hoosing a plant based diet is the best thing we can do to stop biodiversity loss, repair ecosystems, slow climate change and potentially avoid future pandemics, according to new research.

Our food systems are the main cause of biodiversity loss and agriculture by itself is the primary threat to 86% of the species at risk of extinction. Food production follows the 'cheaper food paradigm' which aims to produce more food at a lower cost by increasing the use of fertilisers, pesticides, water, energy and land. This creates a vicious circle where lower food costs lead to increased food demand which in turn drives further intensive farming and land clearance for agriculture. 

The report by the Chatham House policy institute identifies three principal changes needed to for a more biodiversity supporting food system: a mass shift to a plant based diet, setting aside land for habitat and wildlife conservation and changing the way we farm the land.

Dietary Change - Going Plant Based

We produce more food than we need and globally about one third of this is lost or wasted (around 1.3 billion tons per year). If we reduced food waste and overconsumption this would reduce food demand and therefore the area of land and natural resources required to produce it.

Plant sourced food has less environmental impact, in some cases significantly less, than animal sourced food.

"A switch from beef to beans in the diets of the entire US population could free up 692,918 km2 – equivalent to 42 per cent of US cropland"

This land could be used for ecosystem recovery and more sustainable farming. It would also most likely reduce diet-related diseases associated with the consumption of red and processed meat and future pandemic risk.

Wildlife Habitat Conservation

The reduced need for agricultural land would free up areas that can be set aside specifically for habitat regeneration and conservation enabling biodiversity and natural carbon storage. As an example if all pasture was returned to its natural state of forest and grassland it would store 106 gigatonnes of carbon.

Changing Farming Methods

The research identifies 3 key ways of adapting farming methods to aid biodiversity on agricultural land:  using technology to enable precision farming, reducing the use of fertiliser and pesticides in favour of ecological techniques such as crop rotation and fundamentally changing the way we farm using techniques such as agroforestry. 

We need a high proportion of the land to be returned to nature and more nature-friendly farming. This will require the input and co-operation from governments, legislators, producers and retailers to make these changes happen. However, as individual consumers we can kick start the change by going vegan!

Chatham House is a UK based independent policy institute founded in 1920. Its mission to help people, governments and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.  The full research paper can be found here.

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