Leading a Greener Life? It’s not black or white.

  • by Anna Tomlinson

Leading a Greener Life? It’s not black or white.

We all have a duty to do our bit for the environment and look after the planet we share. But knowing what we should and shouldn’t be eating is a very difficult task. There are lots of sides to the argument, lots of differing opinions and lots of variables. It’s far from black & white.

For example, a recent BBC article claimed a UN report had found that deforestation in the Amazon for cattle grazing – to fuel the global demand for meat – was a huge contributor to climate change.

It stands to reason then, that we should all switch to a plant-based diet to prevent deforestation in the Amazon then, right?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Because in actual fact, Brazil’s biggest export by value is soya beans. Together with the US, they produce around 64% of the world’s soya supply. To make more space for the soya crop, deforestation often occurs.

Deforestation for crops and grazing

There’s been a soya moratorium in Brazil since 2006, after an epidemic of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest by farmers to clear land for the crop. Companies will not buy from farmers growing on recently deforested land.

But of course, there are ways around this – as there are by farmers who deforest for cattle grazing and avoid the cattle moratorium.  Both methods of food production have – and may continue – to contribute to deforestation and reduce the number of trees which store carbon dioxide.

Beyond the Amazon, soya has been a leading cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Cerrado, a rich, biodiverse savannah. It stores around 13.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, and due to land clearing by both soy and meat companies, almost half of the Cerrado has been lost already according to the Ethical Consumer.

So simply drinking soy-based dairy-free milk alternatives is not the answer to saving the rainforest and protecting our environment.

Global produce vs buying locally

The other major factor in leading a greener life and choosing what to eat and drink is the carbon footprint we create by transporting produce around the world.

Soy-based products start their life in countries like Brazil, where they can reduce the number of trees that help regulate CO2 in our atmosphere. They must then be transported halfway around the world and be heavily processed before they end up as an edible product on our plates.

Compare this with food that’s locally grown or reared, and simply travels up the road before you can buy and cook it.

That’s why we’re passionate about our Mission for Milk – because it’s about getting local milk, produced from the farm down the road, as part of a healthy and nutritious diet.

So how can we enjoy a greener, more sustainable diet?

The short answer is that there is no simple answer. Much more needs to be done for us to understand exactly where our food comes from and how it reaches our plate.

We need to weigh up the environmental impacts of our diet much more effectively, and this is no easy task. Studies that compare flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets found that there is no clear-cut solution. It is not black and white.

For example, switching to a plant-based diet did reduce greenhouse emissions overall, but it also increased consumption of land resources and the use of freshwaterwhich is predicted to be a major environmental and societal concern in the near future.

In the future, perhaps we’ll see more initiatives to showcase where our food comes from. In Denmark for example, ministers have stated intentions to include the environmental impact of products on food labels, alongside the nutritional values.

They anticipate it will help consumers choose more environmentally friendly products, including those that are more locally sourced.

In the meantime, we need to think carefully about our diets and realise that leading a greener life isn’t a black and white choice.

Locally sourced dairy products are not bad for the environment. Just as a soy-based diet isn’t inherently good for the planet.

So don’t turn away from dairy just because one article claims it’s bad for the world. It’s much more complicated than that.

For us, the key is having a balanced, sustainable diet – and that includes getting our milk from the local farmers we support!

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