Save the Planet – Reforest and Phase Out Meat & Dairy

Save the Planet – Reforest and Phase Out Meat And Dairy

To stand any chance of meeting our legal obligations under the Paris Treaty – never minds aspirations of going further – huge and rapid change is needed in the UK. The only realistic options are EITHER reforest most land used for meat and dairy production and move to plant-based diets to provide sufficient, good food OR let our children suffer the consequences of our dancing around what we know to be needed.

KEY POINTS

  1. Our consultation document says, “We need a food system capable of adapting to the effects of climate changes and also of reducing the carbon footprint which causes them.”
  2. Rebecca Long-Bailey MP reminded the EECPC April 2019 meeting of Labour’s Conference announcement on achieving net zero by 2050.
  3. But the UK is not on even track to meet its legally binding commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 (2)
  4. Ivan Monkton from Unite argued Labour’s policy needs to be aspirational and visionary, we don’t have time to be measured and incremental
  5. Limiting warming to the target 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures requires carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere.
  6. The most readily deployable CDR option at scale in the UK is the restoration of its native forests (1)
  7. To provide sufficient and affordable protein and calories for each person in the UK, reforestation will require all intensively produced meat and dairy to be phased out in favour of plant-based diets. (6)
  8. A move to increased domestic production on smaller farms can provide more and fairer employment and increase food security.

BACKGROUND

A recent study from Harvard University looked at replacing animal agriculture in the UK with a mixture of plant-based farming and forest regeneration. (1) Only by large scale change can the UK reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enable carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere to meet our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

MEAT AND DAIRY: INEFFICIENT, UNHEALTHY AND DAMAGING

• Meat and dairy production is harmful to the environment and health of people, as well as exceptionally cruel to animals, particularly factory (“intensive”) farming.

• Many animal products have significant negative environmental and social impacts relative to plant-rich foods. (1)

• Feed production has significant negative impacts on forests, water resources and our climate, and contributes to food insecurity where land is used to feed animals instead of feeding people directly.

• Conversion of feed to animal food is largely inefficient. (1) As little as 3% of the plant calories in feed are converted into calories in beef, for example (3)

• Increases in the consumption of animal products, refined grains and sugar have all been linked to the worldwide increase in obesity.13 The rise in the consumption of unhealthy food means that our diets are among the top risk factors for early death and increased risk of illness globally. (4)

• Suboptimal diet (for example, low fruit, low whole grain and low vegetable consumption, and high meat intake) is a leading risk factor for global premature mortality accounting for nearly one in every five deaths (5)

CLIMATE

• Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Energy reminded the Environment, Energy and Culture Policy Commission meeting on 2nd April 2019 of Labour’s conference announcement on achieving net zero by 2050.

• The UK is not on track to meet its legally binding commitment to reducing GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 under the UK Climate Change Act, and even further reductions would be required to align with the 1.5°C aspiration of the Paris Agreement. (1)

• Limiting warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures requires carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere. The most readily deployable CDR option at scale in the UK is the restoration of its native forests. (1)

• Green house gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture alone take nearly the full 1.5ºC target emissions allowance by 2050 for all sectors, including energy, industry, transport and others (6)

• We cannot simply focus on improving the efficiency of food production

• to reduce carbon emissions, a more sustainable, healthy and local food and farming model needs to be incentivised that is largely plant-based. All intensively produced meat and dairy should be phased out. (7)

• Rebecca Long-Bailey MP told the EECPC we must treat the climate crisis as an economic imperative rather than just a social and moral one.

• Ivan Monkton, giving evidence from Unite to the same meeting, said Labour’s policy needs to be aspirational and visionary and that we don’t have time to be measured and incremental!

• Greenpeace suggests we should ratchet up the UK’s international contribution under the Paris Agreement (Nationally Determined Contributions for 2030), to ensure it is in line with containing global warming to 1.5C, and reflective of the need for international leadership from the UK, given its historic emissions (8)

REFORESTATION

The Harvard University study mentioned above (1) argues that extensive reforesting of UK land currently devoted to pasture would result in huge CDR benefits. They outline different scenarios:

(a) maximising CDR by restoring land currently under pasture and cropland used to produce farmed animal feed to forest (offsets 9 years of current UK CO2 emissions).

(b) trade off some CDR in order to keep all current cropland in production, allowing for the repurposing of animal feed cropland for increased and diversified fruit and vegetable production for human consumption, therefore maximising food self-sufficiency for the UK (offsets 12 years of current UK CO2 emissions).

(c) The remaining cropland in both scenarios is sufficient to provide more than the recommended protein and calories for each person in the UK, using a plant-based diet.

EMPLOYMENT

• Ivan Monkton pointed out to the EECPC food workers suffer poor terms and conditions and low pay. The profit motive has driven costs for maximum profit, as food is seen as a commodity, not a fundamental need.

• Jyoti Fernandes of the Landworkers’ Alliance has a vision of food security and meaningful jobs, arguing for mainly domestic food production. Smallholdings can provide this, with an average on community farms of 3.1 workers per hectare compared to 0.26 on larger farms.

• But the trend is concentration of production in the hands of fewer and larger players, so small farms are disappearing, and with them a more sustainable farming model rooted in diversity (9)

• In the EU as a whole, 82% of livestock comes from specialised (10) large farms and only 16% from mixed farming systems. (11)

  1. Harvard University study by Helen Harwatt, PHd and Matthew N Hayek, PHd [looks at replacing animal agriculture in the UK with a mixture of plant-based farming and forest regeneration], page 1: http://animal.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/Eating-Away-at-Climate-Change-with-Negative-Emissions––Harwatt-Hayek.pdf
  2. Greenpeace, page 8: https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-international-stateless/2018/03/698c4c4a-summary_greenpeace-livestock-vision-towards-2050.pdf)
  3. (Shepon, A., et al. 2016. Energy and protein feed-to-food conversion efficiencies in the US and potential food security gains from dietary changes. Environmental Research Letters, 11:105002)
  4. (Malik, V. S., Willett, W. C. & Hu, F. B. 2012. Global obesity: trends, risk factors and policy implications. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 9: 13.)
  5. (Gakidou, E., et al. 2017. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks, 1990-2013; 2016: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2016. The Lancet, 390: 1345-1422.)
  6. (Bajželj, B., et al. 2014. Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Climate Change, 4: 924-929. This analysis is for limits between 1.5º and 2º C.)
  7. Greenpeace, page 16: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/0861_GP_ClimateEmergency_Report_Pages.pdf
  8. Greenpeace, page 23: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/0861_GP_ClimateEmergency_Report_Pages.pdf
  9. Greenpeace, page 10: https://storage.googleapis.com/planet4-eu-unit-stateless/2019/02/83254ee1-190212-feeding-the-problem-dangerous-intensification-of-animal-farming-in-europe.pdf
  10. Farm specialisation describes the trend towards a single dominant activity in farm income: an agricultural holding is said to be specialised when a particular activity provides at least two thirds of the production or the business size of an agricultural holding. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Glossary:Farm_specialisation
  11. Eurostat. Agri-environmental indicator – Specialisation, data from June 2016. Available at https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Agri-environmental_indicator_-_specialisation

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