We have heard this several times from different people and from different sources: our current global food systems and consumption patterns are unsustainable for human and planetary health. Sustainable nutrition systems are essential.
You may not want to reduce meat consumption. Eating meat makes you happy. It is associated with wealth. You remember that our human ancestors ate meat. This is an important element of a well-rounded diet. Meat consumption has a social component.
On the other hand, the global food system contributes significantly to human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A change in diet is necessary to achieve critical climate goals. Plant-based alternative foods play a huge role in the transition to sustainable nutrition systems.
Food consumption around the world is largely unsustainable. Food production is about:
- 21 to 37% of world greenhouse gas production
- 70% of fresh water consumption
You could say, okay, I understand. Industrial agriculture produces too much carbon. But aren’t there a few levers in the diet?
What about increasing agricultural productivity, especially crop yields? Can’t agricultural companies target the use of energy on the farm, such as fossil fuels for field operations? Will a change in the amount and composition of animal feed not make a difference? Or can different patterns of grazing be established? Won’t high-tech animal waste management systems have a big impact?
The EPA report from May 2022 shows that emissions from the agricultural sector produce 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. The analysis confirms that rethinking animal farming practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A variety of feed can reduce methane (CH4) emissions from enteric fermentation and increase productivity. Manure management systems can reduce CH4 released into the atmosphere – anaerobic digesters installed to manage manure and capture and use CH4.
These are important, albeit mostly voluntary and non-federal coordinated carbon reduction programs. However, these mitigation approaches are not beginning to negate the effects of the diet on greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. Indeed, high-meat diets produce the highest greenhouse gas emissions, especially if they focus on ruminant meat and milk.
The British Climate Change Commission recommends a 20% reduction in meat and dairy products by 2030 and a 35% reduction by 2050.
What is absolutely needed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?
- Reduce emissions in food systems.
- Create clean energy sources for transportation, construction, buildings and agriculture.
It is clear: we need to move to sustainable nutrition systems
The British national survey on nutrition and nutrition of more than 15,000 individuals showed that the number of people eating plant-based alternative foods almost doubled from 2008 to 2019, jumping from 6.7 to 13.1%. Young people in Generation Y (11-23 years old) and millennials (24-39 years old) were the age groups that were most likely to consume alternative plant foods. Women were also 46% more likely to consume substitute foods of plant origin than men.
“Global transformation towards sustainable food systems is key to achieving global climate change mitigation goals,” said study co-author Pauline Scheelbeek of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This is especially true in high- and middle-income environments.
“Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products are increasingly being researched and developed as a strategy to reduce the consumption of food of animal origin,” Scheelbeek continued. “The willingness to reduce meat intake among the population in many European countries has risen sharply over the past decade. Unfortunately, this does not always result in a real change in diet. An alternative plant-based food could be a stepping stone for people who are willing to reduce their meat consumption, but find it difficult to incorporate it into their daily lives. ”
Plant foods are products made from plant proteins such as soy, peas, nuts, oats and mycoproteins. They are intended for a taste and texture that is very similar to their analogues of animal origin: pieces of meat, dairy products and other dairy products.
C Sinks and plant-based agriculture
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances of survival on Earth as an evolution to a vegetarian diet.” – Albert Einstein
A carbon (C) sink is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. The ocean, soil and forests are the world’s largest abysses.
Managed grassland is agricultural land used to grow grass or herbaceous fodder that is mainly used for grazing animals. The data show that net global warming caused by managed grasslands cancels out net climate cooling from abyss C in sparse and natural grasslands. Faced with future climate change and increased demand for livestock products, sustainable management to preserve and improve soil carbon storage on grasslands is essential, as is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from managed grasslands.
A 2020 study examining carbon emissions from different types of diets, from meat to vegan, concluded that for 2050, the lowest greenhouse gas emissions indicate a vegan and vegetarian diet. This refers to large abysses C caused by lower demand for animal feed. Low-emission scenarios occur with the vegan diet. Research suggests that for a high-meat diet, a plant-based alternative may be beneficial to the environment.
Aggregates of nutritionally relevant plant-based food groups include beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, meat, milk, other dairy products, plant-based meat alternatives, plant-based dairy alternatives, and plant-based dairy alternatives.
They have slowly but steadily increased their market share as many groceries and restaurants have included plant-based dishes in their choices.
Final reflections on sustainable food systems
It seems unlikely that the agricultural sector will be able to meet global climate goals without at the same time making significant changes in nutrition on the part of consumers.
Lisa Moon, president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network, claims in Food container that COP26 has not adequately recognized the relationship between the food system and climate change. Climate warming effects can decimate food systems and exacerbate food insecurity and economic instability. At the same time, food systems can intensify global warming through the widespread use of unsustainable practices in agriculture and land management and the loss of food and waste that emits greenhouse gases.
The mission of the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is to feed the world’s hungry through the unification and advancement of food banks. They are an international non-profit organization working for a hunger-free future in more than 40 countries by maintaining, uniting and strengthening food banks. They believe that food banks are an integral and sustainable solution in empowering the world to defeat hunger and change lives.
Several other organizations are working at the crossroads of food and climate change. We can join them in their advocacy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural industry.
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