The Green Protein report

Green protein report

In March 2020, Jasmijn de Boo and Andrew Knight published The Green Protein Report: Meeting New Zealand’s Climate Change Targets by 2030 Through Reduced Reliance on Animal Agriculture.

In the light of COVID-19, which seemed to have jumped species in a ‘wet’ market (selling wild animals for the meat trade), we need to review our interaction with the natural world, the global food system and consider how nations respond to agricultural threats and opportunities.

New Zealand / Aotearoa

Why do we need to rethink production and consumption? How can a transition be done? What are the issues we need to address? Where do meat and dairy fit in? The Green Protein Report answers these questions and many more specifically for New Zealand. This detailed dossier explores how this can be achieved, how much profit there is to be made from plant-based products, and how much healthier citizens would be if eating more plant-based food.

Currently, arable land is not well-utilised; we could increase land dedicated to horticulture up to ten times. For too long, animal agriculture has dominated landscapes, and it has resulted in mass deforestation and leaching of nitrates into rivers. New Zealand has one of the highest methane emissions per capita, soils are being eroded, native wildlife has been decimated, and New Zealand is losing its “clean and green” image in the eyes of the world.

Transition to plant-based farming

The report makes compelling evidence for a new way for New Zealand to farm and produce food. The nation must start to reduce its reliance on animal agriculture and make the transition to plant-based farming now. Governments need to encourage and support those farmers who see that the writing is on the wall for meat and dairy. There is no more time to waste if New Zealand is to meet its Paris Agreement goals, and the best chance to achieve greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce its stock numbers, especially dairy cattle.

Public health and diet

There is much evidence to support the use of plant-based diets to reduce the risks of getting lifestyle-related diseases. As a result of excessive food consumption in general, and animal products in particular, Kiwis have become obese, and are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. People suffer heart attacks and the incidence of certain cancers has increased. Many of these diseases can be reversed by a fully plant-based diet, using mostly whole foods. It is time we accepted the figures, and made those changes necessary within New Zealand’s public buildings, especially in schools, hospitals, and prisons.

Animal welfare

There are 160 million farmed animals based in New Zealand, and in spite of the much-touted Animal Welfare Bill, New Zealand has been ranked just 30th out of 50 countries for animal welfare standards (Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index, 2017). While New Zealand has recognised that animals are sentient beings, they are not treated as such. Newborn animals are removed from their mothers, with all the suffering that entails because people like the taste of cheese. It is no longer acceptable to treat animals as commodities, and the Earth simply cannot continue to support our strong reliance on animal production.

The future is green

We need to value our resources better and reinvigorate the plundered landscape. New Zealand can indeed be clean and green. There are innovators who can provide top quality fruits, vegetables, grains, and added-value plant-based products for export, as well as supplying local needs easily and cheaply. The time for transitioning from animal to plant-based agriculture is now if we are to avoid further climate change and environmental damage, and if we are serious about improving public health.


Fishing Rights

Hardy reef fish

Hardy Reef, Australia, 2010, (c) Jasmijn de Boo

The EU and UK are prioritising fishing rights in the trade negotiations after Brexit. I would much rather see fishes’ rights being prioritised.

Fishing is morally bankrupt. The quota set by the EU barely take into account the severe overfishing that causes fish ‘stocks’ (i.e. populations) to become vulnerable, with some species being threatened or even threatened with extinction.

‘There used to be plenty of fish in the sea’, grandpa said to Felix at the Fish & Chip shop.

The oceans are polluted and getting depleted. Massive trawlers and huge fishing nets cause untold damage to seabeds and marine life. Fish suffer on an unimaginable scale—globally, trillions of fish and marine creatures are caught each year—through suffocation and painful catching and killing methods. Millions of animals, such as dolphins and turtles, get caught, are considered ‘by-catch’, and get dumped.

‘We found Nemo’, Felix heard Officer Octopus saying on a TV showing a DVD in the chippy shop. ‘He was floating dead on the surface.’

