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Why we need a Global Agreement on Food, Farming & Nature

I have been at the United Nations in Nairobi, where I had the privilege of speaking at the UN Environment Assembly. I used this important platform to call for the world’s leaders to come together and work toward a Global Agreement to replace factory farming with a regenerative food system.

When it comes to the environment, food is a big deal.

We are currently on course for oblivion.

Scientists warn that we have 12 years to solve climate change. Pollinators essential for the very existence of a third of our food are in steep decline. Antibiotics, half of which we feed to farm animals to prop-up factory farming, could soon stop working. Commercial fisheries could be gone within 30 years. And the UN itself warns that if we carry on as we are, we could have just 60 years left in the world’s soils before they are gone.

At the heart of all these declines is industrial agriculture; the use of chemicals, cages and monocultures to grow ‘cheap’ meat, milk and crops, rather than nutritious food.

It is the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet. It’s a major driver of wildlife declines worldwide. And in feeding human edible food to factory farmed animals, it is the biggest form of food waste; squandering enough food to nourish an extra 4 billion people.

Yet there is another way.

Moving away from industrial agriculture gives us the opportunity to nourish the world whilst saving the natural world on which we all rely.

The key to that better way lies with the world’s pastures; grazing animals instead of grain feeding them. It provides better food. Compared with pasture raised beef or free ranging chicken, the factory farmed equivalent has up to twice the saturated fat and is lower in other health-giving nutrients.

Image © Jo-Anne McArthur

By keeping animals on the land, in mixed rotational systems with pigs and chickens fed on crop residues and food waste, we have a much more efficient way of producing food. A better way of producing more nutritious food, more nature friendly food, more humane food, in a way that genuinely adds to our global food basket, rather than factory farming which squanders food.

A further consideration is the need for more balanced diets; ways of eating that don’t overdo livestock products, not least for the climate.

Scientists tell us that if we carry on eating meat and dairy in the way we are, then our food alone could trigger catastrophic climate change.

To stabilise the climate and save the natural world on which we all depend, there is a pressing need to reduce meat and dairy production by half.

But there’s a win-win here.

Studies show that a more climate friendly livestock population can be raised on the world’s pastures, restoring ruminants like cattle and sheep to their ecological niche as rotational grazing animals; returning pigs and chickens to nature’s great recyclers of food waste and farming’s leftovers.

In this way, we have a recipe for better, more nutritious food for all. Not just for today, but for future generations.

So, that is why, to save a world worth having for future generations, I call on the United Nations to forge a global agreement to create a regenerative food system without factory farming and excessive meat production.

We have nothing to fear from changing to this way. In fact, given the crisis facing food and the natural world, there is everything to fear from simply carrying on as we are.

Nothing short of decisive action by the world’s leaders – governments, business and the UN – will be enough. We are, after all, the last generation who can hand over a planet worth having to our children. For their sakes, and ours, let’s come together and take that step for animals, people and planet. Forever.

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