‘Food in the Anthropocene’: new ‘plant-focused’ diet could save the planet

A new diet report, created by the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health, has been proposed as a diet that could both poor global nutrition and avert environmental disaster caused by present-day food production methods.

The report states, “Because much of the world’s population is inadequately nourished and many environmental systems and processes are pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production, a global transformation of the food system is urgently needed.”

Key tenets of the diet include a radical change in food production, a great reduction in red meat consumption in traditional western diets, and a reduction in sugar consumption.

“Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts.” said Prof. Walter Willet, one of the leaders of the commission. “Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The main bulk of the report itself is devoted to three sections, the goal, the targets, and the strategies. The goal stated by the EAT-Lancet Commission is ‘To achieve planetary health diets for nearly 10 billion people by 2050″. The targets include and require red meat and sugar consumption to be cut in half globally, while the consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, and nuts, must double. This range is not universal, but geographically specific, stating that instead of halving their red meat intake, North Americans need to eat 84% less, and up their bean and lentil consumption six times. In Europe, we must reduce our red meat consumption by 77%.

The report is wise in it’s differing estimations, noting that “some populations worldwide depend on agropastoral livelihoods and animal protein from livestock. In addition, many populations continue to face significant burdens of undernutrition and obtaining adequate quantities of micronutrients from plant source foods alone can be difficult” 

The introduction of the report stated that their were four scenarios that could develop in the future; win-win, win-lose, lose-win, and lose-lose. According to the scientists behind the report, win-win would prevent the deaths of 11 million people worldwide, and prevent the collapse of the natural world, which is currently under an immense amount of pressure.

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An example of the plant-focused, flexitarian plates that the report endorses. Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

Our global food system is inherently broken, with distribution favouring wealthier countries, who both consume more than they need, and waste much. There are also issues with physical production, in terms of the environmental degradation caused by overfishing, and the footprint of the meat industry. Reducing meat and dairy products, or avoiding them altogether, may be the greatest way the individual can reduce their environmental footprint.

In a report published by Springmann et al, it was stated that a 90% drop in red meat consumption and reductions in other meat categories were essential to introduce into our lifestyles in an attempt to avoid the effects of climate breakdown.

“Humanity now poses a threat to the stability of the planet,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden, another author of the report. “[This requires] nothing less than a new global agricultural revolution.” The ‘planetary health diet’ strongly recommends only one portion of red meat per week, the size of an average beefburger, and stresses that most protein should come from plant alternatives. The steep rise in plant-based and vegan diets in the last two years has shown that, at least in western countries, this change in protein source is highly possible, and no longer a ‘radical’ idea.

Willett emphasises that this is not a diet of ‘depravation’, but rather “a way of eating that can be healthy, flavourful and enjoyable.”

To keep in line with the 2C limit of global warming set by the Paris Agreement we can assume that “world agriculture will transition toward sustainable food production, leading to a shift from land use being a net source of carbon to becoming a net sink of carbon. “

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“Actions considered for reducing environmental impacts from food production.” Source: EAT-Lancet Commission Summary Report

“Global food production threatens climate stability and ecosystem resilience.” said Prof. Johan Rockström, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Stockholm Resilience Centre. “It constitutes the single largest driver of environmental degradation and transgression of planetary boundaries. Taken together the outcome is dire. A radical transformation of the global food system is urgently needed. Without action, the world risks failing to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.”

In all, the report advocates the ‘Great Food Transformation’. “The data are both sufficient and strong enough to warrant immediate action. Delaying action will only increase the likelihood of serious, even disastrous, consequences. ” The report outlines five strategies for this immense change:

  1. Seek international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets
  2. Reorient agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy food
  3. Sustainably intensify food production to increase high-quality output
  4. Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
  5. At least halve food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals

The report goes on to state that food will be the “defining issue of the 21st Century”. Richard Horton and Tamara Lucas, editors at Lancet, wrote “Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. If we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance will be restored.”

