It's just not the planet that desperately needs our help—our bodies will feel better, too. It's time for the state to provide the nudgeby Ray Monk / March 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Our current food system, and its future trajectory, is simply not sustainable, and we need to fundamentally change the way we produce food if we are to feed 9-10bn people in 2050 without wrecking the planet irreversibly.”
Those words were written by Pete Smith, Professor of Soils and Global Change at the University of Aberdeen, but they could have been written by any of the hundreds of people who have been researching the sustainability of our food habits during the last 20 years. Among environmentalists, food scientists, economists and others, a consensus has emerged: we have to change our diet—and change it in one respect in particular. There is simply not enough land or water on Earth to satisfy present, still less future, demands for meat, eggs and dairy products.
If we continue to try to meet that demand for food from animals, the damage will be catastrophic. The root of the problem is the sheer inefficiency of pastoral farming. It takes between five and 10kgs of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. That inefficiency shows itself in the massive amounts of land given over to crops like soya, which is fed to cattle.
It is estimated that animal farming is responsible for 80 per cent of global deforestation, and, a recent World Wildlife Report says, “60 per cent of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets.” With regard to water, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers has calculated that it takes over 15,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef, while the relevant figure for 1kg of potatoes is 287. As water becomes an increasingly rare and precious resource, we cannot afford to waste it with such recklessness.
And then there is the question of greenhouse gases. Everyone knows that burning coal and oil raises the levels of carbon dioxid…