With almost a fifth of the world's total manmade greenhouse gas emissions originating from livestock, and factory farming representing the biggest issue of animal cruelty on the planet, Compassion has long called for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption in order to mitigate these problems. Now a new Government funded report supports this call.
The report, commissioned by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), prioritises healthier diets which also benefit the environment. The report's authors, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), bring together sustainability and health recommendations with the united aim of tackling global warming. The report puts "Reducing consumption of meat and dairy products," along with reducing 'junk' food and food waste top of the list of positive actions.
SDC commissioner Professor Tim Lang said the recommendations represented "the first coherent advice on a sustainable diet… Cutting down on meat and dairy, eating only sustainably sourced fish, fruit and vegetables, would all help reduce the impact of our food system as well as improving health."
Globally, the majority of animals reared for food production are kept in factory farms, where their welfare is not a priority. Selective breeding for fast growth and high yield means that animals like broiler chickens, dairy cows and pigs too often suffer from painful yet avoidable conditions.
While the report mentions animal welfare, it does not include it as an intrinsic part of a sustainable diet. Compassion believes that animal welfare must be at the heart of any discussion on animal agriculture and developing sustainable farming systems.
Joyce D'Silva, Director of Public Affairs for Compassion in World Farming Said: "Compassion welcomes the report's robust policy and recommendations for cohesive thinking by government departments both within the UK and at international level.
If we rear and slaughter fewer animals in better conditions, we give those animals a much better chance of a decent quality of life while avoiding waste and environmental damage. Research shows that the essential factors in sustainable animal agriculture are eating less meat and dairy and choosing only high-welfare animal products."
Compassion believes that well-managed farms where the animals graze outdoors have higher welfare potential than indoor intensive systems. As noted in the SDC report, such farms can also be beneficial for the environment, for example through soil conservation and carbon sequestration (storage of carbon in the soil).
As Prime Minister Gordon Brown attends the Climate change talks at COP15, Compassion in World Farming urges the Government to consider the important findings of the SDC's report and existing evidence from Compassion in World Farming, acknowledging factory farming as a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Joyce D'Silva added: "While places like Sweden and the Belgian city of Ghent have ensured steps toward a more sustainable food industry, it is essential for the UK and other developed countries to take the same, necessary steps."
- Sustainable Development Commission (2009): Setting the Table: Advice to Government on priority elements of sustainable diets
- Read our report on feeding the world without factory farming, Eating the Planet.