At last month’s UN climate ambition summit, UN secretary-general António Guterres warned “humanity has opened the gates to hell”. He described distressing scenes of farmers helplessly watching crops washed away by floods, the emergence of virulent disease due to rising temperatures, and people fleeing historic wildfires. All of which will make global food supplies more insecure.
Alarmingly, our global food system is responsible for 80% of biodiversity loss and around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions – mostly through the industrial production of meat and dairy. Along with phasing out fossil fuels, scientists warn we must urgently end destructive farming practices – which cause deforestation, habitat loss and pollution on a massive scale.
In the UK, over 70% of our land is farmed, most of that for animal agriculture. We also import millions of tonnes of soya each year to feed intensively reared chickens, pigs and dairy cows – often at the expense of forests and human rights of people at home and abroad. Just 15% of the UK’s farmland is used to grow food directly for people.
The UK slaughters one billion chickens, 10 million pigs and 2.6 million cattle a year. Paradoxically, almost 10 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, while four million children are in food poverty and over a quarter of adults in England are obese.
Nature must be restored to prevent climate crisis
Meanwhile, the UK government has its head firmly in the sand, ignoring its own advisors on the need to reduce production and consumption of meat and dairy to meet climate targets and improve diets.
The science is clear. We cannot prevent climate chaos without restoring nature. We cannot restore nature without radically transforming the way we produce food. And we cannot achieve food security without all of the above.
The UK government’s role in creating systemic and lasting change to the food system is critical and unavoidable. Empty pledges and broken promises by food giants and supermarkets to be better at some point in the future no longer cut it.
Meat and dairy regulation
Reducing meat and dairy by 70%, as scientists warn we need to do by 2030, means they must be regulated to ensure alignment with internationally agreed goals for climate and nature protection. Imports of animal feed and other agricultural commodities that drive deforestation in places like Brazil must also be banned.
The government must also properly support farmers to transition to climate, people and nature-friendly farming, as well as granting land access to communities who want to grow their own food.
This would not only tackle inequality and the soaring cost of food, it would save the NHS billions and create green jobs.
If we’re to truly address the climate, health and nature crises, these actions aren’t optional. Without them, we will only continue to witness and suffer the wildfires, floods and extreme weather described with no exaggeration by the UN secretary-general. There’s no time to waste.