How to Save the Global Food System By Eating Plant-Based
The global food system is the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. | Vladmir Zapletin / iStock

How to Save the Global Food System By Eating Plant-Based

The global food system is the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide and contributes to climate change, but plant-based eating may help.

According to a new report, the global food system is the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide, and a shift towards plant-based diets will be crucial in limiting the damage.

Independent policy institute Chatham House published the research paper, titled Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss, last week. It explores the role of the global food system — and animal agriculture, in particular — in driving the extinction of wildlife. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) supported the research.

As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, agriculture threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 species documented so far as being at risk — approximately 86 percent. The new paper outlines the various challenges and requirements of redesigning our food system to protect biodiversity. It also features key recommendations to governments and policy makers.

The global food system is the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. | Luis Alvarez / Getty

Does being vegan help climate change?

Creating a more sustainable food system begins with encouraging a global shift towards a plant-based diet. This is due to the disproportionate impact of animal agriculture on biodiversity, land and water use, and its significant greenhouse gas emissions.

“Such a shift would also benefit the dietary health of populations around the world, and help reduce the risk of pandemics. Global food waste must be reduced significantly. Together, these measures would reduce pressure on resources including land, through reducing demand,” reads the study.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also advocates for plant-based food production and consumption to help mitigate the climate crisis. And studies show that a global shift to a vegan diet could help feed up to 10 billion people worldwide.

Additionally, the new report suggests the re-establishment of native ecosystems on unused farmland and/or integrating pockets of natural habitat into in-use farmland.

A growing body of evidence specifically highlights the role that hedgerows play in uniting fragmented agricultural areas in the UK, and establishing even small new areas of natural habitat for wildlife would help promote biodiversity significantly.

Animal agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity loss. | Eric Lafforgue/Art In All Of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

Promoting sustainable agriculture

It’s clear that a shift to more sustainable farming practices, in general, is needed to fix the harm of the global food system. Intensive food production methods such as factory and monoculture farming degrade soil and negatively impact natural ecosystems.

Moving away from animal agriculture would also free up additional areas for protection. The industry currently uses over 80 percent of all global farmland. While accepting reduced crop yields and farming more sustainably would reduce the impact of food production in general on the land itself.

“We must stop arguing that we have to subsidize the food system in the name of the poor and instead deal with the poor by bringing them out of poverty.”

Tim Benton, Chatham House

“Politicians are still saying ‘my job is to make food cheaper for you’, no matter how toxic it is from a planetary or human health perspective,” said the report’s research director Prof Tim Benton as reported in The Guardian. “We must stop arguing that we have to subsidise the food system in the name of the poor and instead deal with the poor by bringing them out of poverty.”

Speaking to LIVEKINDLY, he added: “Moving to more plant-based diets and wasting less food is a key enabler allowing both pristine ecosystems to be preserved, and also the adoption of wildlife-friendly farming. The more demand is pushed in the name of economic growth, the more that both become difficult.”

The report requests that moving into 2021, international decision-makers prioritize the establishment of a biodiversity-supporting food system as part of a green recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.