 

 

 

 

Record numbers sign up for Veganuary 2019

Veganuary. The month that people dedicate to changing up their diet by consuming solely plant-based, vegan produce. With people entering 2019 with the phrase ‘new year, new me’ rooted deeply in their mindset, will we see them sticking to the change of diet?

This year, record numbers have signed up to the Veganuary pledge, with over 250,000 from 193 countries signing up. On Sunday 30th December 2018, 14,000 people signed up at a rate of one every six seconds.

2018 saw a real boom in the rise of veganism, with numbers of products available and adherents to the vegan lifestyle increasing exponentially.

“In 2018 there hasn’t been a week that has gone by without veganism hitting the headlines, whether it is a magazine editor being fired or Waitrose launching a new range of products,” said Rich Hardy, Head of Campaigns at Veganuary.

“Vegan products are getting a lot better and it is becoming a lot more convenient to have a tasty plant-based diet.”

One of the reasons for the surge in active members in the vegan community has been the warnings from scientists across the globe about the damage meat production and consumption has on the living planet, in terms of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions the industry creates each year.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet. In May 2018, an incredibly comprehensive analysis of the impact of animal agriculture was published, which stated that avoiding animal products was the single most productive way to reduce an individual’s environmental footprint.

‘Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by 3.1 (2.8-3.3) billion hectares (a 76% reduction), including a 19% reduction in arable land; food’s GHG emissions by 6.6 (5.5-7.4) billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction); acidification by 50% (45-54%); eutrophication by 49% (37-56%); and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%.’

Recently, delegates who attended the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland were reprimanded for the menu served in the food court on site, a menu very high in meat-based products.

A third of UK consumers say they have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat, or excluded it from their diet entirely, according to the supermarket chain Waitrose. in 2018, one in eight Britons declared themselves as either vegetarian or vegan. 21% participate in a flexitarian diet, which is where a mostly plant-based diet is sometimes supplemented by meat, dairy, or fish.

Joseph Poore, of Oxford University, who led the research, said: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth – not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

Veganuary’s site states that the three main reasons to practice veganism are animal welfare, health, and environmental protection. It offers a practical explanation of all three reasons, including recommendations for videos, articles, discussions, and a list of vegan myths they take the time to dispel. There is also a ‘vegan starter kit’, advice on where to eat out, and a hundreds of recipes.

While Veganuary grows in numbers, environmentalists are worried that it will be hard to promote this lifestyle to the majority of people within the small time-frame that we have left to tackle climate breakdown.

‘Though dietary change is realistic for any individual, widespread behavioral change will be hard to achieve in the narrow timeframe remaining to limit global warming and prevent further, irreversible biodiversity loss.’

 

Governmental cherry-picking: over 32,000 badgers killed in annual cull

During the annual badger cull this autumn, more than 32,000 badgers were killed. This was done with the intent to reduce tuberculosis in cattle.

While officials stated that the culls were effective in stemming the prevalence of the disease, independent scientists said the date said officials were quoting was cherry-picked.

In 2017, 33,000 animals that were infected with TB were slaughtered in 2017. Michael Gove, the current environment secretary approved a huge increase in badger culling in September, which could see up to 42,000 animals shot. The data published by the government on Tuesday shows that so far, 32,601 badgers have been killed, a record number.

It seems that this cull is nothing more than an effort to protect capital over biodiversity.

While some badgers will be spreading TB, it is poor biosecurity on farms and the frequent trading of cattle that has more of a negative effect on TB control efforts than badgers themselves. The increasingly high amount of badgers culled in efforts to stop the spread therefore seems meaningless. Around half the culls failed to meet their initial targets.

“The ways that these targets were altered varied between sites in a completely non-standard way,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, of the Institute of Zoology, who was part of a 10-year badger-culling trial. “The scientific term for this methodology is ‘making it up as you go along’.”

Woodroffe stated that there was no basis for confidence in the cull, since it was impossible to estimate from the information gathered.  “We are all used to politicians making optimistic statements based on unreliable data. For a scientist to do so is deeply worrying,” she said.

“Claims that the culls are reducing cattle TB is based on cherry-picking data from a report produced by government scientists. It states explicitly that ‘these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle’.” said Woodroffe. The government focused on areas where TB seemed to be dropping, yet missed out areas where rates of TB seemed to be rising.

