Food that costs the earth

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Credit: Thomas Vogel

Earth Day this Sunday 22nd April, will highlight how humanity is threatening the survival of the planet and draw attention to the need for urgent change. Whilst recent media emphasis has been on the reduction of our plastic waste, there is another potent threat to the future of our earth.

My new Podcast today with leading environmentalist Tony Juniper, WWF’s Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, confirms how our broken food system is directly responsible for the destruction of our planet, but as Tony says ‘it has many faces’. I do hope you will listen to the Podcast to learn about the threats posed by industrial farming and how joined up thinking and synergies are giving us hope. In this blog I’m outlining the far-reaching impacts of industrial farming and suggesting ways in which we can all help to save our planet.

Factory farming – the intensive confinement of grain-fed animals – is devastating for animal welfare and responsible for driving the world’s food resources, wildlife and environment into the ground

There is a direct link between the extinction of animals and the demand for cheap meat. Vast land areas are used to grow animal feed, wiping out wildlife in its wake. As Tony Juniper says in the Podcast, in many fields the only life left is the crop. Since the widespread adoption of factory farming, half the world’s wildlife has been lost. About two-thirds of wildlife loss is driven by food production with factory farming being the most damaging.

Our poor management of the natural world is having a detrimental and irreversible effect. Industrial plants take raw materials and make them into fertiliser to optimise the mass production of crops to feed factory farmed animals. However, rainfall drags a lot of the nutrients from the fertiliser off the fields and into water supplies, which in turn run to the sea. The Gulf of Mexico is a prime example: it’s one of the world’s biggest dead zones, with nitrogen and phosphorus, primarily from industrial agriculture, killing the ecosystem.

Around the world governments are warning of a food crisis but this overlooks the fact that the current food system already provides enough to feed 16 billion people. Shockingly, the single biggest food waste area comes from feeding livestock human edible crops. More than a third of the world’s cereals and almost all of its soya are fed to farm animals, wasting more than two-thirds of the calories in protein conversion to meat, milk and eggs. Our food system is broken. It’s irrational and I feel ashamed of us as a species. Why are we doing this?

The consequences of factory farming are devastating, but there is hope. I am heartened by great initiatives taking place across the world that align animal welfare and conservation thinking. Consensus is growing that collaborative effort can bring about real change. For example, Costa Rica made the decision to remodel its economy, to stop deforestation and replant. In the last 30 years, as Tony outlines in the podcast, the country has doubled its GDP, as well as its forest cover; a huge success and example to the rest of the world. We have also seen company after company committing to zero deforestation policies and to improving animal welfare. We need to do more and we can all play our part.

On this Earth Day, why not think of the changes you can make today and everyday to help? You’ll be surprised about the impact you can have: be it eating less and better meat, getting informed and sharing this information with others and by helping us advocate systemic change by governments.

Everyone has a role to play, whether it’s companies, food producers, business, government or the general public. Ultimately, to save humanity, we need to create sustainable change so our food doesn’t cost us the Earth.

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