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Can veganism really save the planet? 

‘Going vegan’ is the hot topic of the year, with even Gregg’s joining the bandwagon with their vegan sausage rolls. Sharon Oliver, Senior Account Director, asks why is veganism so high in the agenda and can a diet free from animal products really be sustainable?

According to The Vegan Society in May 2016 Britain’s vegan population had increased from 150,000 to 542,000 in a decade (alongside a vegetarian population of 1.14 million) and sign-ups to Veganuary have increased by over 700% since it launched in 2014. In addition, the UK market for meat-free foods was reportedly worth £572m in 2017, according to market researchers Mintel, up from £539m only two years earlier.

The reason why veganism is on the agenda is two-fold. Animal rights is higher on the agenda than ever, but even more so is sustainability. How can we continue feeding the growing global population without the planet going bust?

With an estimated 10 billion people to feed by 2050, our scientists have been put to task to find a diet that can sustain us all, faced with comprehensive evidence that we need to change our traditional, meat-based food consumption. The question is, is veganism the answer?

Earlier this month, National Geographic reported that eating meat has dire consequences for the planet. A headline not to be ignored.  The report (published in The British Medical Journal) concluded on ‘a largely plant-based diet, with small, occasional allowances for meat, dairy, and sugar’. “Even small increases in the consumption of red meat or dairy foods would make this goal difficult or impossible to achieve,” a summary of the report states. They estimate if we all ate in in this way, meat and sugar consumption would reduce by staggering 50%.

But so what? PETA puts this in perspective by reporting some alarming figures around meat consumption and sustainability:

  • It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat
  • Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all water used in the U.S
  • Cows must consume 16 pounds of vegetation in order to convert them into 1 pound of flesh
  • Producing just one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles.
  • Of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S., more than one-third are devoted to raising animals for food.
  • A typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people.
  • And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising animals for food is the number-one source of water pollution.

Worldwatch Institute says, “Roughly two of every five tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land.”

There are clearly strong arguments for a move towards veganism and changing our diet to include a greater proportion of plant-based foods. And yet it may feel an impossible and unrealistic task to make us all to go Vegan. We just love our meat too much.

Maybe a more realistic approach would be to look at using technology and innovation to tackling sustainability within the farming industry, such as aquaponics, the “clean and green” method of growing fish and plants together in a closed system.

One thing is clear, any reduction in meat consumption is a positive move towards more sustainable food production and the single best thing you can do to help tackle climate change. And so this month, our Animal Health team have all embraced the notion of less meat in their diet this month, cutting meat meals down to twice a week or less. Why not tell us what you think, and whether you have adopted a vegan diet this month?

is a Senior Account Director in our Animal Health team and has a wealth of integrated comms experience both agency and client side.