Unlike the energy sector, agriculture does not benefit from public policies geared towards a low carbon transition, which means farming is still a significant contributor to climate change due to meat over-consumption, a new report published on 16 October revealed.
The Changing Markets Foundation and Mighty Earth report called ‘Growing the Good: The Case for Low Carbon Transition in the Food Sector’ says government policies universally support unsustainable agricultural production systems, which is dominated by intensive meat and dairy farmers and producers.
“This has driven unhealthy over-consumption of meat and dairy products,” it reads, adding that 330 million tonnes (MT) and 812 MT are, respectively, consumed worldwide each year – a rate forecast to grow further, fuelled by emerging economies with growing middle classes.
The report explains that governmental support for unsustainable food production is linked to their “fear of public backlash for seeking to influence consumers’ food choices, and the influence of the powerful agricultural and food lobby”.
“Most existing policies still support incumbent production systems, providing subsidies and market-support measures to intensive meat and dairy farmers and to the big corporations that benefit from this system,” it reads.
Four times as many animals as humans
The global population of major livestock species is currently 30 billion – around four times as many animals as humans, the report specifies, adding that the excessive consumption of animal products in high-income countries is already between two and three times higher than what is considered healthy, and is associated with an increased incidence of diet-related disease.
“In many EU countries and in the US, meat consumption is more than double the recommended levels for healthy diets,” it says.
“Mounting scientific evidence is linking our excessive consumption of livestock products, particularly red and processed meat, with an increased incidence of cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease,” it points out.
Climate impact, biodiversity loss
Animal agriculture is both a leading source of global GHG emissions and a sector that the impacts of climate change will significantly affect (with for example extreme weather events, water shortages or the spread of pests and diseases).
As it is, livestock is responsible for around 16.5% of the world’s GHG emissions, and are the leading source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, the report says.
But agriculture in general, and animal husbandry in particular, not only has a significant impact on climate, but it also takes a toll on the world’s biodiversity, the report says.
Animal agriculture is an extremely resource-intensive way to feed people, it continues, with 70–80% of all agricultural land, including a quarter of all cropland, required for pasture and the production of feed.
“This totals one-third of the planets’ ice-free land surface,” the report says.
“We are currently experiencing what scientists call the sixth great mass extinction in the Earth’s history; one of the foremost underlying drivers of this is animal agriculture, estimated to account for about 60% of human-caused biodiversity loss on land,” it warns.
Food market undergoing changes
The report also notes that public awareness about the link between meat consumption and health and climate change is growing, which is leading to a change in consumption, especially within the younger generation.
It says the food market changes very quickly, with plant-based products currently representing the highest-growth food category.
“This is a challenge for the existing food sector, but a large opportunity for innovative companies that are willing to invest in cleaner and healthier alternative products,” the report reads.
But the pace of the change is not quick enough, it warns.
A situation made worse with the lack of measures to tackle the climate, environmental and health issues linked to the meat consumption, it argues, a situation which they called ‘shocking’.
“Instead of fuelling such societal trends, politicians are succumbing to pressure from meat producers by introducing new legislative measures aiming to restrict market growth for alternatives, such as the recent French ban on terms like ‘vegan burger’,” the report says.