We have heard this many times from different people and different sources: our current global food systems and consumption patterns are unsustainable for human and planetary health. Sustainable food systems are a must.
You may not want to reduce meat consumption. Eating meat makes you happy. It is associated with wealth. You remember that our human ancestors ate meat. It is an important element of a complete diet. Meat consumption has a social component.
The global food system also contributes significantly to human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Dietary change is necessary to meet critical climate goals. Plant-based alternative foods play a huge role in the transition to sustainable food systems.
Global food consumption is largely unsustainable worldwide. Food production is about:
- 21 to 37% of world greenhouse gas production
- 70% of fresh water consumption
You can say, well, I get it. Industrial agriculture produces too much carbon. But aren’t there a few leverage points in the food system?
And what about increasing agricultural productivity, especially arable land yields? Can’t farms focus on using energy on farms such as fossil fuels for field operations? Will the change in the amount and composition of livestock feed intake not change? Or is it not possible to introduce different patterns of cattle grazing? Will high-tech animal waste management systems not have a big impact?
The EPA’s May 2022 report states that agricultural sector emissions produce 11% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The analysis confirms that rethinking livestock production practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Various livestock feeds can reduce methane (CH4) emissions from enteric fermentation and increase productivity. Manure management systems can reduce the amount of CH4 released into the atmosphere – anaerobic digestion tanks installed to manage manure and capture and utilize CH4.
These are important, albeit mostly voluntary and non-federal, carbon offsets to reduce carbon emissions. However, these mitigation approaches will not negate the effects of diet on greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector. A diet with a high demand for meat actually produces the highest greenhouse gas emissions, especially if it is targeted at ruminant meat and milk.
The British Climate Change Commission recommends reducing meat and dairy products by 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050.
What is absolutely necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide?
- Reduce emissions in food systems.
- Create clean energy sources for transport, construction, buildings and agriculture.
It is clear: we need to move towards sustainable food systems
The UK’s National Diet and Nutrition Survey, with more than 15,000 individuals, found that the number of people eating plant-based alternative foods nearly doubled between 2008 and 2019, from 6.7% to 13.1%. Young people in Generation Y (11-23 years) and millennials (24-39 years) were the age groups most likely to consume plant-based alternative foods. Women were also 46% more likely to consume plant substitutes than men.
“The global transformation towards sustainable food systems is crucial to meeting global climate change mitigation goals,” said study co-author Pauline Scheelbeek of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This is especially true in high- and middle-income environments.
“Plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products are increasingly being researched and developed as strategies to reduce the consumption of food of animal origin,” Scheelbeek continued. “The willingness to reduce meat intake among the population in many European countries has grown rapidly over the last decade. Unfortunately, this does not always lead to a real change in diet. Plant-based alternative foods could be a springboard for people who are willing to reduce meat consumption, but it is difficult for them to incorporate it into their daily lives. “
Plant foods are products made from plant proteins such as soy, peas, nuts, oats and mycoproteins. They are designed to taste and have a texture similar to their animal counterparts: cuts of meat, dairy products and other dairy products.
C Sinks & Plant-Based Agriculture
“Nothing benefits human health and increases the chances of surviving life on Earth as much as switching to a vegetarian diet.” – Albert Einstein
A carbon sink (C) is anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. The ocean, soil and forests are the largest declines in the C.
Cultivated grasslands are agricultural land used to grow grasses or herbaceous forages mainly used for grazing in agriculture. The data show that net global warming caused by managed pastures undermines net climate cooling from C-sinks in sparsely grazed and natural pastures. In the face of future climate change and increased demand for animal products, sustainable management is essential to maintain and improve carbon sequestration in the land, as well as to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from managed pastures.
A 2020 study examining carbon emissions from a variety of diets, from meat to vegan, concluded that in 2050, the lowest greenhouse gas emissions would point to vegan and vegetarian diets. This is due to large declines C caused by lower demand for livestock feed. The scenarios with the lowest emissions appear in the vegan diet. Research suggests that replacing plant alternatives may be environmentally beneficial on high meat diets.
Vegetable nutritionally relevant food groups include beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, meat, milk, other dairy products, plant meat alternatives, plant dairy alternatives and plant milk alternatives.
They have been slowly but steadily increasing their market share as many foods and restaurants have included plant-based starters in their available selections.
Final ideas on sustainable food systems
It seems unlikely that the agricultural sector will be able to meet global climate targets without a concomitant substantial change in the diet of consumers.
Lisa Moon, president and CEO of The Global FoodBanking Network, argues in Food tank that COP26 failed to adequately recognize the relationship between food systems and climate change. The effects of a warming climate can decimate food systems and exacerbate food insecurity and economic instability. At the same time, food systems can intensify global warming through the widespread use of unsustainable agricultural and land management practices and food waste and greenhouse gas waste.
The mission of the Global FoodBanking Network (GFN) is to feed the world hungry through the unification and development of food banks. It is an international non-profit organization that strives for a hunger-free future in more than 40 countries by maintaining, consolidating and strengthening food banks. He believes that food banks are an integral and viable solution that allows the world to defeat hunger and change lives.
Several other organizations are working at the crossroads of food and climate change. We can join them in their enforcement work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural industry.
Do you appreciate the originality of CleanTechnica? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica member, supporter, technician or ambassador – or patron of Patreon.