Restoring Life On Earth

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Reforming food systems is key to protecting wildlife in all its forms, like this kingfisher on my local river | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

The focus of this year’s global Earth Day is on how we can restore our Earth.

Between 20th and 22nd April, people in 190 countries will be organising events and promoting ways we can help heal the damage we have caused to our planet.

I’ve seen, first-hand, the damage that has been caused by our broken food systems. In Sumatra, I’ve seen forests razed to make way for palm plantations for the processed food industry and to feed factory farmed cattle, particularly here in Europe. Yes, palm products for factory farmed animal feed.

As the forests go, so too do the homes of orangutans and the critically-endangered Sumatran elephant. In South Africa, South America and the North Sea, I’ve seen how vast quantities of tiny fish are scooped out of the world’s oceans to be ground down for fishmeal to feed factory farmed fish, chickens and pigs, leaving marine life like penguins and puffins starving.

What I found is that industrial agriculture – factory farming – is a major driver of declines in the natural world.

A Chatham House report, ‘Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss’, launched in partnership with The United Nations Environment Programme and Compassion in World Farming in February 2021, concluded that too. It sets out the three main steps that must be taken to help combat biodiversity loss and climate change:

  1. Our global diet patterns must change to include more plant-based foods and less food waste.
  2. More land must be set aside for nature rather than being converted for agriculture.
  3. We must farm in a more nature-friendly way that supports biodiversity.


All of these changes require shifts in our current eating habits.

Wildflowers beside a cereal field in Italy | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

This year presents a crucial opportunity to bring about significant changes to the way our global food systems work – changes that are long overdue and that will help deliver progress on all 17 of the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN. This September will see the first ever UN Food Systems Summit take place with the aim of bringing together world leaders to act on this vital issue.

We must make sure our leaders understand that without an end to factory farming, and a move to less and better meat consumption, the world cannot realise the Sustainable Development Goals nor the Paris Climate Change targets.

I would urge anyone who wants to help restore our planet to make sure their voice is heard by becoming a food systems hero. You can take part in the public forums being organised or one of the global, national and independent dialogue events.

And, of course, one of the most important things we can all do is to change the way we eat. By eating more plant-based foods and less and better meat – such as free-range, pasture-fed or organic – we can help our ravaged planet start to heal.

Higher welfare meat, dairy and eggs also cause less animal suffering. Buying them will encourage investment in higher welfare farming which is smaller scale and poses fewer risks to animals, people and the planet.

By taking action and uniting globally to fix our broken food systems we can make a substantial difference towards protecting and restoring our precious Earth for future generations.

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