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UN urges: eat less meat and dairy for the planet

News Section Icon Published 11/06/2010

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme calls for more sustainable production and consumption of the food we eat.

The report, Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, concludes that agriculture and food consumption are amongst "the most important drivers of environmental pressures". Produced by UNEP's International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, which comprises 27 high-level experts, it details that:

"More than half of the world's crops are used to feed animals, not people. Land and water use, pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus, and GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from land use and fossil fuel use cause substantial environmental impacts. Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives."

It also tells us that:

"Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth and increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."

Industrial animal agriculture is damaging to animals, people and the planet. Each year we raise over 60 billion animals for meat, milk and eggs. Two-thirds of these animals will experience a short, grim life in the barren factory farm. 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.

As we see from the UNEP report, production on this scale also demands massive inputs of precious global resources such as water, cereals and soya for animal feed, while one billion people still do not have enough to eat.

UNEP's report follows hot on the heels of the " Plea for Sustainable Livestock Farming" signed by more than 100 Professors from Dutch Universities. Their Plea spells out the adverse impacts of industrial factory farms and calls for animal welfare to be given a central position in the livestock sector, restrictions on the establishment and expansion of factory farms, the promotion of plant-based foods by government and a 33% reduction in consumption of animal products by 2020.

Too often in wealthy nations, policy-makers have been desperately seeking technical fixes which too often mean yet more harm to farm animals. Compassion believes that quicker and easier progress could be made if those nations with a diet heavy in meat and dairy choose to reduce their consumption. The cities of Ghent and Cape Town have started the ball rolling with one meat-free day a week; let's see others follow their lead.

In 2008, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also called for a reduction in meat and dairy consumption.

More information on animal agriculture, climate change and sustainability:

  • Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely
    Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth UK, 2009
    Report presenting specially-commissioned research which shows that it is possible to provide adequate food for the world using humane and sustainable farming methods. Moreover, a reduction in meat and dairy consumption in wealthier countries would greatly expand our options for a more equitable global food supply.
  • Beyond Factory Farming: Sustainable solutions for animals, people and the planet
    Compassion in World Farming, 2009
    Outlines the environmental and economic factors that will impact global animal production this century, including climate change, the availability of natural resources and the rapidly growing world population. The report shows how more extensive, humane livestock farming and responsible meat consumption can benefit the environment and mitigate climate change.
  • Global Warning: Climate change and farm animal welfare ( 330.64KB)
    Compassion in World Farming 2009
    Report presenting the scientific evidence showing the impact of high-income countries' unsustainable over-production and over-consumption of animal products on the environment, on the welfare of farm animals, and on human health. Suggests the positive solution of a planned and well-managed reduction in meat and dairy consumption in high-income countries.
  • Sustainable Agriculture ( 975.28KB)
    Compassion in World Farming, 2008
    Sustainable Agriculture looks at the necessary criteria for animal agriculture to be humane and sustainable for animals, people and the planet.
  • Eat less meat - It's costing the Earth
    Compassion in World Farming, 2004
    This excellent short film outlines the effect of the modern massive global scale of meat production and consumption on the environment, world poverty, human health and the welfare of animals. It argues for a more moderate consumption of meat, and for that meat to be produced using humane and sustainable production methods.

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