Back to: What we buy, and land use, food and farming agenda
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Tim Hughes: Okay, thanks very much everyone. We're now onto our final couple of speakers for the weekend. So our penultimate speaker will be Dr Rosie Green from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. So over to you, Rosie.
Rosie Green: Good morning, everybody. Thank you very much for having me here to talk to you today. So you've already heard from some great speakers this morning on topics like farming and land use and what we can do to reduce our emissions from those. So I'm here now to talk to you a little bit about individual choices and diets, and what we can do further to reduce our emissions using dietary change. So I'm going to talk mainly about the three questions you can see behind me here. What foods are the biggest part of the problem? What are the pros and cons if we start to reduce those foods in our diets? And what could we eat instead? So Indra has told you already a little bit this morning about what foods produce the most greenhouse gases and these are just two pie charts to illustrate to you a little bit, the difference between the amount of different foods we eat and the amount of emissions that they produce. So the chart on the left is showing you the percentage of different food groups that's in our diets by weight, and the one on the right is showing you the percentage of the same food groups that makes up the total emissions produced from our food. So for example, that sort of purply one at the top on the left is is red meat, and it's under 10% of our diets by weight, but it's producing around a quarter of the emissions. And in contrast to that you can see the green and orange ones down the bottom. Those are fruit and veg and cereals and they're just under a half, between a third and a half of our diet. But they're producing a lot less of the emissions and that's something I'd like you to keep in mind as I go on a little bit. So how do emissions compare between different types of diets? This is some work that was done by our colleagues at Oxford University a few years ago. And they looked at what people say they eat in the UK and classified them into types of diets and then calculated the emissions from those different diets. And this is per person, so you can see that the high meat people who are on the far left, their diets are producing just over seven kilos of carbon dioxide equivalents per person per day. And then if you go down to the vegans on the right, it's under half that. It's just under three kilos. And then you've got everything in between, depending on the different types of diets. And the Committee on Climate Change is at the moment saying that we should reduce that meat consumption by around 50% to get to net zero. So that would put us in the low meat group which is sort of in the middle there. But what about our health? And Sue has already introduced that topic for me very kindly this morning. Um, we know as Sue says, that most people in the UK are not eating a very healthy diet. In fact the last time we counted this using our national dietary survey, it was less than 0.1%, that were actually meeting the guidelines that we have. On those guidelines are things to do with making sure we eat enough fruit and vegetables, not eating too much fat or sugar or salt. So we kind of got a long way to go before our diets are considered healthy. And there is a huge cost to those poor diets. It's responsible for at least 10% of illness and deaths in the UK. It's similar to smoking, and it's also costing the NHS a lot of money every year. And you've already seen this plate. It's what it's what the healthy diet should look like. This is the eat well guide that's produced by the government to tell us what we should be eating if we want to be healthy. And if you just think back to that pie chart that I showed you before, where the fruit and vegetables and the cereals were less than half of the diet, you can see from this actually they should be more like three quarters or even more, whereas the meat and the dairy should be for a healthy diet, quite a small percentage of that plate.#
So what would happen if we all just tried to eat a little bit more healthily and tried to meet those guidelines that we already have? Well, we could reduce emissions from food, our researchers found by about 17%, just if we ate more healthily. And also a nice side effects of that would be to increase our life span by an average of about eight months. And that's mostly because we know that red and processed meat is associated with a number of health conditions, so it's linked to heart disease, it's linked to strokes, it's linked to particular types of cancer, like bowel cancer, and it's also linked to diabetes. Whereas on the other hand, eating fruit and vegetables is linked to prevention of all those conditions. So if you eat the more fruit and vegetables you eat, there's less likely you are to suffer from those diseases. So the more we reduce our meat and the more we increase our fruit and vegetables, the more we can also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from our food. Because the higher emission foods yeah, oh it's five minutes sorry. So the higher emission foods also tend to be the ones that are worse for our health. Um, so we can carry on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but and also getting additional health benefits up to about a 50% reduction in emissions from where we are now. After that, the diets tend to get a little bit more restrictive. So what is the downside of us doing that? There are a few things that we need to be aware of. One is the other environmental impacts of our food system, which is something that other speakers have already talked about this morning. Some of you might have seen this figure that I've put up here because it's been in the news recently in the last few weeks, and it's about the environmental impacts of different types of milk. So almond milk has been criticised a lot recently. You can see there's emissions, land use and water use on this graph. And the water use of almond milk is actually quite high, particularly when the almonds are grown in California. But the other thing you'll notice about this graph is that actually, it's still the dairy milk that has the highest of all three environmental impacts when you compare them. And that's often the case, actually, that the plant based foods have lower environmental impacts across the board than animal source foods. But it's still something we need to be aware of when we're starting to think about what we could eat instead, is that we have these trade offs to think about.#
