Crunch Time: Plants Are Making a Comeback

Human Wrongs Watch

22 July 2021 (UNEP)* — For the last half-century, money and meat have been a package deal: Across the globe, as wealth increases, so does consumption of animal-based foods. And by 2050, the demand for animal-based foods could increase by as much as 70 per cent.


Unsplash/Scott Warman / 21 Jul 2021

The irony, of course, is that this voracious consumption has not necessarily improved the quality of human life.

In addition to the fact that many of us are eating more animal-sourced food than is healthy, livestock production is a major contributor to climate change, causes habitat loss and reduces biodiversity, and can facilitate the transmission of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.

But could the pendulum swing the other way? Scientists, governments and even devoted burger-lovers are recognizing the benefits of plant-rich diets.

A global shift toward plant-rich diets would produce less greenhouse gas, require less water and, according to a UNEP-supported study by researchers at Chatham House, could free up three-quarters of the world’s cropland for other uses.

Plant-rich diets could also help reduce chronic illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer – as well as the heavy costs of treatment and lost work hours.

Many are also embracing the challenge, forging new ways of enjoying favourite foods, and riding the wave of change. Companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Champions of the Earth in 2018 – are developing plant-rich alternatives to meat.

In the United States, the plant-rich food market value grew by 29 per cent between 2017 and 2019; and global demand is also increasing, with some forecasters projecting a market value of more than US$74 billion by 2027.

“My view is that meat is going to remain a part of our future,” says Beyond Meat CEO, Ethan Brown. The real question, he says, is: “Is it going to be plant-rich meat or animal meat?”

Envisaging a global transformation, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres will convene the UN Food Systems Summit in September 2021. Supporting the transition toward food systems that provide net positive impacts on nutrition, the environment and livelihoods, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is a contributor to the One Planet Network Sustainable Food Systems Programme, leading the development of a guideline for collaborative policymaking and improved governance; and a member of the Transformative Partnership Platform, informing donors and policy makers and fostering innovation.

UNEP is also the custodian of the food waste element of Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, committing member states to halve their per capita food waste at the consumer retail level; and is currently developing the Food Waste Index, a global food waste databank enabling countries to track their progress towards the Goal.


2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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