Fantastic support for a 'less and better' meat approach at Extinction and Livestock Conference
Last week (5th and 6th October), we were at Extinction and Livestock, a landmark conference organised by WWF-UK and Compassion in Farming, both founder organisations of the Eating Better alliance. It was the world’s first international conference to explore the devastating impact of livestock production on animals, people and the planet.
The conference had a resounding, momentous message: current demand for meat is unsustainable and we must eat less of it to safeguard the future of life on Earth. A sustainable future will require rethinking both consumption and production.
Renowned experts from across the globe took to the stage to discuss the impact of livestock farming on a diverse range of topics including conservation, biodiversity, agriculture, health, land and water use, the environment, climate change, ethics and food security. Evidence from the various disciplines came together to present a picture of a broken, dysfunctional food system that does not deliver adequate outcomes, highlighting the severity and urgency of the challenge we face.
Professor Katherine Richardson, of the Sustainability Science Centre, Copenhagen, warned the conference that there are limits to how much humans can ‘push’ the Earth’s services without risking changing the state of the ecosystem upon which we depend. She said: “We are over the ‘safe limit’ for four of the nine identified planetary boundaries and agriculture has been the primary driver in bringing us over these limits. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without a major transformation of our food system.”
Speakers warned that diets that are too rich in protein, and in particular animal protein are having dire effects on the environment and wildlife, with the largest impact caused by producing crops such as soy to feed livestock. And yet, there are vast numbers of people who currently consume too little, and in the developing world livestock production will remain hugely important for health, livelihoods and farm management. This disparity must be taken into consideration when drawing up global solutions. In high-consuming countries, focussing on diets with less meat and other animal products is also an issue of promoting social justice and sharing world resources fairly.
Where meat is consumed in big quantities it is also having a negative impact on our health. Dr. Frank Hu, Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and Chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard University, told the conference: “A diet that is higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is healthier and has less environmental impact. Substituting just one serving of red meat per day with other healthy foods is associated with a significantly lower mortality rate.”
Compassion in World Farming is calling for a UN Convention on Food and Farming, to ensure that the current climate change targets and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are achieved in order to save the planet and secure food for future generations. CEO, Philip Lymbery, said: “Unless we have a UN Convention to specifically tackle the wide-ranging impacts of food and farming, the targets on climate change won’t be achieved and our world will continue to be ravaged by our broken food systems.”. He also argued that we must all, as citizens, play a part by changing the way we eat, to eat more plants and less and better meat, highlighting the benefits of choosing pasture-fed, free-range or organic meat, milk and eggs to support wildlife and stop farm animal cruelty.
But how to go about creating the change that is needed? Sue Dibb, Eating Better’s Executive Director, took the stage to talk about the importance of civil society organisations working together to drive positive change in the way we eat. Our aim? Making healthier, sustainable diets the norm.
There are promising moves in the field of plant-based innovation, but technical fixes by themselves will not be enough. More sustainable ways of eating are becoming more popular, and there are businesses leading the way in providing better choices for their customers. Crucially, better policies are needed to make the shift to sustainable diets truly mainstream and accessible to all, at a pace that responds to the urgency of our current challenges.
As an alliance of civil society organisations working together for healthier, fairer, more sustainable food it was fantastic to see the growing appetite for collaboration towards a better food system. We look forward to growing our broad-based alliance and being part of the process to identify solutions and drive the change needed to properly secure good food for future generations.
Elena Salazar is Campaigns and Communications Manager at Eating Better.
All images by Compassion in World Farming, all rights reserved.