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World Bank recognises need for food system reform

News Section Icon Published 5/13/2024

Plate of raw meat.
Plate of raw meat

A new report produced by the World Bank has recognised the need for food system reform to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Its call for reduced red meat and dairy consumption is welcome, but its proposal that this should be replaced by an increase in chicken consumption could have disastrous animal welfare consequences.

The new report, Recipe for a Livable Planet: Achieving Net Zero Emissions in the Agrifood system sets out, for the first time, a global strategic framework to mitigate our food system’s impact on climate change while ensuring food security.

While there are some welcome recommendations to shift subsidies away from high-emission animal-sourced foods – such as red meat and dairy – proposing an increase in poultry consumption presents high animal welfare and human health risks.

An increase in poultry production could come with huge risks to animal welfare. It would inevitably lead to more animals being reared in intensive systems, where they would suffer greatly.

Global agri-food system’s role in climate crisis

In its report, the global financial lender stresses that, without reform, our agrifood system’s huge GHG emissions will make the planet unliveable.

It acknowledges that greenhouse gas emissions from our food system have been neglected in policy and that the goal of keeping global average temperatures rising above 1.5°C will not be possible without addressing it.

It attributes about a third of all global emissions to the world’s agrifood system, and forecasts that it will keep growing. It also credits today’s food system with trillions of dollars’ worth of indirect costs to society.

Not at the expense of animal welfare and human health

The importance of ensuring any change to food systems does not come at the expense of human health is stressed, with the report acknowledging that healthy diets are currently unaffordable for 3 billion people, an increase of 119 million from 2019.

Looking at greenhouse gas emissions alone does not take into account other associated impacts of these industrial systems. This includes the increased health risks associated with keeping animals in crowded, confined spaces, providing ideal conditions for viruses such as bird flu to spread.

Furthermore, animals in intensive systems are often routinely given antibiotics to combat disease risk inherent in the unhealthy conditions they inhabit, leading to an increase in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in people. The World Health Organization estimates that without action to combat it, AMR could cause 10 million deaths per year by 2050.

Our Chief Policy Advisor, Peter Stevenson commented:

“This report from the World Bank stresses that, without reform, our agrifood system’s huge greenhouse gas emissions will make the planet unliveable. The world’s leading financial institution acknowledging that urgent change is needed is a game-changer.

“The emphasis on the need for rich nations to reduce red meat and dairy intake and for subsidies to be directed away from these industries is welcome. However, the call for more poultry consumption would not only be an animal welfare disaster but poses a significant risk to the health of people, and the planet.”

Tell world leaders to reform global food system

Tell world leaders to support a clear global ‘rescue plan’ for our food system to ensure a healthy future for animals, people and the planet by signing our END.IT petition. 


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