On 5th June, World Environment Day, we are asked to raise our voice, not the sea level. We are shouting from the rooftops and occupying as much digital space as possible. We need action because our current food production and consumption patterns are unsustainable.
People love food. It's hugely important in our lives. Sharing and preparing food for others have culturally developed over millennia. We used to take what we need, and not be driven by greed. We lived more or less in balance with our environment until the advent of 'livestock farming' over 10,000 years ago, which some people say revolutionised our relationship with the natural world. Others argue it marked the beginning of an exploitative era of other animals. We started excessive production and eating, causing damage and threatening a sustainable world.
Time to move away from farming non-human animals
Recent articles in the news have featured a range of food scandals, trends and solutions. People's curiosity turns them to technological developments. While we are capable of remarkable inventions, we need not look to futuristic food applications, or start tinkering at the margins while trying to improve the efficiency of food production. The solutions to feed a growing human population with respect for the environment, including the non-human animals with whom we share the planet, are easy and already available:
A well-planned plant-based diet provides all the nutrients people need. Mainly plant-based diets have nurtured numerous civilisations in the past, and it's time we seriously consider vegan lifestyles now. Promoting meat-and-dairy based diets no longer makes sense when you take into account all the hidden costs, including environmental, health and ethical problems of farming non-human animals. Rising input costs are destroying animal farmer livelihoods. A move away from animal farming will substantially reduce the number of animals killed for food, help improve rural livelihoods, tackle climate change, improve global food security and reduce risks of serious diseases.
Vegan diets require less land, water and energy
Human farming of non-human animals is causing extensive damage to our environment. In 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation showed that the global 'livestock industry' is in the top three causes of all major environmental problems, including global climate change. Farming animals for food is responsible for at least 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in CO2 equivalent.
A 2006 life cycle analysis study showed that a vegan organic diet had the lowest environmental impact compared to conventional vegan, vegetarian and omnivorous diets or organic vegetarian and omnivorous diets. Beef is the most environmentally damaging, while dairy cheese, milk and fish also have a negative impact. It is estimated that balanced vegan diets in the UK can require just one third of the fertile land, fresh water and energy of the typical British 'meat-and-dairy' based diet.
Friends of the Earth estimate that the average British consumer uses over a kilo of soya beans per week because the 'meat, dairy and eggs' we eat frequently comes from animals fed on soya beans. We could each get 400 g of nutritious protein and 80 g of vital dietary fibre--as well as other nutrients like essential omega-3 fats--by eating that kilo of soya first-hand each week. Also, a kilo of soya could meet the basic energy needs of two adults for a day. Passing human-graded food such as grains and soya through animals results in a massive waste of nutrients and energy.
Why feed livestock when we could feed people?
Animal farming makes it harder for the most vulnerable people to feed themselves. In 2009, the United Nations Environment Programme calculated that the basic calorie needs of 3.5 billion humans could be met by the net grain wasted each year in the world 'livestock' industry.
In the developing world vegan farming reduces the risk of conflict over scarce water and grazing land and it does not require reliance on domestic animals for food when the survival of the animals can be uncertain, for example in times of drought.
What are we waiting for? Let's save our oceans, halt climate change and explore vegan living. A win-win scenario for all: One World. Many Lives. Our Choice.