No meat. No dairy. No problem. For years, the UN has voiced their suggestion of everyone giving up meat and dairy for good. All in the name of saving the planet. But for meat lovers and milk enthusiasts, it’s not so simple.
As population growth, climate change and environmental degradation continue to increase, changing our farming practices could hold the answer. According to the Food Ethics Council, agriculture accounts for 30 percent of global greenhouse gas – with beef (41 percent) and cattle milk (19 percent) accounting for the majority. And it’s not just the animals. The rate of increase in crop yields is slowing – especially in wheat – raising questions as to whether or not food production will be able to keep up with demand.
In addition, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations claim the other main sources of emissions are feed production and processing, enteric fermentation from ruminants and manure decomposition.
So the big question is: how do we sustainably produce enough food for a population that could reach 9 billion by 2050? Some scientists predict we will need 70-100 percent more food by that point.
It would appear the answer lies in technological advancement and reduced consumption.
It is no secret that producing meat leaves a high carbon footprint. On a global scale, people consume on average around 75 pounds of meat per person, per year, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
With an expanding population, mass land use for farming could no longer be an option. That’s exactly why vertical farming is rising. The first commercial vertical farm was set up in Singapore in 2012 – it allows for the indoor production of short-stemmed leafy greens all-year-round - and the UK is following suit.
Growing Underground recently converted a Second World War bomb shelter in London into a hydroponics farm, producing an array of edible plants. And meat alternatives using plant-based building blocks or cultured animal cells and tissues are currently under construction. Debuted in the US already this year by Impossible Foods, it will not be long until it reaches European shores.
And then there’s organic farming. Excess fertiliser use is one of the biggest causes of pollution in our oceans. As it stands, about one percent of global cropland has received organic designation, while 94 percent of farming in Europe is conventional.
Many farmers are unconvinced that the three years required to show results from changing their use of pesticides is worth financial investment – but research confirms that organic farming creates more profit and yields healthier produce.
Success in sustainability needs stability. According to the European Commission, there are now over 186,000 organic farms across the EU. A recent report entitled Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century confirmed that this method of farming generally creates less soil and water pollution, and lower greenhouse gas emissions – it is also more energy efficient. France is the EU’s biggest agricultural producer, which is why they have set a goal to double their organic farming by 2017.
Consumers are continuing to demand change. Spending on ethical food and drink products – including organic, Fairtrade, free range and freedom foods – amounted to £8.4 billion in the UK in 2013, making up 8.5 percent of all household food sales.
Scientists have predicted that changes in global temperature and rainfall patterns could mean food prices will rise between three and 84 percent by 2050.
So how can we, as individuals, get serious about sustainable food in 2017? Try to limit your meat and dairy intake per week. With plenty of alternatives on the market like almond milk and soya, it is no longer a difficult task. Buy produce like fresh fruit and vegetables from weekend markets or local farms – or even better, grow your own vegetables.
It is important to remember that our own food choices are part of the bigger picture, and we all need to take responsibility, starting now.