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Our global food system: the bigger picture

News Section Icon Published 20/05/2019

A biodiversity emergency

Earlier this month, (May, 2019) the world received yet another strong message of environmental emergency. The landmark Global Assessment report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services launched by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) reports that nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, with one million animal and plant species being threatened with extinction, many within decades.

Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, this is the most comprehensive report of its kind, assessing changes over the past five decades and providing a detailed picture of the relationship between human activities and their impacts on nature. “Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world” said Prof. Josef Settele, who co-chaired the Global Assessment.

The true cost of ‘cheap food’

Changes in land and sea use have been identified as the biggest direct driver for nature and biodiversity decline. With over one third of the world’s land surface (and approximately 75% of freshwater resources) devoted to crop or livestock production, agriculture accounts for a big part of the problem.

A closer look into our global food production system reveals an array of issues that are not only environmentally unsustainable but also harmful to animals and to the world’s most vulnerable communities. Crop monocultures that increase the rates of biodiversity loss and soil degradation, polluting factory farms promoting immense animal suffering, and wildlife habitat loss through deforestation are just some of the practices that make up the true cost of providing cheaper food to the world to the detriment of nature, animals and poor communities.

Transformative change is possible

We are in a state of emergency and on a trajectory that will not allow us to reach important global goals already set (e.g. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Paris Agreement) but the scientific community agrees that nature can be restored and used sustainably through urgent efforts fostering transformative change. “It’s not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” said Sir Robert Watson, former IPBES Chair. "Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological economic and social factors.”

A total rethink of our food and farming system

With loud messages for change and calls for concerted efforts, it’s clear that we need to act now. The need to constantly supply more food to certain parts of the world, is served at the expense of nature’s ability to provide such contributions in the future and at the expense of billions of animals condemned to lifelong suffering in order to support unsustainable meat-intensive diets.

We therefore call on governments, policy makers and business leaders of the world to reach a Global Agreement on policies that will end factory farming and replace it with post-industrial agriculture, producing healthier diets for all from sustainable food systems.

“With food production being at the forefront of nature decline there needs to be a total rethink of our food and farming system, from an individual to a global level” said Duncan Williamson, our International Head of Policy. “Heads of states, policy makers and business leaders need to realise we are running out of time, look at the bigger picture and move forward to a regenerative, sustainable food system, away from the cruelty of animal farming.”

The way forward

Philip Lymbery, our CEO, took our ask for a Global Agreement to the UN Environment Assembly earlier this year, stressing the urgency of the situation. Additionally, we have signed an open letter alongside other leading campaign groups and farming organisations, calling on the next European Commission President to put an integrated EU food policy in place in order to coordinate the efforts of the different departments impacting our food systems.

Philip said: “We have been tirelessly pushing for concerted efforts on a regional and global level and will continue to do so for our planet, humans and animals.”

Find what you can do to promote more sustainable food systems and how to switch to a higher quality and higher welfare diet.