The cow in the room – is the CCC report going soft on food?

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» The cow in the room – is the CCC report going soft on food?

Given the scale of the climate crisis, the much-anticipated Net Zero report – produced by the Committee for Climate Change – has been underwhelming in asserting the need for a shift in plant-based production and encouraging a more rapid change to plant-based diets.

The CCC acknowledges a change in societal attitude in the report, and assume that by 2050, there will be a 20% reduction in lamb, beef and dairy consumption. They outline how this will have a positive effect on meeting emission targets. Despite this, the report fails to advocate for greater support for a switch to a plant-based diet and is not ambitious in the rate at which people are adopting veganism.

Evidence indicates that the number of UK vegans has quadrupled over the last four years [1], and therefore, we at The Vegan Society, are optimistic that a continuous rise in the number of vegans will help to achieve net zero emissions before 2050. In order to support this however, more needs to be done on a systemic level, including a transition away from animal farming and towards the growth of protein crops for human consumption.

Tree in the shape of the Earth

Agriculture

If we consider how animal agriculture negatively impacts the environment, the need for plant-based farming to be a part of the discourse surrounding low carbon transition, quickly becomes evident: 

  • Livestock farming accounts for 10% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions and is by far the biggest contributor to food related emissions [2]. 
  • Livestock industry is the world’s single biggest user of water [3]

Whilst the report calls for policy changes to the agriculture industry, it must be noted that good grazing management will not offset its own emissions [4] and therefore, it does not suffice to call for better livestock management within policy reform. Whilst we welcome reforestation as a means of carbon offsetting, further work needs to be done on limiting emissions in the first place.

Plant-based production would support this, by requiring less land - as crops are grown for human consumption - eliminating a huge source of inefficiency from the existing cycle. When we consider the fact that the UK already has good conditions for growing plant proteins for direct human consumption, such as fava beans, peas, hemp seed, or sweet lupin [5], policies to encourage protein crops seem necessary.

Eat more beans and pulses

Switching to more plant protein sources is not only key to reducing the environmental burden, but also improving the nutritional quality of individual diets. The Eatwell Guide deems beans and pulses to be a sustainable and healthy source of protein and advocates for increased consumption amongst the general population.

Animal welfare

The CCC envisages a 20 percent reduction in lamb, beef, and dairy, which is to be replaced with pork, chicken, and plant-based foods. However, increasing the production of pork and chicken does not sit well with concerns of animal welfare and anti-microbial resistance in an area of livestock farming that is becoming increasingly intensified. These concerns are shared among the wider public, and climate policy must be part of a joined-up approach with other areas of policy. Moreover, it is not advisable to lock in the increased production of foodstuffs that are far from suboptimal in terms of greenhouse gas emissions [6]; pulses such as beans provide greater benefits for climate, as well as for food security, food waste, and affordability. They also avoid the need to import animal feed, upon which poultry and pig production is heavily reliant.

By regarding the rapid rise of veganism as a good development but not as something to actively drive forward, the CCC misses the importance of the impact that mindful plant-based consumption can have on lowering emissions, making the report a disheartening read in an era where policymakers seek to place barriers for consumer demand for plant-based foods.

If the CCC acknowledges that consuming a vegan diet contributes positively to emission reduction, then it follows that they should be actively encouraging it. Put simply, we need to be far more ambitious when considering the impact of plant-based food and support the transition with public policy.

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References

  1. The Vegan Society. (2019). Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/news/media/statistics#vegandietintheuk [Accessed 3 May 2019].
  2. Bda.uk.com. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/professional/resources/obd_ref_guide.pdf [Accessed 3 May 2019].
  3. FAO (2006) ‘Livestock's long shadow: environmental issues and options’. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  4. Fcrn.org.uk. (2019). FCRN Blogs | Food Climate Research Network (FCRN). [online] Available at: https://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn-blogs/tara-garnett/blog-post-tara-garnett-why-eating-grass-fed-beef-isn%E2%80%99t... [Accessed 3 May 2019].
  5. The Vegan Society. (2019). The Vegan Society's Grow Green campaign: solutions for the farm of the future. [online] Available at: https://www.vegansociety.com/take-action/campaigns/grow-green [Accessed 3 May 2019].
  6. Harwatt, H. (2019). Eating Away at Climate Change with Negative Emissions. [online] Harvard Law School. Available at: http://animal.law.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/Eating-Away-at-Climate-Change-with-Negative-Emissions%E2%80%9... [Accessed 3 May 2019].
     

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