Grow Beans to Fight Climate Change

Grow Beans to Fight Climate Change

by Nick Saltmarsh October 26, 2015

A new report from the Vegan Society makes a strong case against industrial livestock production and in favour of a shift to more plant-based agriculture.

We were flattered to get a namecheck in The Vegan Society’s new report, Grow Green: Tackling Climate Change through Plant Protein Agriculture. And you don’t need to be vegan to be fired up by the contents: it reminds us that globally, the feed grown for livestock could sustain 3.5 billion people and that intensive animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91 per cent of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

What’s more, we’re eating around 50% more protein than is recommended in a healthy diet, with the negative impacts of too much meat becoming ever clearer (in October, the World Health Organisation ranked processed meats alongside smoking as a cause of cancers).

None of this is news - the environmental problems with meat production, from emissions to deforestation to biodiversity threats, as well as issues of food security and world hunger, have been discussed for decades. So have recommendations  from the WHO and others that we get more of our protein from plants. But it’s beginning to look harder to ignore, not least because the UK has made a legal commitment to cut greenhouse gases - the first country to do so. The report compares animal farming in agriculture to fossil fuels in the energy sector: a big, dirty problem that has to be faced up to, and like the energy sector, one with real alternatives.

The Vegan Society’s proposal for the UK is to encourage farmers to move from livestock farming to growing plant crops that are protein-rich enough to replace meat (at the moment they make up only 16 per cent of agricultural land, with much of the crop going to feed farm animals). That includes peas and lupin seeds, but the two they highlight are fava beans - the overlooked UK crop that’s tasty, versatile and good for the soil, and was responsible for prompting us to set Hodmedod up in the first place - and hemp seed.

Hemp has fallen out of fashion in the UK since the days when Henry VIII made its cultivation obligatory for rope-making, but it’s a great CO2 reducer which is quick and easy to grow and one of the most sustainable crops - check out Good Hemp, selling milk, oil and seed from a North Devon farm. The seeds contain almost as much protein as soybean but not enough tetrahydrocannabinol to have any psychoactive effects.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener in the report is the chart comparing nutrients in plants and animal-based foods. It’s a graphic illustration of food author Michael Pollan’s short and snappy rule for a healthy diet: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”




Nick Saltmarsh
Nick Saltmarsh

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