Earthwatch Debate: "Food for thought: can veganism save the planet"

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On Sunday 31st March 2019 at 10am LEAP’s Charles Godfray was invited by the Oxford-based Earthwatch charity to join David Stanley, Maggie Charnley, Tony Wardle and Elinor Newman-Beckett for a panel debate on whether veganism is a way to save the planet. The debate was convened as part of the FT Weekend Oxford Literary Festival 2019 programme of events entitled Pasture to Plate which consider issues around farming, pasture-fed food, rotation of crops, rewilding and rural literature.

The debate was motivated by questions of how do we feed a population that is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050; which farming system can meet the long-term food needs of society, whilst also protecting the environment; and is veganism the way to save our planet?

Around 60 people showed up at Worcester College to listen to the debate. A lively discussion ensued with Tony (who leads the animal-rights advocacy group Viva) strongly arguing that we should cease eating all animal-sourced foods, while David (who leads the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association) roundly rejecting this and strongly championing the ‘right” type of extensive livestock production.  Charles, Elinor and Maggie took a middle road, all advocating a reduction in consumption of the most environmentally harmful types of meat production, and discussing how this might best be facilitated.  The audience asked a series of insightful and interesting questions.  Charles used research from the LEAP consortium to counter some of the more radical claims about the costs and benefits of meat consumption – convincing some but not all the participants and audience!


The Speakers

Godfray is director of the Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, and a professor of population biology in the Department of Zoology. He has a particular interest in the global food system and how it will need to change and adapt to the challenges facing humanity this century. Stanley is a farmer and director of the Pasture-Fed Livestock Association. He built up a pedigree beef herd that was totally grass fed and is a winner of the Lincolnshire Environmental Award for Farming. Charnley is senior leader for farming, food sectors and trade policy at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).  Wardle is an associate director and editor at the charity Viva, which campaigns for animal rights and in support of veganism. Newman-Beckett works on sustainable supply chain strategies to grow farmer prosperity and reduce deforestation.