Calls to eat more plants, less meat also in line with Canada’s food guide: McKenna

In some Canadian provinces, the methane produced by livestock is a significant source of greenhouse gases

A high-profile call to eat more plants and less meat in order to combat global warming is directly in line with Canada’s new food guide, which extols the health benefits of precisely such a change in diet, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Friday.

Standing in front of a cornfield at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm, McKenna was announcing $600,000 in funding for various agricultural innovations including bioplastics, using artificial intelligence for crop spraying, and creating a smart data hub for agricultural management.

But her event came the day after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate issued a report on land use and climate change that warned the entire planet could be facing a global food shortage if people don’t step up their efforts to curb planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

ALSO READ: New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

“We know we need to reduce emissions from all sectors, that includes agriculture,” said McKenna.

“The report also made the point that we can all be part of the solution and that includes considering our diet. Our food guide talked about looking at more plant-based foods and I think that is an opportunity for everyone.”

The new version of Canada’s Food Guide, released last January after more than two years of consultations, called for Canadians to choose plant-based proteins more often because they provide more fibre and less saturated fat.

The United Nations report is the third in the last 10 months to underscore the need for the world to curb its greenhouse-gas emitting habits enough to keep the planet from getting too warm. The latest one comes less than three months before Canadians will choose their next government in a campaign where the environment is expected to be a dominant theme.

Thus far, much of the focus of environmental platforms has been on curbing fossil fuel use including coal and gasoline, and in particular carbon pricing. Less attention has been paid to agriculture and forestry management.

The UN report this week suggested that the way humans have been using land, including for endeavours like forestry and farming, is to blame for about one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions between 2007 and 2016.

Many Canadian farmers, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, have already adopted the zero-tillage seeding processes recommended by the UN report. These processes plant seed in soil that is mostly undisturbed rather than turning it over and releasing its stored carbon into the atmosphere. Nationally, 59 per cent of all seeded farmland in 2016 used zero-tillage, including 75 per cent of seeded land in Saskatchewan and 69 per cent in Alberta.

But another factor is the demand-side of agriculture. Meat production globally has more than doubled per person since the 1960s.

UN Food and Agriculture data show that in 2013, Canadians consumed 90.75 kilograms of meat each. Australians topped the scales at more than 116 kg, followed by Americans at 115 kg and Argentinians at 107 kg.

UN panel member James Skea, a professor at Imperial College London’s Centre for Environmental Policy, told the panel’s news conference Thursday that the evidence makes clear that “a move to more balanced diets could help us adapt to and limit climate change.”

He said that the report is not telling people what to eat because those are personal decisions that are often influenced by local supplies and cultural influences. Rather, he said, they are simply stating the fact that eating more meat — particularly red meat — produces more emissions.

“Diets high in grains, nuts and vegetables have a lower carbon footprint than those that are high in meat and they lead to better health outcomes.”

Producing meat, red meat in particular, takes up more land than producing grains and other field crops. One study from 2016 cited in the UN report said if every country in the world ate the average diet of many wealthy countries, like the United States and the United Kingdom, we would need more land than is actually available.

In some Canadian provinces, the methane produced by livestock is also a significant source of greenhouse gases. Nationally, methane from livestock is 41 per cent of all the emissions produced by agriculture, and almost four per cent of Canada’s total emissions. One dairy cow can produce as much methane as an average vehicle over the course of a year.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria’s 75,000 veggie plants ready to find a home

New gardeners line-up for Get Growing Victoria

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

No one injured in suspicious Victoria boat fire, say investigators

Victoria police and fire personnel called to blaze on waters near Selkirk Trestle May 22

Three people facing mischief charges after protests at Premier John Horgan’s home

Special prosecutor was appointed to avoid real or perceived undue influence

VIDEO: Saanich police tackle man who refused to move off Trans-Canada Highway

At this point, it is unclear why the man refused to move

Dump truck in Nanaimo snags power lines, snaps hydro pole, crashes

No injuries in incident Monday morning on Old Victoria Road

Ferry sailings scheduled once again at Nanaimo’s Departure Bay terminal

BC Ferries announces that resumption of service June 3 includes four daily round trips

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Island Health signs working agreement to turn former Comox hospital into a ‘dementia village’

Island Health has signed a project development agreement with Providence Living to… Continue reading

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

Most Read