Why Vegan Farming?

Key points are taken from the Vegan Society’s Grow Green Report which has summarised the findings from the UN Livestock’s Long Shadow report, the 2014 IPCC Climate Change Report and a study by The European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. Additionally, we have outlined various reasons why there needs to be a shift from traditional farming to a progressive more sustainable, less polluting system of food production.

Currently, within the Farming Agricultural Grant Scheme system, there are little incentives for plant proteins or even standard vegetable production, organic soil improvement or ecological education and very limited biodiversity/rewilding enhancement schemes. However, the United Nations have predicted there are only 50-60 global harvests left if soil degradation continues. Therefore, to be at the forefront of change, whereby land use is scrutinized and progressed to more sustainable systems, is paramount!

A transition to organic, vegetable and plant protein crops for local consumption would help mitigate climate change and building soil with green manures within organic crop rotations will counteract soil loss and maintain soil fertility. However, Generating 3cms of topsoil takes approximately 1000 years!

Why our agricultural system must change

Nearly a decade ago, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published the report Livestock’s Long Shadow which estimated 18% of annual worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were attributable to livestock. This influential text has been widely-cited since as evidence for how livestock production is altering the mechanisms of the atmosphere. Such changes are either directly through the impact of livestock rearing, or indirectly from the many other processes which eventually result in the marketed animal product.

Elsewhere in the literature, the actual global contribution of ‘livestock farming’ to GHG emissions has been estimated to be at least 14.5% (some disputed estimates as high as 51%) depending on the methodology used to calculate contributions (including land-use, change and length of time taken into account for GHGs to break down). It is important to note that even the lower estimate of 14.5% of GHGs caused by livestock is still higher than emissions from all global transport combined.

Climate Change and Sustainability

Despite the estimate of 19% of GHG emissions being caused by UK food consumption, it should be possible to reduce these emissions by as much as 70% by changing consumption patterns and by using improved technology. Indeed, it has been recommended that the UK government should commit to reducing emissions by this amount by 2050.

Deforestation here and overseas is driven by the expansion of pastures and growing crops fed to an estimated 65 billion cows, pigs, chickens and other land animals killed for food and other human uses, each year worldwide. It is precisely this deforestation which is one of the key reasons for biodiversity threats and species extinctions. A report commissioned by the FAO, USAID and the World Bank (1997) concluded that industrial livestock production contributes to deforestation and species loss through “its demand for concentrate feed, which changes land use and intensifies cropping. The production of feed grains, in particular, adds additional stress on biodiversity through habitat loss and it damages ecosystem functioning.

The IPCC Climate Change report, 2014, indicates “changing diets towards less GHG- intensive food, e.g., the substitution of animal products with plant-based food, while quantitatively and qualitatively maintaining adequate protein content…” as one of the alternatives for reducing GHG emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land-use. Indeed, several studies have compared the environmental impact of various diets and found that well-planned plant-based diets have the lowest carbon footprint.

Plant protein, vegetable farming for direct human consumption has a lower climate change impact than meat and dairy production. Therefore, a reduction in animal farming would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but would free up land which could be used for vital biodiversity reserves as well as sequestering carbon to further mitigate climate change.

Encouraging a transition to the production of organic plant protein crops would…

1. Contribute to the UK GHG reduction targets

2. Reduce the threat to global food security by decreasing the UK usage of natural resources in other countries, (currently used to grow crops for feeding animals)

3. Reduce many of the current health issues related to the under-consumption of plant foods, fibre and folate, as well as the over-consumption of protein, and certain specific meat and dairy products

4. Encourage farmers to grow plant protein crops for direct human consumption, thus offering them an alternative, positive livelihood, with lower and more stable input costs.

