Sustainable eating: our position

For our own health and the sake of the environment we need to reduce our intake of meat, dairy and junk food: Friends of the Earth's position.
  24 Nov 2017    |      5 min

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Summary

The way we eat in richer countries like the UK is not sustainable, for lots of reasons. A typical UK diet is high in meat and dairy products – as well as sugar, fats and salt. This kind of diet causes illness, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Dietary demands have resulted in intensive meat and dairy production that pollutes, is wasteful, uses massive amounts of water and contributes to climate change.

We need to embrace healthier and sustainable diets, and cut global meat consumption in half by 2050.

Facts about sustainable diets

  1. Meat and dairy has an enormous environmental impact – at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production. Why? Because of the clearing of land and forests for farming, and methane from cattle and sheep’s digestive systems.
  2. Tackling world hunger is easier if we use crops to feed people instead of livestock. By halving the world’s consumption of grain-fed meat, we could feed 2 billion more people.
  3. Eating meat no more than 3 times a week in the UK could prevent 45,000 early deaths and save the NHS £1.2bn a year. Eating less and better meat can also save money

Effects of unhealthy lifestyles

Our diets have changed considerably in the past 50 years. Demand for meat and processed foods has increased enormously. We’re wasting far more food at every point along the food chain: about a third of the food we produce for human consumption is never eaten. Rising incomes, increased food marketing and poor food handling are all contributing to unhealthy food habits.

The way we use food is leading to a polarised health crisis: globally, levels of obesity are rising rapidly even while 850 million people suffer malnutrition from food shortages.

Agriculture for meat production is the biggest user of land and fresh water worldwide. It contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. This has severe consequences for:

  • public health
  • environment
  • availability of vital resources like water
  • security of the world’s food supply.

The food industry must change – and it needs political and public action to make it happen. A lack of political leadership so far means that the food industry is generally unwilling to discuss or take action on sustainable diets. It also means that the public are not given enough guidance on what to eat.

Our view on sustainable eating

We must all take action to avoid dangerous climate change and help make sure there's enough food for everyone in the future.

Wealthier societies must reduce the amount of meat, dairy and junk food they eat. We also have to reduce food waste and source sustainably-produced food. Major meat-eating countries like the UK and US will need to make the biggest cuts to their meat intake – around 80% by 2050.

Friends of the Earth wants us all to consider making changes to our food choices.

We also want to see policy changes so that people can more easily adopt a lower-meat diet – also known as a flexitarian diet.

1. Governments must:

Release new guidelines on eating better. This would include the benefits of eating less and better meat and dairy. And it would provide businesses, health professionals and consumers with better advice on healthy, sustainable diets.

Introduce clear, compulsory standards for caterers. Meals paid for by taxpayers in schools, hospitals, prisons, care homes, armed forces and all government departments must reflect environmental and health issues, including eating less and better meat.

Restrict marketing of unhealthy, unsustainable food. And put the same restrictions on advertising too.

Support and encourage environmentally healthy farming. We must help farmers produce meat in ways that benefit the environment, promote the health and welfare of their animals, and encourage the production of more UK-grown plant protein.

2. Whether we're in or out of the European Union we should also:

Stop subsidising factory farming. Subsidies should be used to reward the production of better-quality meat and healthier, more diverse food production.

Label well-managed grass-fed animal products. Grass-fed produce is better quality. Better labelling would help people choose quality over quantity and help increase the market for these products.

Permit the use of more waste food products as feed. This would reduce the amount of soya imported for animal feed, including from rainforest-wrecking plantations.

3. The food industry should:

Promote products with a lower environmental impact. We need to increase the demand for planet-friendlier produce like organic food.

Talk about sustainable diets with their customers. An informed population can make better food choices.

Support farmers producing grass/waste-fed animal products. By using high-quality produce from farms that protect the environment and animals’ welfare, the food industry can encourage better farming practices.