While marine life disappears, plastic ghost fishing gear remains. The vast majority of plastic in the oceans is not bottles, although that’s bad enough, but discarded fishing nets and lines. Millions of birds, fish, turtles and whales and dolphins choke, die of plastic accumulation in stomachs, and become sick and infertile.

‘Grandpa, why does that turtle have a tail sprouting from its snout?’ Felix asked, pointing at the TV, which was now showing a trailer for the series The Blue Planet, featuring a turtle wrapped in fishing ropes.

The global fishing industry doesn’t play by the rules either. More than half of the fish killed globally is caught illegally. Pirate ships roam and pillage the oceans, and there won’t be much left in 10-20 years’ time. Let’s urgently secure those EU fishing rights to speed up the great depletion disaster, shall we?

In addition to animal suffering and environmental damage beyond repair, hundreds of fleets operate on human slave labour. Some people have been kept on ships for years, and if they get sick or die, they too get dumped overboard.

‘Human finger with your fish fingers, Sir?’ asked the fish shop owner.

One of the most exciting developments I learned about this year was cultivated ‘fish’ by Finless foods. I haven’t tried it, as I don’t personally miss eating fish but I believe it’s very promising.

Now is the chance to rethink fishing and securing short-term, but devastating, interests. Now is the time to invest in cultivated meat, fish and dairy, and to retrain fishermen to develop more lucrative livelihoods.


A pig’s life

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Rescued pigs at a UK sanctuary, (c) Jasmijn de Boo

While the world is embroiled in human scandals, prolonged political and geo-economic breakdowns, wars and worse, the crises in the natural world and those affecting animals farmed for food are huge. Yesterday, we learned that a quarter of the world’s pig population will die of African swine fever (ASF) this year. That could be up to 350 million animals in China alone—more than the entire human population of the US. And official figures reveal that over a million pigs have already been culled, which could be an underestimate. It is tragic to consider such enormous loss of life.

ASF is a terrible disease. The virus, for which there is no vaccine or treatment, can cause death in almost all pigs and wild boar affected. Early stage disease can cause lack of appetite, lethargy, high fever and sudden death. Clinical signs in later stages include red skin patches, diarrhoea, vomiting, laboured breathing, red and swollen eyes, abortions, worsening of the disease, and eventual death.

The devastating disease is only transmitted between wild boar, domesticated pigs and ticks, and does not affect humans. In intensive farming systems, where monitoring of individual animals is minimal or non-existent and where close proximity, unhygienic conditions and suppressed immune systems facilitates rapid spread of disease, many more animals are affected than in more extensive systems. 

ASF used to be mostly contained to Africa but in 2007 spread to Eastern Europe, central Asia and Russia, and in 2018 the disease was confirmed in Bulgaria, China, and Belgium. Further spreading is expected. Let’s go further back in time.

It’s 30 years since the publication of an important study into pig behaviour (Stolba and Wood-Gush, 1989). In 1978, domestic pigs were taken out of cages and kept on natural woodland, bog and similar habitat, and over 3.5 years, 13 groups of around 7 pigs and their offspring were studied. The researchers found that the behavioural repertoire was very similar to that of wild boar. Despite decades of intensive genetic selection for ‘production’ and ‘reproduction’ features, the pigs displayed natural behaviours.

During the last 30 years, animal behaviour and welfare studies have increasingly found that animals farmed for food are very similar in their needs and preferences compared to their wild counterparts. And they’re more intelligent and sentient than people used to think.

It is therefore a travesty to consider we lock them in cages, for months or years, without the ability to move much, if at all, let alone display a full array of natural behaviours. In addition, we mutilate them, usually without anaesthesia, and forcibly impregnate them, and transport and kill them in horrific ways. They experience pain, fear, distress, and disease. We subject them to growth hormones, and routine antibiotic use. We take away day-old chicks and grind up of males, and take away baby calves from grieving cows. Male calves (bobby calves) end up being shot or raised for veal. And we genetically manipulate them to such an extent that animals and birds can barely walk, get lame, die of sudden heart failure, etc. Or they suffer from or die of starvation, dehydration, hypo- and hyperthermia.

