Will meat-free save the planet?

“Arguing for less preconceived assumptions about alleged effects of animal source foods on the health of the planet and the humans and animals involved.”

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Today’s Western Morning News carried a piece looking at the latest issue around meat-eating:

Rural groups have hit back at an attempt by a school to ban meat from children’s lunches to ‘save the planet.’ Philip Bowern reports on the latest skirmish in the climate debate…

Western Morning News –

The report carries a piece in the weekend Mail:

The Education Secretary has slammed schools that have banned meat from their lunch menus, declaring the issue is ‘for families to decide.’ Nadim Zahawi has given his backing to the Countryside Alliance after the campaign group called for guidance to stop ‘vegetarian activism’ in some schools. The minister vowed to ‘look closely’ at the issue, adding: “I completely agree with the Countryside Alliance: our farmers make an extraordinary contribution to the British countryside and the sustainability of their livestock system.”

Education Secretary Nadim Zahawi slams schools for banning meat from lunch menus | Daily Mail Online

Which in turn echoes a piece on Devon Live from last week:

School bans meat from menu and asks parents to send veggie pack lunches – Devon Live

Trying to look beyond the culture war point-scoring, there are several issues to consider:

“The greenhouse gas contribution of the food system is a drop in the bucket as compared with burning fossil fuels. The focus should be on reducing that fossil-fuel use, updating our transportation grids and sequestering carbon in soil.”

What are the impacts of plant-based meat alternatives? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

“A range of options around personal dietary change was far more prominent in the media discussion of solutions than government policies, reforming agricultural practices or holding major animal food companies accountable.”

Meat in the media – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Worldwide meat consumption and livestock farming ‘must peak’ within the next decade to hit 2050 CO2 emissions targets and prevent climate change spiralling out of control

Peak meat? – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Illegal clearcutting for the planting of avocado orchards – one of Mexico’s most lucrative crops – is destroying the pine forest habitats of the monarch butterfly

Avocados vs Monarch Butterflies – Vision Group for Sidmouth

What would the British countryside look like if we all adopted the vegan diet recommended by many environmental campaigners?

The debate over meat… and ethical farming in Sidbury – Vision Group for Sidmouth

“Asking shoppers to commit to sourcing food more responsibly – considering the locality and seasonality of produce, and buying meat farmed using regenerative agriculture.”

Veganuary vs Regenuary – Vision Group for Sidmouth

Looking at the last point, here’s a piece of research just out from the Journal ‘Animal’ by Professor Frédéric Leroy and colleagues, Vrije University, Brussels:

Animal’ board invited review: Animal source foods in healthy, sustainable, and ethical diets – An argument against drastic limitation of livestock in the food system

Highlights

  • Animal source foods are seen by some as unhealthy, unsustainable, and unethical.
  • Outcomes depend on practical specificities, not on the fact that animals are involved.
  • As for any food, the challenge is to promote best practices and limit harm.
  • Well-managed animals contribute to food security, ecological function and livelihoods.
  • Heavy reduction of livestock may lead to a fragile food system and societal damage.

Abstract 

Animal source foods are evolutionarily appropriate foods for humans. It is therefore remarkable that they are now presented by some as unhealthy, unsustainable, and unethical, particularly in the urban West. 

The benefits of consuming them are nonetheless substantial, as they offer a wide spectrum of nutrients that are needed for cell and tissue development, function, and survival. They play a role in proper physical and cognitive development of infants, children, and adolescents, and help promote maintenance of physical function with ageing. 

While high-red meat consumption in the West is associated with several forms of chronic disease, these associations remain uncertain in other cultural contexts or when consumption is part of wholesome diets. 

Besides health concerns, there is also widespread anxiety about the environmental impacts of animal source foods. Although several production methods are detrimental (intensive cropping for feed, overgrazing, deforestation, water pollution, etc.) and require substantial mitigation, damaging impacts are not intrinsic to animal husbandry. 

When well-managed, livestock farming contributes to ecosystem management and soil health, while delivering high-quality foodstuffs through the upcycling of resources that are otherwise non-suitable for food production, making use of marginal land and inedible materials (forage, by-products, etc.), integrating livestock and crop farming where possible has the potential to benefit plant food production through enhanced nutrient recycling, while minimising external input needs such as fertilisers and pesticides. 

Moreover, the impacts on land use, water wastage, and greenhouse gas emissions are highly contextual, and their estimation is often erroneous due to a reductionist use of metrics. 

Similarly, whether animal husbandry is ethical or not depends on practical specificities, not on the fact that animals are involved. Such discussions also need to factor in that animal husbandry plays an important role in culture, societal well-being, food security, and the provision of livelihoods. 

We seize this opportunity to argue for less preconceived assumptions about alleged effects of animal source foods on the health of the planet and the humans and animals involved, for less top-down planning based on isolated metrics or (Western) technocratic perspectives, and for more holistic and circumstantial approaches to the food system 

Animal board invited review: Animal source foods in healthy, sustainable, and ethical diets – An argument against drastic limitation of livestock in the food system – ScienceDirect

   
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