World Food Day: today, 16th October – UN recommends ‘lower consumption of meat and dairy products’

Posted on October 16, 2012

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Today (16th October) is the United Nations (UN) World Food Day. The UN Environment Programme published a report today titled ‘Avoiding future famine: Strengthening the ecological basis of food security through sustainable food system’, and also issued a media release with the same title and subheaded ‘UN report warns ecological foundations that support food security, including biodiversity, are being undermined –  damage to ecological basis can be halted through sustainable measures in context of green economy’.

One of the key recommendations in the report is to ‘Promote sustainable diets so as to avoid unhealthy eating habits and the associated health effects, and reduce impact on natural resources. In particular, lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed countries should be promoted‘.

‘… The report identified the following specific threats to these systems:
Agriculture
 Competition for water. Some experts believe that future food demands need to be met by additional irrigated land, but there is already strong competition from rapidly growing domestic and industrial water withdrawals.
 Conventional agricultural practices have a variety of ecosystem impacts, such as a reduction of on-farm biodiversity and attendant increase in pests and disease, soil loss, eutrophication and contamination of ground water.
 Traditional agricultural practices, if practiced inappropriately, can lead to severe land degradation.
 Climate change and its impacts will compound the preceding threats to agriculture by shifting crop-growing zones and bringing an eventual decrease in crop productivity.
Marine Fisheries
 Overfishing is the foremost force in undermining the ecological basis of fisheries. The FAO estimated that as of 2008, 53 per cent of global marine stocks are fully exploited, 15 per cent are either underexploited (3 per cent) or moderately exploited (12 per cent), while 32 per cent are either overexploited (28 per cent), depleted (3 per cent) or are recovering from depletion (1 per cent).
 Loss of coastal habitat such as coral reefs and mangrove forests. At least 35 per cent of mangrove forests and 40 per cent of coral reefs have been destroyed or degraded over the last decades.
 Bottom trawling, dredging and destructive fishing practices such as the use of dynamite and cyanide, which lead to habitat loss or modification.
 Degradation of coastal water quality. Nutrient runoff causes coastal eutrophication, zones of severely reduced dissolved oxygen and depleted aquatic life. Over four hundred dead zones have been identified in coastal areas.
 Climate change will lead to warmer water and a more acidified ocean, with many impacts on marine fisheries. The IPCC projects a global loss of 18 per cent of the world’s coral reefs in the next three decades, shrinking a crucial fish habitat.
Inland Fisheries
 Infrastructure developments such as dam construction in river catchments are destroying or modifying inland fishery habitats. More than 50 per cent of the world’s large rivers have been fragmented by dams on their main channel and 59 per cent on their tributaries.
 Land-use change and removal of vegetation cover leads to increased runoff, erosion and sediment pollution of water. Human activities have increased sediment flow into rivers by about 20 per cent worldwide.
 Agricultural expansion disrupts connectivity between floodplains and rivers – floodplains provide some of the most productive habitat for inland fisheries.
 Agricultural runoff and domestic and industrial wastewater discharges are degrading the quality of many inland waters. Wastewater loadings to inland waters in Africa may increase by a factor of four to eight between the 1990s and 2050.
Biodiversity
The variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels are necessary to sustain key functions of the ecosystem. For example, a diverse range of soil organisms interact with the roots of plants and trees and ensures nutrient cycling.
Many food production activities negatively impact on this supporting biodiversity, such as:
 Fertilizer run-off, which causes eutrophication, poses a threat to the diverse life of lakes and coastal areas.
 Excessive tillage – tilling to greater depths and more frequent cultivations – has an increased negative impact on all soil organisms, in particular organisms living in surface areas, such as earthworms.
 Deforestation and pesticide contamination of lands adjacent to farmland degrade “off-farm biodiversity”, impacting pollinators and natural pest control of crops.
 Overfishing may result in the removal of important components of the ecosystem, such as algal-feeding fish in coral reef systems, with a consequence of altered biodiversity and ecological states that may be impossible to restore.
 Aquaculture activities are also a source of pollution and biodiversity concerns as they may lead to the introduction of pathogens, strains and/or species that can alter marine habitats and diversity.
 The destructive fishing methods mentioned above can disrupt marine ecosystems, and it may take hundreds of years for vulnerable habitats such as cold water corals and seamounts to recover from such practices.

While the problems are many and varied, the report issues a raft of recommendations that can shore up the ecological foundations and create the conditions for sustainable food production …

 Promote sustainable diets so as to avoid unhealthy eating habits and the associated health effects, and reduce impact on natural resources. In particular, lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed countries should be promoted.
 Re-consider food quality standards that lead to unnecessary wastage.
 Design sustainable agriculture, not only on individual farms, but scaling up to the landscape and national level. Examples include improving soil management, making agricultural water use more efficient and promoting integrated nutrient management.
 Sustainable agriculture can be scaled up by supporting farmers, extending land tenure rights to farmers to encourage stewardship and rewarding farmers and farming communities for ecosystem stewardship.
 Economic strategies consistent with green economy thinking are also fundamental to scaling up sustainable agriculture, such as:
o Eliminating subsidies that contribute to overfishing (the global fishery sector receives up to US$25-30 billion) and habitat destruction, and redirecting funds into investment for sustainable fishery management and capacity building.
o Providing incentives for sustainable fisheries such as beneficial subsidies for conversion of fishing gears to less-damaging alternatives.
o Introducing fiscal measures such as taxation and levies on harvest volume and increased fines on illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing.
o Draw small shareholders into the global food economy and make them part of the system of sustainable practices in agriculture and fisheries.
 Where technically feasible, maximum sustained yields” of marine fisheries should be calculated and adhered to with enforcement arrangements and economic incentives. In poorer countries and for small-scale marine fisheries, a “co-management” approach can work in which fishers might agree to fish size or species limitations, seasonal closures of fisheries.
 Establish networks of Aquatic Protected Areas.
 Protect marine fisheries by reducing land-based pollution sources that lead to “dead zones” in coastal areas.

In summary, the scientists pointed out that to neglect the ecological aspects of food security would hamper efforts in its other four pillars. While we can’t avoid famine simply by making the food system environmentally friendly, neither can we go on producing food by wearing away its ecological foundation. In the end we’ll find – no foundation, no food, says UNEP Chief Scientist …’

Read the media releasein full at http://rona.unep.org/documents/news/Avoiding%20Future%20Famines%20-%20PR.pdf and read the full report at www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/avoidingfamines/

[Vegans say abandon the production and consumption of all animal products for animals, people and the planet; for more information, read ‘Diet of disaster’ at www.viva.org.uk/campaigns/hot/dietofdisaster/index.php]

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