A pig’s life is rich in social interactions. Pigs are curious, intelligent and love rooting in the ground for edible treats. They take mud baths to stay cool and keep parasites away. They use separate ‘toilet’ areas, and build nests before giving birth. They use different grunts and communications for positive and other behaviours, and most love belly rubs. To learn more about the life of a pig who has a life worth living, check out Esther the wonder pig or Edgar’s Mission. 

On World Vegan Day, please spare a thought for the plight of pigs. They do not deserve to die to satisfy people’s taste preferences. With an increasing range of vegan substitutes to animal products, including ‘bacon’, the switch to leaving animals off your plate is becoming ever easier. Appetite for a vegan BLT sandwich? Check out recipes and sign up for the Veggie Challenge at https://proveg.com/veggie-challenge/.


Climate inaction or a shared appetite for a better world?

Overshadowed by Brexit, and much more trivial, news, last week, the world was presented with a groundbreaking climate message.

 

The social cost of climate change

The landmark IPCC special report, published on 8 October 2018, is more alarming than any previous climate report. Not only must we limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, instead of 2°C, we only really have 12 years to achieve this.

The global two largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, China and the USA, are facing some of the highest social costs of tonnes of carbon emitted, as well as India (currently already paying $86/tonne CO2), Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Assuming 2017 CO2 emissions, the global impact is more than $16 trillion. The magazine Nature commented: “Acting like a magnifying glass, it [the social cost concept] highlights horrendous climate-impact inequality.”

 

Eating up our planet or providing a better plate?

While it is right to focus attention on cars, other transport, and energy and construction industries to curb emissions, nearly 30% of all GHG emissions are caused by the global food system, of which half (14.5%) by the livestock sector. Climate change, pollution, over-fishing and illegal fishing also cause disastrous results for the planet.

 

Lake fish

 

If we don’t act now, not many fish and coral reefs will be left in the oceans in less than 20-30 years. We’ll witness the disappearance of thousands of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and other organisms, as well as much plant and marine life. And we’ll experience more extreme, deadly, weather and climate-related disasters. We have known the predictions for a while, but we’ve ignored the science and change advocates for too long.

With global population and income levels growing between 2010 and 2050, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% according to a new analysis published 2 days after the IPCC report. Assuming we don’t introduce technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, this would result in levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. The authors, Springmann and colleagues, recommend dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.

Globally, we need to see a 75% reduction in consumption of cattle meat, 90 percent less pig meat and half the eggs eaten currently. On average, we need to eat three times more beans and lentils, and quadruple the amount of nuts and seeds to obtain the same amount of calories (substantially more vegetables would obviously also help, and not just to reduce climate change but also to improve public health).

In wealthier nations, such as the United States and Australia, which have the highest animal consumption, dietary changes would need to be even more profound. Consumption of cattle meat would need to be reduced by 90 percent and dairy would need to be decreased by 60%.  Intake of legumes would need to be increased by four to six times to consume the same amount of calories.

These dietary changes can be achieved through education, subsidies for plant-based foods, changes to school menus, and increased taxes.

 

Be a part of the change

In the current socio-political climate where lies, deceit and gross violations of nearly all rights (human, non-human and environmental) are broadly rewarded, while facts and justice get distorted and denied, the 1.5°C temperature goal within a 12-year time frame seems sadly out of reach.

The New American, for example, reported the above-mentioned paper by Springmann et al. and concluded that the study had been designed in such a way to come to those diet change recommendations, because the authors were supposedly activists and had used scaremongering tactics… It’s very sad to see science being undermined in such a grotesque way by an increasing number of online and offline channels, and even more worrying to see the effects of these publications on the masses.

Millions of people are propping up self-serving politicians, regimes, and industries, and effectively drown out the voices and facts of more than 6,000 scientific references and contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide in the IPCC’s and thousands of evidence-based reports. What happened to critical reasoning, logic, science and facts?