Other potential trade offs could be to do with the meat and dairy industry, you've heard from the farming point of view this morning. We have amazing farming industry in this country and we need to be able to support farmers, that if people are going to start eating less meat and dairy, there needs to be a fair transition. And this is where the sort of less but better meat and dairy argument that I know Modi made to you guys the other weekend comes in. It also depends what we're substituting and I'm going to talk a little bit about that in a minute. But for example, if we want to encourage people to eat more chicken and pork instead of more red meat, that might have an impact on, for example animal welfare. Because, as we know in the UK, a lot of our animals are reared outdoors in the fields and that's particularly the cows and the sheep, whereas pigs and chickens can often be reared more intensively. And so that's something to think about. Whether we want to switch people to eating more of those animals and potentially reducing animal welfare standards. And there's also a potentially a knock on effect on our landscape of that, we're used to seeing the animals in the fields, and that is a part of our natural landscape. Then I want to talk a little bit about the effects on our health, because that's that's what I do for my job. We know that meat and dairy do have health benefits. They provide us with nutrients that our bodies need. So they provide us with protein and also iron B vitamins and calcium. And so if we're going to reduce the amount of those foods that were eating we need to make sure that we're not going to disadvantage people's health. Ah, in terms of protein, we currently eat more than we actually need, so that's unlikely to be a problem. If we reduce the amount of protein it's not so much of a worry, but there are people that are deficient in iron B vitamins and calcium in this country, and particularly often women and teenage girls. So when we think about what we're going to eat instead, that's another thing to bring into consideration. I've already mentioned that we could be eating chicken and pork instead, but there are trade offs to that. But again, we get a lot of the nutrients we need from those other meats. This is a bowl of pasta and it's there for two reasons really. It's there because we do need to be increasing the amount of cereals we're eating and that can give us some of those essential nutrients. But also this is actually insect pasta, which is a food that some people are telling us that we could be eating more of. Insects are a protein source, they're low down the food chain and so they have much lower emissions associated with eating them. I've really just put this here to show you that you don't necessarily have to shovel a forkful of crickets into your face to be eating insect protein. It's it's one option that people people might want to consider in the future. This is cellular agriculture or what we call lab grown meat. So it's a burger that's been grown in a laboratory, which is another option of food for the future. Around a third of the beef we eat at the moment is in minced beef form, so this is an option that maybe people might want to take if they want to continue eating meat but meat that has not been raised on the land or from an animal. It's currently in the very early stages and it's expensive and there are issues around whether people will want to eat that or whether they should want to eat that. But it's an option that I'm presenting. Also we have the plant based alternatives to meat and dairy, so we have things like soy milk plant based burgers. Again at the moment they're quite expensive and so we need to think about whether we should be trying to make those alternatives cheaper. And then, as I said, the final alternative is to eat more fruit, vegetables and pulses and have a diverse diet. And then you can, with a low meat and dairy diet, get all of the nutrition that you need. And I don't need to show you this slide. It's just showing you that the emissions are lower from those other types of foods.#
So my final point really is to ask, first of all, is it okay to change people's diets or to try and change that? That's something for you guys to think about. One initial point to make would be that the food industry is already doing this all the time through product placement and through marketing. And so a question would be whether the government should also be doing more of that, trying to change what people are eating. Is it fair and can everyone afford to change is another issue. If food to starts to become more expensive it's possible that poorer people could lose out and so it's important to think about whether the measures that we would take would be fair. In terms of measures I'll go through these only quickly because I'm sure that the next speaker is gonna talk about these more as well. There are softer and tougher ways to try and encourage people to change their diet. The ones you can see here are some of the softer, more sort of nudge type measures, through reducing the meat and dairy in publicly provided meals, or encouraging substitutes, or labelling emissions like we would label the nutrition on foods. Or a slightly tougher approach would be to try and change the prices. So make the healthier foods, the lower in emissions cheaper, and make the higher emissions foods more expensive. The UK already has a soft drinks tax which has reduced people's sugar consumption and in many countries, particularly in the EU at the moment, they're talking about introducing a meat tax or a carbon tax, which could reduce the amount of those foods people are eating and also could potentially raise quality and animal welfare standards. And potentially such tax could also raise money that you could spend on making fruit and vegetables cheaper, or on other measures to combat climate change, or on other health measures. So I'll leave you with this slide that's showing that diets are actually already changing. People are already reducing their meat consumption. About a third of people in this country now identify as meat reducers and its much more among women and among young people. And if a lot of people start to make small changes to their diets it can lead to a sort of tipping point where there becomes a new normality and where people just adopt different diets automatically. The question is whether we can get there by 2050 on this natural change that's already happening, or whether we need to introduce some more measures to accelerate that change. And that is up to you guys. Thank you very much.
Tim Hughes: Thank you very much, Rosie. So before we go to table discussions, there is just one point we need to clarify about the recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change and just going to ask Indra to do that quickly.
Indra: On one of Rosie's slides she said that our scenario in reaching net zero implied a 50% reduction in the beef, dairy and lamb. It's actually a much lower reduction of 20%. So we said a 20% reduction would still enable us to reach net zero.
Tim Hughes: Great, thank you Ingrid for clarifying that. So now give you only five minutes this time to have a conversation with your tables because we're running a little bit late, I don't want to cut into your break, so five minutes for a conversation and to get your questions together.
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