Are we eating ourselves to extinction?

A photo of a brightly coloured array of plant-based foods makes up three-quarters of the image. In the right quarter is a photo of pieces of raw meat.
A photo of a brightly coloured array of plant-based foods makes up three-quarters of the image. In the right quarter is a photo of pieces of raw meat.

The world’s richest countries are literally eating their way to the extinction of humanity, according to a ground-breaking new report by Compassion in World Farming. The excessive appetite for animal-sourced foods such as meat, fish, dairy and eggs, is harming us, damaging our planet, and inflicting suffering on billions of farmed animals.

How does New Zealand rate in global terms on meat consumption?

New Zealand is listed as 17 highest in the world based on the level of consumption of animal-sourced foods.

This report is the first to outline specific animal product reduction figures needed to transform diets and food production for our health, animals and the environment. It uses calculations based on the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet, which endeavours to provide sustainable and nutritious diets by 2050.

In New Zealand, an average of almost one-third of the calories in peoples’ diets are from animal-sourced foods. The recommendation is that a 59% reduction is needed by New Zealand as a whole, to meet the EAT-Lancet target of a much lower proportion of animal products in the diet.

The report titled ‘More money, more meat – High income countries must lead on reduction’ presents, for the first time, the specific measures that each high and middle-income country needs to undertake to curtail their intake of animal-based foods, encompassing poultry, eggs, meat, fish, and dairy, in order to meet planetary health boundaries.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has stated:
“Where calories and ruminant animal-source food are consumed in excess of health guidelines, reduction of excess meat (and dairy) consumption is among the most effective measures to mitigate [Green House Gas] emissions, with a high potential for environment, health, food security, biodiversity, and animal welfare co-benefits (robust evidence, high agreement).”

Photo of a barren forest with the remains of trees that have been burned in a fire, against a cloudy sky.

According to the findings by Compassion in World Farming:

The United States must reduce its excessive meat consumption by 82%, followed closely by Australia and Argentina at 80%, and Israel and Spain at 78%.

Iceland leads the way in needing to reduce overall animal-based food consumption, requiring a 73% decrease to achieve a diet where animal-based foods account for only 13% of calorie intake. Finland follows closely at 70%, trailed by Denmark at 68%.

Regarding egg consumption, Mexico and China have the highest reduction targets of 76%, with Japan at 75%, the Netherlands at 74%, and Malaysia at 73%.

Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, warns that affluent nations are dangerously consuming their way towards extinction:

“Our insatiable appetite for cheap meat and other animal-sourced foods is damaging our health, causing immense animal cruelty, and killing our planet.

“Unless we wake up now and act to reduce this calamitous overconsumption, it will simply be too late. The responsibility lies with these richer nations to take immediate action through national policies to help combat their impact in driving the climate health and nature emergencies.

A close-up photo of many white feathered chickens in a shed. They have areas of bare skin. The birds are crowded around a yellow food tray.

How to eat with the planet in mind?

The report underlines the current lack of initiatives to combat the problem and offers explicit policy recommendations for reducing overconsumption:

Establishing clear targets for consumption reduction in alignment with the Paris Agreement and the Kuming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Supporting these reduction targets with a comprehensive and transformative food strategy or action plan.

Aligning dietary guidelines with the principles of the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Diet, which promotes healthy and sustainable eating patterns, while also providing guidance on plant-based diets.

Ensuring that subsidies are not allocated to intensively farmed animals or their feed. Instead redirecting support towards producers of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and those adopting high-welfare nature-positive systems for farmed animals.

How can I reduce my own impact on the climate?

Much of what is needed to create the necessary changes for our health, animals and the environment needs to come at a government level. But, there are two things you can do, right now:

Sign the petition demanding the End of the Line for factory farming, as most animal foods are produced on factory farms.

Learn how to shift your own diet towards one richer in plant-based foods. Sign up for the free 21-day challenge to receive advice on support on making the move towards a more environmentally friendly diet.

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