Radical change in food systems needed

| 17th October 2022 |
We need a radical food system transformation to drastically steer us away from climate breakdown.

This overarching responsibility and huge number of stakeholders can make food policy development slow. Sadly, in the midst of a climate crisis, time is not something the planet can spare.

The UK experienced temperatures over 40C for the first time in recorded history in July this year (2022).

Fires blazed, national rail services halted, our already strained NHS was put under even more intense pressure, and a hose pipe ban was introduced across various counties.

As a UK resident who is used to cold and rainy days, the dialogue that unfolds during a heatwave can best be summed up as “making the most out of a bad situation”.

Deforestation 

But millions also know that experiencing the hottest day on record is nothing to be proud of – it is something to be feared.

At the end of July, World Weather Attribution published a study that suggested that human-caused climate change will increase the likelihood and severity of heatwaves in the UK faster than predicted.

In this instance, they suggest that human-caused climate change made the event at least ten times more likely to happen.

The European Commission lists deforestation and increasing animal-farming as two key causes for rising emissions related to climate change.

Both of these issues are heavily linked to the global food system, and both are issues we need to halt in their tracks.

Solutions

Animal farming provides just 18 percent of calories but takes up 83 percent of our farmland, according to the 2018 Oxford University study which is recognised as the most comprehensive analysis to date comparing the damage done to the planet by different food production systems.

The study’s lead author has since claimed that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth”.

Individual change is a fantastic first step, but we need a radical food system transformation to drastically steer us back into the right direction.

It is time to focus on real and achievable solutions to help mitigate the crisis we are already in. But who is responsible for this?

Government

In 2020, research found that responsibility for food policy within English government involves at least 16 different departments including the Home Office, Department for International Development, and the Treasury.

This overarching responsibility and huge number of stakeholders can make food policy development slow. Sadly, in the midst of a climate crisis, time is not something the planet can spare.

One department which is making strides in this field is the Food Standards Agency. The Advisory Committee on Social Sciences (ACSS) was established by the FSA “to bring social science expertise to the Agency’s pursuit of food safety, food authenticity, and regulatory excellence”.

This overarching responsibility and huge number of stakeholders can make food policy development slow. Sadly, in the midst of a climate crisis, time is not something the planet can spare.

Within this remit, the ACSS have formed a Working Group on Climate Change and Consumer Behaviours (CCBC) to deepen the FSAs understanding of how consumer trends related to climate change may impact its work.

Trends

Four behaviour trends of key interest for the FSA were identified through the CCBC: avoiding food waste, increased preference for alternative packaging, increased use of reusable containers to purchase food or drink in and increase in consumption of novel proteins.

The category of novel proteins contains a mix of food products such as vegan meat alternatives, cultured meat, farmed insects, and plant proteins that are newer to the food industry.

A high level of media interest has focussed on farmed insects and cultured meat, though consumer interest and levels of acceptance are lagging.

For example, in research from 2021, 60 percent of adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they were willing to try plant-based proteins such as soy, compared to just 34 percent saying they were willing to try cultured meat and 26 percent willing to try “edible insects”.   

Health 

It is time to harness this strong consumer interest and focus on protein solutions that are available right now, not in the future.

Increasing the amount of plant-proteins the UK eats and grows represents a plethora of opportunities for our and the planet’s health.

2019 Harvard University report has shown that if the UK returned land used for animal farming back to forest, and grew health-promoting crops for human consumption, we would be able to sustain human calorie and protein needs in place of feed currently grown for animals.

The FSA highlights potential implications for novel protein increase, including concerns about food processing and lack of consumer knowledge.

We know these concerns can be mitigated through the combined expertise of NGOs, industry, academics, health professionals, other governmental departments, and more.

We must not let the experience of these heat waves fade to memory. There are many parts of the world that have been impacted far more than the UK by human-caused-climate change. It is time to take action.

This Author

Louisianna Waring is the senior insight and policy officer at The Vegan Society. She has a background in both food policy and animal science. To learn more about The Vegan Society’s vision for a fairer food system transformation, visit Planting Value in the Food System.

More from this author

Donate

The Ecologist has a formidable reputation built on fifty years of investigative journalism and compelling commentary from writers across the world. Now, as we face the compound crises of climate breakdown, biodiversity collapse and social injustice, the need for rigorous, trusted and ethical journalism has never been greater. This is the moment to consolidate, connect and rise to meet the challenges of our changing world. The Ecologist is owned and published by the Resurgence Trust. Support The Resurgence Trust from as little as £1. Thank you. Donate now.