A NEW CHATHAM HOUSE REPORT highlights that the global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss.
Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss, supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Compassion in World Farming, describes three actions needed for food system transformation in support of biodiversity, and sets out recommendations to embed food system reform in high level political events over the coming UN ‘Super Year’ for Nature.
Our global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss, with agriculture alone being the identified threat to 24,000 of the 28,000 (86 per cent) species at risk of extinction. The global rate of species extinction today is higher than the average rate over the past 10 million years.
In the last decades, our food systems have been following the “cheaper food paradigm”, with a goal of producing more food at lower costs through increasing inputs such as fertilisers, pesticides, energy, land and water. This paradigm leads to a vicious circle: the lower cost of food production creates a bigger demand for food that must also be produced at a lower cost through more intensification and further land clearance.
The impacts of producing more food at a lower cost are not limited to biodiversity loss. The global food system is a major driver of climate change, accounting for around 30 per cent of total human-produced emissions.
According to the new report, a reform of food systems is a matter of urgency and should focus on three interdependent actions:
- Firstly, globaI dietary patterns need to move towards more plant-heavy diets, mainly due to the disproportionate impact of animal agriculture on biodiversity, land use and the environment. Such a shift, coupled with the reduction of global food waste, would reduce demand and the pressure on the environment and land, benefit the health of populations around the world and help reduce the risk of pandemics.
- Secondly, more land needs to be protected and set aside for nature. The greatest gains for biodiversity will occur when we preserve or restore whole ecosystems. Therefore, we need to avoid converting land for agriculture. Human dietary shifts are essential in order to preserve existing native ecosystems and restore those that have been removed or degraded.
- Thirdly, we need to farm in a more nature-friendly, biodiversity-supporting way, limiting the use of inputs and replacing monoculture with polyculture farming practices.
Dietary change is necessary to enable land to be returned to nature, and to allow widespread adoption of nature-friendly farming without increasing the pressure to convert natural land to agriculture. The more the first action is taken up in the form of dietary change, the more scope there is for the second and third actions.
Professor Tim Benton, Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Energy, Environment and Resources Programme at Chatham House, said: “The biggest threats to biodiversity arise from exploitative land use – converting natural habitats to agriculture and farming land intensively – and these are driven by the economic demand for producing ever more calorie-rich, but nutritionally poor, food from fewer and fewer commodities grown at scale.
“These commodities underpin a wasteful food system that fails to nourish us and undermines biodiversity and drives climate change.”
Philip Lymbery, Global Chief Executive at Compassion in World Farming, said, “At a time when so much of the world continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s never been more obvious that the well-being of people and animals, wild and farmed, are intertwined.
“As this new report shows, the future of humanity depends on us living in harmony with nature. We need to work with nature, not against her. Never has it been so timely for us to realise that protecting people means protecting animals too.
“The future of farming must be nature-friendly and regenerative, and our diets must become more plant-based, healthy and sustainable. Without ending factory farming, we are in danger of having no future at all.”
* Read the report Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss here.
* Source: UN Environment Programme