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Eat less meat says EU's largest agri-research agency

News Section Icon Published 19/04/2010

Our 2009 report Eating the Planet calls for governments to promote reduced meat consumption and smaller-scale, humane farming.

Chief Executive of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) agrees eating less meat and supporting small-scale farming are key to feeding the world.

The global population is expected to pass 9 billion by 2050 but livestock already accounts for almost a fifth of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Compassion has long argued that industrial farming is not only cruel (representing the biggest source of animal suffering on the planet); it is also an unsustainable way to feed the world. Industrial agriculture wastes precious resources such as grain, oil and water, and it pollutes the environment.

Now in an interview with Nature magazine, chief executive of France's National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) Marion Guillou agrees that reducing meat consumption and supporting small-scale farming are priorities in the challenge of feeding a growing world population.

"Diet will be a major determinant in our capacity to nourish the world," says Marion Guillou. "We need to ensure food availability of 3,000 kilocalories a day per person, of which only 500 kilocalories is from animal products (…). This provides a healthy and satisfying diet, but is far from a typical Western diet." She goes on to add that "if we continue the current dietary regime typical of [Western] countries, and if many other countries follow us on this trajectory, we will not have the same results in terms of food availability as we would with a more moderate diet worldwide."

Converging diets

About one billion people in the world do not have enough to eat. At the same time, over one billion are overweight and 300 million are defined as obese - with the obesity crisis being partly fuelled by over-consumption of meat and dairy.

In order for the world to achieve a more equitable food supply, wealthier countries need to cut down on meat and dairy, so that people in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa can increase their consumption, with both converging at a level which is sustainable for both human health and the environment.

Reducing waste and stabilising prices

One-third of all food purchased is also wasted in rich countries such as the UK, and Marion Guillou believes that working with food processors and distributors to reduce the amount of food we waste is essential: "We lose as much as 30 to 35% of the world's food output. That gives us a large margin of manoeuvre to increase the food available."

Stabilising prices is another key to solving the food crisis. "We already have enough food to feed everyone on the planet at 3,000 kilocalories per day, but it is a question of price," says Marion Guillou. In order to stabilise prices at the international level, she advocates regulating markets to avoid price fluctuations and guaranteeing minimum prices to ensure that farming remains viable.

Global Conference calls for research support

Marion Guillou's interview follows the positive outcomes of the first ever Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development held last week by agricultural researchers in Montpellier. The event highlighted the need to support small-scale farming, with "a strong message about the return in strength of family farms, that making these more productive is key to both alleviating poverty and meeting local and global food demand."

Marion Guillou suggests that, because the international focus has long been on large-scale industrial farming, this shift in farming systems will need to be mirrored by a shift in research. "The themes of research for smallholdings are very different from those of large-scale farming, involving, for example, concepts such as crop rotation, complements of animals and plants, and the use of animal waste as fertilizer, so the research questions are not the same."

Joyce D'Silva, Director of Public Affairs for Compassion in World Farming, said: "Compassion is delighted that France's leading agricultural research institute now advocates a reduction in consumption of animal products and increased support for smaller-scale farming. This supports Compassion's own position of reduced consumption allied to a raising of welfare standards, so that there will be benefits for people, animals and the planet."

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