Even real climate change events, which are already wreaking havoc around the planet, causing trillions of dollars of damage, taking hundreds of thousands of human and non-human lives, and resulting in the most vulnerable being hit the hardest, don’t seem to capture people’s imagination to act now. We are oblivious and, frankly, selfish.

Every day we make decisions not only based on what we need but frequently on what is being offered to us. And herein lies the greatest threat, but also opportunity. We can work with the food industry, catering and service providers to enable better food options and encourage more plant-based menu options in public institutions. Policy makers may lag behind, but companies and caterers can make large-scale changes relatively quickly.

Help organisations such as ProVeg International increase everyone’s appetite for a better world, the Good Food Institute, and related food advocacy and awareness organisations to turn the tide. It’s not too late. Yet.


Remembering Tom Regan, from an empathy perspective

With sadness, I learned that Professor emeritus of philosophy, Tom Regan, has died at the age of 78 on February 17, 2017.

Regan is famous for his 1983 book The Case for Animal Rights, and he authored numerous other books and papers on animal rights philosophy that have significantly influenced the modern animal rights movement.

Regan argued that non-human animals are the “subjects-of-a-life”, similar to human beings. He believed that, if we want to ascribe value to all human beings regardless of their ability to be rational agents, then to be consistent, we must similarly ascribe it to non-humans.

It is therefore not relevant to ask what the consequences would be of using non-human animals for human purposes (Will they suffer? What is their welfare?), but the fact that animals are used in the first place, which is deemed problematic. We don’t use mentally challenged people in experimentation and research. Non-human animals, who have just as much an interest in life, shouldn’t be used for food, in research or for any other purposes either. There is no justification to using non-human animals as a means to an end.

I met Tom Regan in 2005, where he led a workshop on compassion. Regan mentioned that he believed there are three types of people:

  • Those born with high levels of empathy or compassion, who often go vegetarian and vegan at an early age
  • Those who experience an event in life that has a profound impact on the way they think and which makes them see things differently
  • Those who will never really have sufficient compassion for others

Given the recent global socio-political changes, the heavy influence of social media and online information, and the existing strong traditions and values on people’s attitudes and behaviour, I believe that there are two strong forces at play:

  • On the one hand there is a retrogressive development that seems to undo decades of social progress and increasing tolerance for ‘others’, in particular those who are unfortunate enough to be living in less than ideal circumstances. Egocentrism is on the rise, and a number of people with diminished empathy levels seem to be increasingly found in positions of power. They often got there because ‘good people’ didn’t play the game well enough, as they believe in being honest, and diplomacy. Why so many people reward men (in particular) who are dishonest and demonstrate a lack of diplomacy seems a mystery to me.
  • On the other hand, because the realities of suffering people and non-human animals, and the damage to the environment have never been clearer before, largely thanks to social media and online information, more people seem to care. They are making changes in their own lives, and changes to improve the lives of others. This gives hope.

I believe humane education is one of the most important remedies to ensure we continue to pursue a social, just and caring society, in which non-human animals are given the consideration they deserve.

I am sure that millions of people will remember Tom Regan for the profound impact he had on people, and by extension, on non-human animals. I am grateful for his iconic contribution to animal ethics, and I hope that his writings continue to inspire millions more.

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(New Zealand kea)


What could Brexit mean for veganism?

Winnal Nature reserveBefore the referendum I shared my personal view outlining reasons to Remain in the EU, and I was hopeful that a small majority would back staying in. Unfortunately, the result of the Referendum on 23 June was marginally in favour of leaving.

The political establishment is in disarray, but I prefer not to comment, as I believe it isn’t black and white (well, with regard to the actions of some Conservatives I believe it is). However, I would like to consider a few impacts that the decision to leave the EU may have on veganism and related topics.

Please read my blog on the Huffington Post: Brexit Impact on Veganism


In or out, that’s the question (on ‘Brexit’)

What ‘Brexit’ means for animals – a personal view

At a live comedy night recently, the topic under discussion was immigration. Plucking up courage, I announced to the comedians and listening audience that I was an economic migrant. They didn’t really know what to say, because I ‘looked’ just like them, and I almost talked like one of them. Are Western Europeans not seen as migrants, I wondered, while those from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia are viewed as being here to take ‘our’ jobs, houses and healthcare?

