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We don’t need to go veggie to feed a booming world population and save the planet from climate change and forest destruction – and can produce enough food for everyone without factory farming, new research from Friends of the Earth and Compassion in World farming shows. 

‘Eating the planet?’, published today (Wednesday 11 November 2009), as world leaders prepare for the FAO World Summit on food security, reveals that we can still enjoy meat several times a week whilst feeding the world using planet-friendly and humane farming methods.

Cruel and intensive factory farming practices currently used to mass produce meat for people in rich countries – who eat around six  times as much meat as those in the poorest countries – are destroying forests and wildlife as land is cleared to grow animal feed and graze cattle.

The research models future food production against different diets, farming methods and land use, and concludes that enough food can be produced to feed the growing world population with fairer and healthier diets whilst avoiding deforestation and animal cruelty.

Continuing to eat more meat and dairy globally – the production of which already generates more climate-changing emissions than all of the world’s transport – will push the world’s climate and resources over the edge. 

Despite pushes from agribusiness to intensify farming to feed a growing global population that is expected to reach over nine billion by 2050, the researchers found that a diet equivalent to eating meat three times a week would allow forests to remain untouched, animals to be farmed in free-range conditions and greener farming methods to be used.

With as many people obese in the West as malnourished in poor countries – roughly a billion of each – distributing protein more fairly is also an opportunity to tackle global health problems, the report points out. 

But feeding the world in a planet-friendly way means there will be little room to grow bio-fuel crops for cars. Feeding people must come first. Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth are calling on Ministers to switch support from factory farming to planet-friendly and humane methods.

The groups also want the Government to take action to measure and reduce the impact of the UK’s meat and dairy production and consumption – and to switch subsidies from intensive to planet-friendly and humane farming.

Clare Oxborrow, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “It’s amazing news that we can feed a rapidly expanding population without trashing the planet – and still eat meat several times a week.

“With as many obese as malnourished people in the world, fairer and healthier lower-meat diets are a win-win for people and the planet. 

“The Government has already backed a major scientific study that calls for a move away from intensive production – it’s time it stopped spending public money on it and got behind planet-friendly farming instead.”

Lasse Bruun, Head of Campaigns at Compassion in World Farming, said: “It’s great to see that we can actually do without factory farming and still eat meat, just by cutting down the amount we consume.”

“With 60 billion animals being reared for livestock production every year and the figure set to double by 2050, we really need to re-consider our approach to farming.

“Animals are being reared like factory units to provide us with cheap meat. The true cost of eating too much meat is animal suffering, deforestation and obesity. We have the power to save our planet and be kind to animals. All we need to do is change our diets to a healthier and fairer option.”

Notes to editors

- ’Eating the planet?  How we can feed the world without trashing it’ is produced by Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth.
- It summarises an original study undertaken by researchers at The Institute of Social Ecology, Alpen Adria Universität Klagenfurt, Vienna, Austria, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany and draws out implications and recommendations arising from the research findings.

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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust