Are our diets destroying the planet? The future of food debated at Greenwich


A discussion on environmental issues featuring speakers from Greenpeace, The Vegan Society and The National Farmers Union, chaired by a member of the Natural Resources Institute

The debate, organised by the Faculty for Liberal Arts and Sciences, focussed on the future of food production, including the impact of current food consumption on the environment and what we can do to reduce this impact.

Professor John Morton, Natural Resources Institute, said:

"Growth in the agricultural land area is an important driver of what a recent UN report has called an unprecedented and accelerating loss of biodiversity. Over-use of pesticides risks enormous damage to the bees which pollinate our crops, yet there are still voices trying to slow down or defeat regulation.

"Changing this picture will not be easy, especially with a world population still growing, but agriculture, just like all the other sectors of the economy, needs to make drastic changes by 2030 – in other words it has to start now."

Camilla Berens, Greenpeace, stressed the damage our meat-based diets are causing, explaining:

"The way we're consuming meat is making us, and the planet, sick. Too much land is being used for under-efficient food production. Over 30% of all crops are used for animal feed, instead of feeding us directly. The amount of water used to support beef farming alone is six times greater than the water need to grow pulses like beans and peas. As water becomes an increasingly scarce commodity, we need to re-think how to maximise its use.

"At the same time, increasingly intensive farming methods for cattle, pigs and chickens is pushing animal welfare out of the equation altogether. That's why Greenpeace is calling for a global cut of 50% in the production and consumption of meat and dairy products by 2050."

David Exwood, National Farmers' Union, pointed out the importance of sustainable farming, saying:

"The British agriculture system of mixed farming with livestock production alongside growing crops has existed for thousands of years but now we need to adapt it to meet the 21st century challenges of sustainability, climate change and biodiversity.

"Using the very latest technology alongside traditional practices is the only way we can produce enough food at a price people can afford while caring for our planet. Grazed grass covers 40% of the land in the UK and we must be able to use that for producing food.

"Farming cares, not just because it's our careers and livelihood but because we choose to work in the environment we love. A balanced healthy diet comes from balanced healthy farming."

William Gildea, The Vegan Society, advocated cutting out animal products entirely, saying:

"Animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs aren't environmentally friendly as many farmed animals release large amounts of methane which warms the planet. And they need to be fed lots of crops, so it's usually wasteful too, as most of the calories we feed them doesn't make it into their meat, milk or eggs.

"Plant-based diets use less land and water, produce fewer emissions, leave us more food-secure, and animals better protected."

More information on the Natural Resources Institute, Greenpeace, the National Farmers' Union and The Vegan Society can be found below: