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More support for a shift towards a plant-based diet in UN Climate Change Report

Image © Carol M. Highsmith

On August 8, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a report on global land use and agriculture, in which experts once again pointed at the excesses of the cruelest meat and dairy industries. Will the EU listen?

In its report compiled by hundreds of scientists around the world, the IPCC presents plant-based diets as the most promising solution to mitigate climate change, and even includes a recommendation to reduce meat consumption. Even though the report provides a conservative account of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by industrial farm animal production, the authors report that the shift to plant-based diets – or even sustainably-produced food from animal sources -also generate significant benefits to human health.

The scientists further estimate that such dietary changes would also free up millions of square kilometers of land to be used as carbon sinks, which absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and reduce its concentration in the air,  reducing carbon emissions by up to eight billion tonnes per year.

The Latest in a Long Series of Studies 

The IPCC Report comes at the heel of a long series of studies advocating for a radical change in dietary choices. As recently as October of last year, an article published in the renowned scientific journal Nature brought attention to the necessity of keeping food systems within environmental limits, encouraging dietary changes towards more plant-based diets. A month before that, an EU-based study issued recommendations for a safe operating space for EU livestock production, also advising a reduction in meat production and consumption – not to mention the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization’s report on the effect of livestock production on climate, published as early as 2005.

The effects of food systems on the environment are so overwhelming that they have caused environmentalists to align with animal advocates on the issue of food: in March of last year, Greenpeace published a report advocating for a 50% reduction in meat production, in line with Eurogroup for Animals’ “50×50 Strategy” (50% less meat by 2050).

Misguided EU Agricultural and Trade Policies

Since 1990, the IPCC’s regular reports have been warning us about climate change – yet not much has changed. Despite international commitments to halt climate change (the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Goal Development), public policies around the world are still geared towards the intensification of livestock production, to the detriment of the environment and animal sentience. The EU’s agricultural and trade policies are no exception, as they continue to ignore the fundamental contradiction between the promotion of intrinsically cruel industrial farm animal practices and sound, sustainable, humane farming practices.

UN scientists note the paramount importance of tropical rainforests, especially the Amazon, the largest carbon sink in the world. Rising rates of deforestation in the Amazon for the grazing of beef cattle and the cultivation of animal feed enabled by the current Brazilian government would accelerate climate change by destroying opportunities to cool global temperatures and wiping out carbon sinks.

These dramatic consequences on the health of our planet did not stop the EU from negotiating a free trade agreement with Mercosur, the second biggest importer of Amazon-grown soy to the EU. Similarly, the EU entered a trade deal with Canada opening the EU market to beef cuts from animals raised on feedlots, a practice detrimental to both animal welfare and environmental protection.

Hopefully, the IPCC report will be the last of a long series of calls to EU policymakers in favor of entirely shifting the orientation of our current agricultural policy towards more sustainable and humane production. In her speech to the Parliament, the Commission’s President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, called for the implementation of a Food Policy; the IPCC report already provides some leads.

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