My job prospects are somewhat limited in The Netherlands. I was fortunate to work in further and higher education there for over four years at the start of my career, during which I was privileged to have worked for the political Party for the Animals (PvdD), in a voluntary capacity. However, England offers many more opportunities to help other animals, and I’m grateful for the jobs and experience I’ve gained here.

But I’ve recently been asked what I think about Brexit. Despite having paid taxes for nearly 12 years and contributing to UK society I am not allowed to vote in the referendum. Some would say that’s just one of the limitations of the EU, although the fact that people are free to move and work within the EU in the first place is certainly a blessing. (However it does feel slightly bizarre that I can still vote for Dutch referenda where I’m no longer based, on affairs I no longer know much about.)

Free movement of goods and services is generally very positive for the EU. The problem however, is that animals are seen as property, and are traded as ‘goods’. Would Brexit help or hinder animals in the EU? Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Better or worse animal protection legislation?

National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty, but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.

The question is whether the UK would act any differently with regard to the treatment of animals, if it were no longer part of the EU. Nothing prevents the government from drafting stronger animal protection laws (or promote more vegan-friendly policies for that matter), at present. However, given the government’s track record, it might well, if the UK left the EU, reverse many animal protection regulations. As with so many questions relating to ‘Brexit’, ranging from economic security to what would happen to the 2 million Britons living abroad, the impact currently remains uncertain.

I am highly sceptical that the plight of other animals would be improved following a Brexit. EU legislation does often adopt the position of the lowest common denominator, but Member States can still introduce more progressive legislation in particular areas. For example, the UK is committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. But the strong voice for animals that was once a driving factor behind EU (and UK) legislative change in the eighties and nineties, too often seems reduced to a whisper today. There may be quiet ‘official’ UK condemnation of whaling by Japan and Norway, or dog eating in Korea and China, but when it comes to the suffering and killing of hundreds of millions of ‘farmed’ and laboratory animals in the UK, the industry seems to be found in too many politicians’ pockets.

In, on balance

I am quite sure that, on balance, staying in the EU would be more beneficial for animals than leaving. Just having a voice at the negotiating table is priceless. Even though the current government’s animal advocacy voice has nearly disappeared, I am hopeful a more animal-friendly government will be elected within the next ten years. We must therefore remain in the EU, and hope that compassionate government returns to the UK sooner rather than later.

I did hear an interesting viewpoint yesterday. It is something many people have hardly heard of in the UK because most of the media and the government are doing such a brilliant job of keeping it quiet. 38 Degrees and some other social justice groups and political parties, such as the Green Party, have highlighted it for many months, but the public at large is unaware. This is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the USA and the EU, and its sister agreement for Canada ‘CETA’. TTIP means trouble on many levels, but is particularly disastrous for ‘farmed’ animals.

An animal friend said last night he would vote for Brexit to try to get rid of David Cameron, who is one of the main champions behind TTIP. I agree we should certainly support campaigns to stop TTIP, but I wonder whether a Brexit would do the trick. Suppose the UK left the EU, and the EU went ahead with TTIP without the UK (still a disaster for billions of animals). The UK would need to forge new trade deals, not only with the EU Member States, but also negotiate ‘bilateral’ agreements with the USA, Canada and so on. The Conservative government would happily replicate a TTIP-like deal with the USA. Would the Brexit have helped animals in that case? I believe it’s better to try to work with activists, advocates, and policy makers in other EU countries, rather than potentially being left out of key negotiations.

Regardless of the Referendum outcome, there is still a lot of hard work to do both in the UK and EU to educate consumers and citizens, to lobby policy makers, and to influence companies, to become more animal and vegan-friendly. We should join forces with our EU sisters and brothers!

Pigs in EU transport

Pigs in EU transport (c) CIWF