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Open Letter to the G8 Leaders: You Can't Feed the World on Animals

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Dear Leaders,

Do you remember last night's lovely supper? Now imagine that a billion people might never have tasted such food, and probably never will. They may not even consume a basic meal once a day.

I remember a visit a few years ago to a community living on a rubbish and recycling tip in Lahore, Pakistan. The stench and extremely poor hygiene truly opened my eyes. As poor and malnourished as they were, one family begged us over to drink tea with them. When I travelled in Thailand 17 years ago I ended up in a rural town in the middle of the night one time, and some locals kindly offered me their floor to sleep on in their simple dwelling, and gave me food the next morning. Most people in western, 'civilised', countries would not welcome strangers this way, let alone share food with them.

As leaders of eight countries making up around half of the world's entire GDP, your focus at the forthcoming G8 summit is on advancing trade, ensuring tax compliance and promoting greater transparency. However, enterprise and economic growth will not flourish if basic human rights and needs, such as access to nutritious food and clean water, are not met.

Abolishing hunger and malnutrition is to some extent about tackling tax avoidance, unfair land use and diminished food sovereignty, ailing international aid, and questionable government transparency. But the significant depletion of resources, environmental damage, exploitation of non-human animals, and overconsumption by too many cannot be disentangled from the global food inequality crisis.

Ways of addressing root causes of poverty seem to be collectively misunderstood. Inertia may persist because it is more convenient to convince oneself that the effects of an individual to do good are negligible. Staying in one's comfort zone, surrounded by the food and lifestyle that nearly one billion people have become accustomed to, can make people blind to the plight of others.

However, we do not need to grow more food; there is enough to go round in this world IF people eat a more plant-based diet, which benefits humans, non-human animals and the planet. In 2009, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that the basic calorie needs of 3.5 billion humans could be met by the net grain waste each year in the global 'livestock' industry.

This year's theme of the UNEP World Environment Day is "Think, Eat, Save", focusing on reducing food waste. In keeping with the theme, at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Professor Tim Lang, Dr Tara Garnett of the Food Climate Research Network and Dr Richard Twine will argue tonight, on the 5th of June, that global food policy must include reducing the negative effects of the 'meat', 'dairy' and fishing industries on the environment, long-term food security and human health (see e.g. the 2012 BMJ Open article by Aston et al.). Politicians, the food industry and relevant decision makers need to develop incentives for positive action at individual, business and public sector level.

There are two camps who offer solutions to the interlinked crises: food technocrats who favour so-called sustainable intensification, GM technologies and other means pushing both ethical and ecological boundaries; and farmer and new business-led innovations using truly sustainable food growing methods with respect for people and the planet. We believe the latter has a future.

We call on the UK Government to show leadership by recognising and acting upon the environmental, health and food security benefits of a move away from animal farming. With the CAP reform looming and many farmers ('dairy' farmers in particular) struggling to make ends meet, action plans should be developed for people wishing to switch from animal farming to plant agriculture to enhance livelihoods, protect the environment and reduce animal suffering. Other governments can help their citizens and the economy too by investing more in crop farming and fruit and vegetable growing.

In a letter to fellow G8 leaders, UK Prime-Minister David Cameron alluded to the forming of an "EU-US trade agreement". The agreement may help some of the richest countries continue to prosper, but it is alarming to see that less developed nations may be left out while the Majority World is already at risk of suffering the most from climate change.

We applaud Mr Cameron's intention in his letter to "maintain a global coalition on development and to build on last year's New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, stepping up the fight against hunger by encouraging the growth of more nutritious food and getting it to families at prices they can afford." We therefore hope to see compassionate leadership at the G8 Summit on the 17th of June.

May the dots of sustainability, environmental protection, human health, and a move away from animal farming be connected as a means of increasing the potential of the earth to the physical, moral and economic advantage of humankind.

Yours sincerely,

Jasmijn de Boo
Chief Executive, The Vegan Society