At COP28, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization released their Climate Plan, but left out our food system’s biggest emitter – meat and dairy products.

At the global climate conference, COP28 held in Dubai, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), released their roadmap for addressing global food system challenges. In it, the UN’s top food agency spelled out how to end hunger while at the same time limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. But according to a new commentary published in the journal Nature Food, the road map had a glaring omission — leaving out the food system’s biggest emitter, meat and dairy products.

The researchers who authored the comment make the case that swapping out meat for a plant-based diet is one of the most impactful ways to reduce agricultural emissions. The meat and dairy industry is responsible for 60 percent of the agricultural industry’s greenhouse gas emissions in fact, a figure given by the United Nations themselves. Yet even though UN researchers have found that a plant-based diet has a lower environmental impact, the authors of the comment say, this information is absent from the FAO’s report.

“The FAO fails to present any methods or concrete data behind their claim that incremental tweaks in farmed animal management alone can meet our climate goals,” commented Matthew Hayek, co-author of the commentary and assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies at New York University. “Meanwhile, the report contradicts a massive body of science proving that we need serious dietary changes in order to limit global warming below dangerous levels.”

Studies again and again have confirmed that shifting to a plant-based diet would be better for the planet, and are vital for countries to meet their climate targets. While many countries in the global north continue to eat far more meat than the global average, we have seen some progress: Germany and the United Kingdom have cut back, according to some research. But instead of calling for a reduction in meat consumption, the FAO’s report calls for a shift from cows to chicken to “reduce the GHG impacts of animal food based products.” Yet a shift to a chicken-based diet comes with plenty of tradeoffs. While chicken production has a lower carbon footprint compared to beef or pork production, poultry farms are still responsible for negative environmental impacts, like water pollution and antibiotic resistance, as well as labor and animal welfare abuses. Shifting to a plant-forward diet, on the other hand, is much lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and reduces the impacts associated with chicken and other poultry.

The roadmap also identifies ‘aquatic food’ as the next big thing, stating “due to its low GHG footprint, aquatic food should play an important role in the dietary shift to mitigate emissions.” The Nature commentary calls this out too for overlooking the significant emissions and environmental impact the aquaculture industry can have, including disease outbreak and polluting surrounding waters.

While the roadmap does mention plant-based meats, rather than highlight how a plant-based diet can be better for your health and the environment, the FAO report mentions the ‘nutritional deficiencies’ organic plant-based meat alternatives may have. Even though, as the Nature Food comment mentions, a UN Environment Programme report found that plant-based meats had “promise for emissions reductions and reduced public health risk” that the animal agriculture industry raises.

Cleo Verkuijl, the lead author of the comment and a researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute, stated, “By failing to recognize the need to reduce the production and consumption of animal-sourced foods, the FAO misses a central element of a climate-friendly food system.”

The FAO plans to release two more installations of the roadmap at the next two climate conferences, though it remains unknown whether the next two iterations will include more of a nudge towards plant-forward eating as a solution.

Original source: https://sentientmedia.org

Leaders Declaration on Food Systems, Agriculture and Climate Action signed at COP28