Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing

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This report from the United Nations' Panel on Global Sustainability covers several issues relating to animals, in particular dietary decisions, which are discussed under the heading of "enabling sustainable choices." Animal agriculture is less sustainable than farming plants, yet animal agriculture uses two-thirds of water for agriculture and 70% of farm land. The report also estimates that 53% of global marine fish stocks are fully exploited and 28% are over-exploited.

The following is excerpted from the UN report:

How we produce and consume food can have a significant impact on sustainable development.

  • One billion people currently lack access to nutritious food.
  • Recent estimates suggest that the combined effect of inadequate macronutrient (protein) and micronutrient (including iron and iodine) intakes is responsible for 35 per cent of child deaths and 11 per cent of the global disease burden.
  • On the other hand, obesity and diabetes rates are rising worldwide. Several nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease and stroke, are now among the leading causes of death worldwide, with the burden growing most rapidly on the world’s lowest-income countries, at times leading to a “double burden” of both under- and over-nutrition, and placing a huge burden on societies and health systems.
  • Approximately one third of the world’s food produced for human consumption (around 1.3 billion tons) is lost or wasted each year owing to inefficiencies throughout the food supply chain.
  • Food wasted by consumers in high-income countries (222 million tons) is roughly equal to the entire food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). Food losses in industrialized countries are as high as in developing countries. However, in developing countries more than 40 per cent of the food losses occur at the post-harvest and processing levels, while in industrialized countries more than 40 per cent of the food losses occur at the retail and consumer levels.
  • Changing diet patterns, influenced by rising incomes and demand for meat and dairy, affect the water intensity of food production. Two thirds of the water requirement for food production is used for animal-based food, a quarter for grazing. This illustrates the growing ecological footprint of food.
  • Current agricultural practices account for 70 per cent of global water use, two thirds of which is used to produce animal-based food. The irrigation required to produce the amount of food wasted annually is estimated to be equivalent to the domestic water needs of 9 billion people.
  • Livestock production also accounts for 70 per cent of agricultural land use, 30 per cent of global land use and 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The proportion of marine fish stocks estimated to be underexploited or moderately exploited declined from 40 per cent in the mid-1970s to 15 per cent in 2008, whereas the proportion of overexploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased from 10 per cent in 1974 to 32 per cent in 2008. It is estimated that 53 per cent of global marine fish stocks are fully exploited, 28 per cent overexploited, 3 per cent depleted and 1 per cent recovering from depletion.

Spot Check Number: 1980
Sponsor: United Nations
Researcher/Author: United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability
Animal Type: Farm Animals
Research Method: Literature Review
Geographic Region: Worldwide
Year Conducted: 2012
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