Food security exists when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life2. According to the Food and Argriculture Organisation (FAO), the number of hungry people in 2010 was estimated at 925 million.
Over the next few decades additional pressure will be put on existing food systems due to population growth; the amount of energy, land and water required and, of course climate change. The challenge facing agriculture will be to increase food production in ways that reduce hunger, while reversing the damage already done to the environment.
In the UK alone, livestock consume more than half of the 20 million tonnes of cereal grown, over 50% of wheat and over 60% of barley16. Globally one third of the world’s cereal harvest and around 90% of soya is used for animal feed8. The amount of feed grains used to produce the animal products in a typical vegetarian diet are around half those of a meat-based diet39.
Meat production is also putting a strain on our other valuable resources, such as fossil fuels. The production of animal protein is extremely energy intensive. To produce meat such as beef and lamb, the ratio of fossil fuel expenditure (in production) to protein output (in the form of meat) is 40:1 and 57:1 respectively. The average fossil fuel energy input for all the animal protein production systems is around 25 kilocalories (kcal) fossil energy input per 1 kilocalorie of protein produced, more than 11 times greater than that for grain protein production39. The UK currently imports around 40% of its food. Switching from a diet based entirely upon imports to a diet of food produced entirely in the UK reduces a person’s food footprint by 57%. Eating organic food can reduce the average food footprint by an additional 2%40.
Comparisons of a healthy vegetarian diet (which is varied and rich in wholegrain products, vegetables, pulses and fruit, and includes moderate amounts of dairy products and egg) with that of diet low in meat that also meets nutritional recommendations have shown that a vegetarian diet can reduce the footprint by 40%. The ideal diet is one that meets both nutritional requirements and also has the lowest footprint possible. A diet that is healthy, vegetarian, local and organic could reduce the UK food footprint by 44% per capita40. A report by Oxfam (2009) states that reducing the demand for meat and dairy produce, as one of its four a week steps, is perhaps the most significant action that can be taken to reduce food’s impact on both people and the planet. The report also goes on to mention that a drastic overall reduction in consumption of all types of meat and dairy products is urgently needed41.
A meat-based diet requires more energy, land and water resources than a vegetarian diet making going veggie a more sustainable choice.
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