Upcoming Big Farmland Bird Count + the EAT Lancet Report

Between the 8th and 17th February farmers, land managers and gamekeepers are being asked to participate in the 6th Big Farmland Bird Count by taking 30 minutes to count bird species on a particular location on their farm. This has become a critically important citizen scientific survey and the results help to give us a hint as to the health of various farmland bird species across the country. Last year more than a thousand people took part and the GWCT are hoping that more people will participate this year.

For more information take a look at the survey website.

I’ll be doing my survey in between lambing shifts and will be really interested in the result. The difficulty usually comes in choosing the best spot to count from. There are several good patches on our farm, but it’s about choosing a site that provides a realistic measure of the overall health of birds on the farm.


The EAT-Lancet Report

On a different note, I’m rather late to the party regarding a recent report which has gained quite a lot of traction in both the farming and vegan communities. The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health is all about providing a vision of transformation in global diets, including suggestions for a new ‘planetary health diet’, which has received particular criticism from some farming groups and dieticians.

The statement below neatly summarises the gist:

”Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

One of the great challenges of our time is to meet the food and nutrition needs of a growing human population whilst not having a wholly adverse impact on the environmental health of the planet. Usually the point that most people miss is that in reality we should be focusing on the problem of human population, not necessarily all of the other impacts, but other than Population Matters nobody really wants to talk about that. Anyway, this is by the by in the current context. The reality at this current time is that, according to the report, 820 million people still lack sufficient food and many eat more than they need. Food inequality is rife. At the same time we are placing ecosystems under immense strain. This is irrefutable.

The EAT-Lancet Commission brought together 37 scientists from 16 countries
in various disciplines including human health, agriculture, political sciences and environmental sustainability to develop global scientific targets for healthy
diets and sustainable food production. Their focus was on how to achieve healthy diets for 10 billion people by 2050. One can certainly question the intentions behind the funders, but this post isn’t about that, it’s about the content of the report and the reaction to it.

Despite what one might have read in some industry media, the report does not advocate a particular ideological diet. Instead it opts for a flexitarian approach, albeit heavily weighted towards fruit and vegetables. Further, it acknowledges that in certain parts of the world consumption of meat will be higher, if it fits with local geography:

”…some populations worldwide depend on agropastoral livelihoods and animal protein from livestock. In addition, many populations continue to face significant burdens of undernutrition and obtaining adequate quantities of micronutrients from plant source foods alone can be difficult. Given these considerations, the role of animal source foods in people’s diets must be carefully considered in each context and within local and regional realities.”

Fish, meat and dairy are therefore not out of the question. However, it should be said that the amount of meat consumption suggested is low. EAT-Lancet believe that consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts should be more than doubled, whereas red meat consumption should reduce by more than 50%.

The report is radical, but as usual when it comes to diet change suggestions it doesn’t allow sufficiently for diversity within the system and cases outside the norm. The Sustainable Food Trust has been particularly vocal in its criticism of the report, suggesting ”a fundamental lack of agricultural understanding”, although they do also broadly welcome the analysis.

The SFT point to grass, in a UK context, and suggest that to tackle issues such as soil degradation and biodiversity loss on arable farms, grass should be integrated back in to food production methods, which would also require grazing animals. They are also critical about the approach to poultry which are in direct competition with humans for grain. The fundamental point is that the SFT would favour reductions in consumption of animals fed on grain, but not ruminants which survive on grass. For me, this is a critical and eminently sensible approach.

Jack Yates from Farmers Weekly also pointed to the fact that transport accounts for 26% of GHG emissions, energy 25% and business 17%; and these must be tackled alongside. A Cambridge nutritionist, Zoe Harcombe, has also suggested that the diet championed in the report is deficient in a number of important nutrients including just 5% of Vitamin D, 17% of Vitamin A and 55% of calcium (compared to a US diet recommendation). Intake of these nutrients through meat consumption is more effective, she infers.

In conclusion, I welcome the report as a challenge to us all to question our diets and the way our food is produced. However, I do not like the way that the report seems to ignore the nuances in production and I would welcome a staged approach that discourages meat production based on feeding grains and encourages a smaller consumption of higher quality grass fed livestock which can be used as a tool to tackle environmental issues.

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