Way back in 2010 an article appeared in the Guardian newspaper to make a vegan heart rejoice. It’s headline was UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet. I even printed it out and carried it around in my bag, in the hope of waving it in the face of any unfortunate omnivore who might question my choices. In the passage of time, it crumbled to bits, adding to the “fur” in the bottom of my bag. During the last five years, the report itself may just as well have crumbled into dust, for all the notice it seems to have been paid.
But the facts and figures in it were both compelling and alarming:
- The global population is surging towards a predicted 9.1 billion by 2050
- As developing economies grow, their consumption of meat and dairy products increases
- Animal products cause more environmental damage than the production of plastics, metals, cement and sand
- Biomass and growing crops for animals are as damaging as burning fossil fuels
- Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of land use and 19% of greenhouse gas emissions
I’m sticking my neck out here, and please correct me if I’m wrong, but I can’t say I’ve noticed too many governments promoting vegan diets in the six years that have elapsed since that report, here in the UK or around the world. As they grow in affluence, developing countries like China have massively increased their consumption of animal ‘products’, mirroring the ‘western diet’ to the detriment of their own health and the planet as a whole. Not to mention a sharp rise up to 150 billion – an unimaginable and deeply disturbing figure – farmed animals killed each year to feed our addiction to meat and dairy.
Far from initiating the kind of changes in food policy that become increasingly imperative as each year passes, governments here in the west appear to be much more interested in propping up the status quo, such is the grip of the powerful animal agriculture sector. So in the UK, for example, we see an unscientific and ineffective badger cull continue to be rolled out, purporting to support a precarious dairy industry which presses on in an already saturated market. We have here a situation bizarre as it is grotesque, where farmers persist in producing at a loss milk that no-one wants or needs, and badgers are being killed for no justifiable reason.
Business trends outside of animal agriculture on the other hand, are way ahead of national governments. The corporate world has supersensitive feelers for the prevailing zeitgeist. It’s very quick to notice which way the wind is blowing, and new plant-based products are hitting the market quicker than you can say ‘vegan’. The recent launch of the Plant-Based Foods Association in the US bears witness to this.
Vegan Eating Would Slash Food’s Global Warming Emissions: Study
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But if they did, they’d live longer and help reduce the changes that are skewing the climate. What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the global environment.”
So says lead author Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Program on the Future of Food. The study came to this conclusion after modelling the effects of four different diets up till 2050, as follows:
- The ‘business as usual’ diet with large amounts of meat and diary
- A diet that follows global guidelines to include more fruit and veg, and less meat, dairy, sugar and total calories
- A vegetarian diet
- And last but by no means least, a vegan diet.
Which do you reckon comes out tops?
Deaths per annum
Diet no.2 increasing fruit & veg etc – would result in 5.1 million fewer deaths p.a. by 2050
Diet no.4, the vegan diet – would result in 8.1 million fewer deaths p.a. by 2050
Diet no.2 as above – food-related emissions would be cut by 29%
Vegetarian diet – food-related emissions would be cut by 63%
Vegan diet – food-related emissions would be cut by 70%
Hmm, not rocket science is it? Even to achieve the global guidelines as in diet no.2 meat consumption would need to be cut by 56%. To continue with ‘business as usual’ is just not sustainable .
I could understand it by the way, if you don’t relish the idea of the millions more people thronging the planet should we actually start listening to the experts and adopt a more sustainable food policy (a world full of vegans though – what’s not to like!) But weigh the possible increase in population against the grim fallout from animal agriculture right now, let alone in 25 years time, in terms of pollution, deforestation, over-fishing, loss of habitat, mass extinctions, climate change, and so on…
Anyway, following the publication of this new and authoritative study from Oxford University, I am so looking forward to the public announcement from the UK Parliament, or Congress, or the European Union, recommending vegan eating for their citizens. (My tone here is ironic by the way, in case you couldn’t catch it without being able to see the expression on my face! )
If the big stick of climate change won’t be enough to get governments and their peoples to make the change, maybe the lovely juicy carrot of better health and longer life will. We live in hope.
And world, it really is time to wake up to the vegan way!
This post has only been published 3 hours, and I’ve already discovered that the UK government does seem to be acting on expert advice, even if it’s only from the angle of the nation’s health and not global concerns. The PHE (Public Health England) recently launched the new Eatwell Guide, updating the the guidance issued in the Eatwell Plate of 2014. PHE now advises eating more fruit, vegetables and starchy carbs, and reducing the amount of dairy by half, to just 8% of the diet. It even suggests dairy alternatives such as soya milk. It’s a start.
Needless to say, the new guide has come in for a barrage of criticism. Dr Judith Bryans, CEO of Dairy UK issued a statement: “Dairy products remain a key part of the Eatwell Guide which is important for the nation’s diet, but the decision of Public Health England to reduce the dairy food group in the revised Eatwell Plate is both baffling and disappointing. Dairy products should be front and centre in dietary guidelines.” That made me laugh. Well, what would you expect her to say?
For an update see Another Nation Trims Meat From Its Diet Advice