Our go-to resources on sustainability and the global food system
Biodiversity and Wildlife
Source: Science of the Total Environment
“Though difficult to quantify, animal product consumption by humans (human carnivory) is likely the leading cause of modern species extinctions, since it is not only the major driver of deforestation but also a principle driver of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas, facilitation of invasions by alien species, and loss of wild carnivores, and wild herbivores.”
Source: Food Climate Research Network
"If the goal is to conserve what is left of biodiversity on earth, and as such to safeguard and expand existing populations of wild herbivores because of their intrinsic value as well as the more instrumental ecosystem services they provide – and recognising that they also constitute a source of methane emissions – then the need to reduce domestic livestock populations is all the greater."
“Nature restoration will depend on a combination of dietary shifts, reduction in food loss and waste and adoption of nature-positive production practices. Dietary shifts are potentially the quickest action to achieve, and can help facilitate the other two actions.”
Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
“Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency. Major reductions in impact could be achieved at reasonable cost.”
Source: Nature Sustainability
Abstract: Extensive land uses to meet dietary preferences incur a ‘carbon opportunity cost’ given the potential for carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration. Here we map the magnitude of this opportunity, finding that shifts in global food production to plant-based diets by 2050 could lead to sequestration of 332–547 GtCO2, equivalent to 99–163% of the CO2 emissions budget consistent with a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 °C.
Source: World Resources Institute
"Moderate ruminant meat consumption: Ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, and goats) use two-thirds of global agricultural land and contribute roughly half of agriculture’s production-related emissions. Ruminant meat demand is projected to grow by 88 percent between 2010 and 2050. Yet, even in the United States, ruminant meats (mostly beef) provide only 3 percent of calories. Closing the land and GHG mitigation gaps requires that, by 2050, the 20 percent of the world’s population who would otherwise be high ruminant-meat consumers reduce their average consumption by 40 percent relative to their consumption in 2010."
Abstract: The increase in the consumption of animal products is likely to put further pressure on the world’s freshwater resources. This paper provides a comprehensive account of the water footprint of animal products, considering different production systems and feed composition per animal type and country. Nearly one-third of the total water footprint of agriculture in the world is related to the production of animal products. The water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of crop products with equivalent nutritional value. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. The water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is 1.5 times larger than for pulses. The unfavorable feed conversion efficiency for animal products is largely responsible for the relatively large water footprint of animal products compared to the crop products. Animal products from industrial systems generally consume and pollute more ground- and surface-water resources than animal products from grazing or mixed systems. The rising global meat consumption and the intensification of animal production systems will put further pressure on the global freshwater resources in the coming decades.
Abstract: Human consumption of freshwater is now approaching or surpassing the rate at which water sources are being naturally replenished in many regions, creating water shortage risks for people and ecosystems. Here we assess the impact of human water uses and their connection to water scarcity and ecological damage across the United States, identify primary causes of river dewatering and explore ways to ameliorate them. We find irrigation of cattle-feed crops to be the greatest consumer of river water in the western United States, implicating beef and dairy consumption as the leading driver of water shortages and fish imperilment in the region. We assess opportunities for alleviating water scarcity by reducing cattle-feed production, finding that temporary, rotational fallowing of irrigated feed crops can markedly reduce water shortage risks and improve ecological sustainability. Long-term water security and river ecosystem health will ultimately require Americans to consume less beef that depends on irrigated feed crops.