Some vegan and sustainability-related news stories from the past few months
By Bronwyn Slater and James O’Donovan
Veganism could reduce global farmland use by more than 75%
In June the journal ‘Science’ published one of the most comprehensive studies undertaken to date to understand the environmental impact of specific food products and global agriculture. Researchers analyzed 570 studies tracking the field-to-fork journeys of 40 different foods. The study assessed data on over 38,000 farms and 1,600 processors, packaging types and retailers across 123 countries. They examined the impacts on five variables: land use, water use, greenhouse gas emissions, ocean acidification and eutrophication caused by the 40 different products.
The research showed that:
- Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, the European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.
- Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
- While meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
- 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans.
- Even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
- Adopting a vegan diet (free from animal products such as dairy, eggs and meat) is the best way to protect the planet.
- There were huge differences in the environmental impact of the same types of food on different farms.
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said lead researcher Joseph Poore of Oxford University. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Vegan and plant based diets now mainstream according to experts
- US sales of vegan food have increased by more than 20% over the last year.
- Sales of plant-based cheeses have grown by 43% and yoghurts are growing at 55%.
- Sales of plant-based creamers has grown by 131%.
- The plant-based milk category is up 9% compared to the previous year.
- Sales of cow’s milk are down by 6%, with vegan milk comprising 13% of total milk sales.
- Sales of meat alternatives have skyrocketed by 24% (compared to 6% the previous year).
Michele Simon, Executive Director of the PBFA (a trade association which represents 114 leading plant-based food companies) said that the plant-based foods industry has gone from being a relatively niche market to fully mainstream. “Growth in some sectors within the plant-based market is explosive. It is clear that the plant-based foods industry is a food industry leader that consumers, food services, and retailers are taking seriously”, she said.
Doctors display ‘Go Vegan’ sign outside White House
On Friday July 27th hundreds of doctors dressed in their white coats stood together in front of the White House holding a ‘Go Vegan’ banner. The group was led by Neal Barnard MD, President of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “We hope that Americans take this message to heart and break the meat habit for themselves and their families,” said Dr. Barnard.
The doctors had travelled to Washington for the 6th Annual International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine. “Diet is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. Health care providers are eager to learn to use the power of nutrition. The International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine is the perfect place to do that”, Dr. Barnard said. The doctors also displayed a “Ditch the Dairy” banner in protest at the USDA’s recent $50 million bailout for the dairy industry.
Forest Cover Loss Remains High in 2017 – the main driver is beef
Enough trees to fill 44 football fields were lost from tropical forests every minute of every day during 2017 as the world racked up its second worst year for global tree cover loss, according to new data from the University of Maryland published by the World Resources Institute. The worst year was 2016, when a strong El Niño ― a weather event that causes both droughts and floods ― was in play. Even so, fire, chainsaws and disaster erased about 37 million acres (58,000 square miles) of tropical forest in 2017, an area larger than Bangladesh. Deforestation, at the current rate, is thought to be responsible for a tenth of global emissions. Yet studies show that rainforest nations such as Brazil and Indonesia have spent over 100 times more on subsidies for sectors that drive deforestation ― palm oil, timber, soy, beef and biofuels ― than they received in international aid to prevent deforestation. Rates of deforestation increased in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia and remained high in Brazil, the US and Russia.
Soy, beef, palm oil and timber are responsible for most of the world’s tropical deforestation but beef plays an outsize role in the worst-affected countries, causing more than twice as much deforestation as the other three commodities combined.
Colombian Amazon now has same rights as a person
The Colombian government has been ordered to take urgent action to protect the Amazon Rainforest by its own supreme court. In a historic ruling, the country’s most senior judges said the state had not done enough to tackle the destruction of the environment. The ruling comes after a group of 25 people filed a lawsuit claiming their constitutional rights to life, food and water were being violated.
Columbia’s rainforest – an area the size of Germany and England combined – is being destroyed by farming, agriculture, cocaine production, illegal mining and logging. The rate of deforestation increased by 44% between 2015 and 2016 and by another 46% by 2017.
The Amazon is now recognised as an “entity subject of rights”, meaning it has the same legal rights as a human being. A plan of action is to be put in place over the next few months, as per the court ruling.
According to the World Resources Institute, following pressure to reduce deforestation the government has “cancelled a major highway project connecting Venezuela and Ecuador, destroyed several illegal roads, expanded Chiribiquete National Park by 1.5 million hectares, and launched the Green Belt initiative to protect and restore a 9.2-million-hectare forest corridor. It’s too early to tell if these actions and others will be enough to slow the country’s rampant forest loss.”
South Korea and Indonesia ban dog meat trade
A South Korean court has outlawed the killing of dogs for meat. Dog meat has long been a part of South Korean cuisine, with about one million dogs believed to be eaten annually. However, consumption of dog meat has been steadily declining in South Korea as people increasingly view dogs as man’s best friend rather than livestock or a food source.
The court decision sparked angry protests from dog farmers, with one farmer commenting: “Cows, pigs, chickens and ducks are all raised to be consumed and why not dogs?” There are approximately 17,000 dog farms across the country. These farms usually double as slaughter houses as the government does not license abattoirs to kill dogs.
The Indonesian Government has also pledged to ban the trade of cat and dog meat. A global petition by Dog-Meat Free Indonesia (DMFI) collected more than 930,000 signatures from around the world, including those of Cameron Diaz, Dr. Jane Goodall, Simon Cowell, and Ellen DeGeneres. 93% of people living in Indonesia do not agree with eating dog meat.
Monsanto to pay $289 million in damages in terminal cancer case
Agrochemical giant Monsanto has been ordered to pay $289 million in damages after allegedly causing one man’s cancer and failing to warn consumers of the dangers of its products.
The claimant in the case, groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, is among more than 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US. Johnson was diagnosed with terminal non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014 and had used Monsanto’s weedkillers for a number of years as part of his job. The jury found that the use of the weedkiller contributed substantially to the development of his illness, and that the company had acted with malice by deliberately concealing the carcinogenic properties of its products (Roundup and Ranger Pro). Correspondents say the California ruling is likely to lead to hundreds of other claims against Monsanto.
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