A report released this month by international think tank Chatham House and supported by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Compassion in World Farming, calls for extensive reform of the global food system, particularly a shift away from animal agriculture, in order to preserve biodiversity. The report identified “the cheaper food paradigm”— where the goal of producing more food for a growing population results in increasingly environmentally damaging practices—as the leading threat to biodiversity and ecosystem collapse, threatening 24,000 of the 28,000 (86 percent) of species at risk of extinction. The three solutions posed to preserving the planet are encouraging a global shift to a plant-based diet, setting aside more protected lands, and moving toward biodiversity-supporting farming methods such as replacing monoculture with polyculture. 

UN climate conferences

The report was released ahead of the UN’s “Super Year” for Nature climate conferences that will take place throughout 2021 and is meant to urge global leaders to take actionable steps to eliminate environmentally detrimental practices within the current food systems. “Our current food system is a double-edged sword—shaped by decades of the ‘cheaper food’ paradigm, aimed at producing more food, quickly and cheaply, without taking into account the hidden costs to biodiversity and its life-supporting services—and to our own health,” Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division, said. “Reforming the way we produce and consume food is an urgent priority—we need to change global dietary patterns, protect and set aside land for nature, and farm in a more nature-friendly and biodiversity-supporting way.”

The report’s findings were presented during a virtual event this week that featured a number of environmental advocates, including legendary primatologist Jane Goodall. “The intensive farming of billions of animals globally seriously damages the environment, causing loss of biodiversity and producing massive greenhouse gas emissions that accelerate global warming,” Goodall said. “The inhumane crowded conditions not only cause intense suffering to sentient beings but enable the transfer of pathogens from animal to human risking new zoonotic diseases. On ethical grounds it should be phased out as soon as possible.”