Adoption of less meat intensive diets and reduction of food losses and waste can be promoted as critical steps for reducing pressure on biodiversity, while bringing additional benefits including improved health and reduced costs.”
Dozens of other reports are slated to be published in 2020 and it is very likely that their findings will be just as, if not more, alarming. However, we already have ample information to know that it is high time to move past the stage of evaluations and deliberations.
Stakeholders at all levels must step up and take transformative and bold actions that will revolutionize food systems for the better. Individual dietary change is a good ethical and health choice, but in order to achieve transformative change at the level needed, systemic change is urgently necessary. This includes a dramatic reform of the entire food system, starting at the very beginning of the supply chain all the way through to the final consumer. As stated by the FAO and WHO:
“Shifting dietary habits [...] will require actions from governments, businesses, and individuals that go beyond information and education programmes. This will include interventions to change the supply and demand, not least shifting social norms away from meat-based diets. [...] many changes across multiple sectors of the food system are needed.”
Government mechanisms, including fiscal incentives and disincentives, along with legal frameworks and regulatory instruments must promote the production, consumption and distribution of sustainable and healthy foods.
It has never been and never will be sustainable to continue to prioritize profit and destruction over the protection of the environment, animals and humans. All is not lost and solutions are within reach. The time to act is now.