5. Make the UK an example of best practice for tackling emissions from the livestock sector.

Biodiversity threat

In the UK, the estimate of native species loss is between 50-60 % with 15% facing extinction; with invertebrates and major pollinators making up the majority. Through rewilding schemes, we can reverse centuries of ecological damage: Rewilding is about letting parts of nature flourish free from livestock grazing, along with contaminated (antibiotic/ hormone/ chemical insect repellents etc), runoff animal byproducts.

Revitalise and educate communities

At present, 9 out of 10 children under 10 years old cannot identify common species of trees, birds, insects or mammals. Education away from this decline to a connected understanding and respect of ecosystems, biodiversity and food production in the 21st century, will ensure a more sustainable future.

Furthermore, many of our most isolated rural areas are struggling with declining populations and few employment opportunities; they’re reliant on unreliable subsidies. Rewilding education projects can help revitalise communities through new tourism and entrepreneurial ventures.

Rewilding takes it a step further: It brings nature back to life in a way that excites people. It draws people in, to connect with nature, to find peace or adventure, relax or re-energise, explore or rest. Rewilding areas provide opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking and viewing wildlife. These create spin-off business opportunities that can attract people to live close to wild areas.

Looking after ourselves

Naturally functioning ecosystems are better at preventing floods, storing carbon, and providing us with clean air, water, food and fuel. These ecosystems are also better at preventing floods, storing carbon, and providing us with clean air, water. food and fuel

Keeping us healthy

Experiencing wild nature helps reconnect people with the living planet. This improves our health and wellbeing, and builds a shared sense of humanity. A report published by Mind confirms the positive impact of exposure to the natural environment. This includes enhanced mood and self-esteem as well as reduced feelings of anger, confusion and depression.

A positive legacy

Organic rotational plant-based food production, alongside rewilding, offers a big opportunity to leave our landscapes and rural communities in a better state than they are today, for the benefit of future generations. It’s about helping nature and people and offers the opportunity for both to take positive steps towards a better future. A new system is a choice like any other type of land management; landowners and communities need to make the decision to look at the long term.

In addition to plant-based diets having the potentially lowest level of GHG emissions, they provide multiple health benefits, tackling many of the main ‘lifestyle’ diseases facing the UK population. If adequately balanced, including a range of lightly-processed grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, plant-based diets are associated with several health benefits. Chronic diseases significant in the UK, (including obesity, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, coronary artery disease and cancer), have been shown to be decreased among those who consume a consistent plant-based diet.

An increasing number of studies report adverse effects associated with a diet rich in animal protein, and have generated a greater interest in plant-based diets as a healthier alternative. A number of these studies have specifically linked meat-based diets, which include red and processed meats, with two of the major chronic diseases in the Western World; cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Furthermore, those who consume meat have been found to have both higher intakes of cholesterol and higher plasma concentrations of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides (TG) than those who consume a plant-based diet.

Incentives for stimulating change

There is currently a great need to draw up agricultural policies and practices that increase the resilience of the food system here and in the EU. We need to align production and consumption patterns with the current fragile ecological condition of the planet, in order to face the multiple challenges that scientific studies forecast over the next decades.

A practical intervention, such as providing subsidies for those farmers interested in transitioning from livestock production to organic plant protein sources for human consumption would be an effective incentive. These products are not only more sustainable alternatives to meet the nutritional needs of the UK population, but also guarantee work continuity for farmers.

Common Agricultural Policy

The CAP recognises the negative impact that agriculture has on the climate, as well as acknowledging the role that the sector might have in providing solutions. However, it does not seem to recognise the magnitude of the threat that the livestock sector represents.

Neither does it seem to be playing any relevant role in providing measures to protect farmers. The CAP should be encouraging a transition to a system of agriculture, more aligned with the ecological reality of the planet, and the serious consequences that a deteriorating climate and environment will bring to Europe in the coming decades. While the CAP is promoting energy crops as an alternative in order to reduce the dependency on fossil fuel, it does not appear to be investing the same resources into reducing the dependency on livestock products – despite the overwhelming evidence underlining their significant contribution to GHG emissions.



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