Eating Within The Limits Of Our Planet

Eating Within The Limits Of Our Planet

So, you try to do the right thing by the environment – you recycle, use cotton bags, turn off lights when not in the room – why do you have to change what you eat too?

Food and farming have a vital role to play when it comes to our impact on climate change - given that up to 30 per cent of our individual carbon footprint is based on our food choices - and farming is responsible for 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions (surprisingly, in comparison, the energy sector is only 26 per cent).

Scientific evidence proves that low input farming systems such as organic, can provide sustainable solutions to food security.

A report by the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development), the largest scientific farming study ever conducted, involving 400 scientists and approved by over 60 countries found no clear role for GM crops in feeding the world and backed organic farming and similar ‘agro-ecological’ approaches as part of a ‘radical change’ in the way the world needs to produce food.

This ‘radical change’ also needs to be applied to what we eat. Not only for climate and health reasons – diet-related ill-health costs the UK £8bn a year and is currently predicted to rise to £50bn by 2050 – but also to encourage a fairer distribution of food globally.

It is an obvious irony that the number of hungry in the world has grown to more then one billion whilst around one billion people are classed as overweight.

Hans Herren, a Vice Chair of the IAASTD report, recently said that the question was not how do we feed the world but rather how people can nourish themselves better?

The average Western diet is over-rich in meat and dairy. In 2008 the Government’s Cabinet Office Strategy Unit issued an urgent call for a more joined-up approach to public health, food culture and climate change in food policy.

Their Food Matters report concluded: 'Evidence on health and the balance of environmental analysis suggests that a healthy, low impact diet would contain less meat and fewer dairy products than we typically eat today.'

Since 2008 the public and policy debate diet has grown. It is now widely accepted that we need to eat less meat and dairy products but there also needs to be recognition that not all meat and milk is equal in terms of impact on the environment.

Studies have shown that meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals not only contain more beneficial nutrients and healthier fat but grazing animals help preserve some of the most beautiful and highly valued landscapes in Britain – almost all our national parks and many nature reserves are maintained by grazing sheep and cattle.

Grazing animals are also protecting some of most significant carbon stores on the planet – permanent grassland and heather moorland. If grasslands are no longer grazed and are ploughed up, they will release very large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.

So what is a sustainable diet?

The Soil Association believes that a sustainable diet is based on locally sourced, seasonal fruit and veg, starchy carbohydrates and whole grains with far less processed foods, unsustainably caught fish and intensively produced meat and dairy products.

We need to eat less but better quality meat – this means animals from organic and free-range systems and more grass-reared beef, lamb and mutton.

While the focus for reduction should be on factory-farmed chicken and pork, and grain fed beef, which involves large amounts of soya likely to have contributed to the clearing of the Amazon rainforest.

Not only better for the planet but a lot healthier too!

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