“This is the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.” Said Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust. “By the end of 2018, the government will have spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers [since 2013], which could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England where it has lived since the ice age. The badger cull is a cruel, costly and ineffective policy and its continuation is a national disgrace.”

We have to ask; what is the point of this cull? To simply protect assets? It is clear that government officials do not view natural biodiversity as an asset. Other options must be assessed.

 

COP24’s meat-heavy menu could contribute 4,000 metric tons of emissions to atmosphere

Right at this moment delegates from all over the world are meeting in Katowice, Poland, for COP24, the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change conference, to discuss the implementation of plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that global heating is restricted to 1.5C.

Of course, this means that delegates need to be fed. You would think that the fare on offer would as eco-friendly as possible. Unfortunately this is not the case. A new study by the Center for Biological Diversity, Brighter Green, and Farm Forward, has discovered that the menu on offer could potentially be responsible for 4,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report opens ‘While world leaders gather in Katowice, Poland, for the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference (UNFCCC), or COP24, the main food court serving the conference’s estimated 30,000 visitors is offering twice as many meat-based entrees as plant-based entrees. This means a menu with an unnecessarily high carbon foodprint. If international climate conferences hope to lead the way in addressing the climate crisis, organizers can’t afford to overlook the food offered at their events.’

The study stated that the meat-based options generated around 4.1kg CO2e per serving, while the plant-based options emitted around 4 times less than that, at 0.9kg CO2e per serving. If each of COP24’s 30,000 visitors chose a meat-based dish during the conference, this would contribute the equivalent of ‘burning more than 500,000 gallons of gasoline or the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to 3,000 people flying from New York to Katowice.’

To put the menu into specifics, the least carbon-intensive entrée is cabbage and mushroom dumplings, which in comparison to the most carbon-intensive entrée, beef with smoked bacon, produced 35 times less greenhouse gas emissions. Now it may seem of interest to offer a wide-range of foodstuffs to cater to everyone’s individual tastes and dietary requirements, but when a group of people gather to lead the charge against climate breakdown, shouldn’t their personal actions reflect their lofty ideals?

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‘If the food court replaced the beef patties with plant-based patties on its cheeseburgers with Louisiana sauce, it could cut each burger’s carbon footprint by 82 percent, or 6 kg of GHG emissions each.’

“The meat-laden menu at COP24 is an insult to the work of the conference,” said Stephanie Feldstein, director of the Population and Sustainability program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If the world leaders gathering in Poland hope to address the climate crisis, they need to tackle overconsumption of meat and dairy, starting with what’s on their own plates. That means transitioning the food served at international climate conferences to more plant-based options with smaller carbon footprints.”

30% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are made up of emissions directly caused by the global food system, with a large amount of those emissions being caused by animal agriculture.

‘If current trends continue, food production will nearly exhaust the global carbon budget for all sectors by 2050.’

For us to effectively tackle climate breakdown, both the production and consumption of meat and dairy must be reduced significantly. If we want to keep global heating below 1.5C, a drastic shift in our diets needs to occur, especially with the high meat consumption in western countries, and the growing demand for meat in countries like China.

A report published in 2014 called ‘Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans in the UK‘, noted that the average emissions of meat eaters was 7.19kgCO2e/day compared to 2.89kgCO2e/day for those who consumed a vegan diet.

‘In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions.’

Unfortunately, even though the science of agricultural emissions is sound, the issue is not one that has been covered in international climate negotiations and debates. This lack of attention is shown by the short-sighted menu offered at COP24.

“We know that we cannot meet the Paris Agreement goals, or the 1.5C target, with business as usual,” said Caroline Wimberly of Brighter Green, who will be in Katowice for COP24. “Food is not a matter only of personal choice, but an essential factor in solving the climate crisis. Demand-side policies and efforts, including food waste reductions and shifting diets—prioritizing populations with the highest consumption of animal-based foods—are critical in achieving a climate compatible food system and curtailing emissions.”