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Meat and dairy gobble-up farming subsidies worldwide, which is bad for you and the planet

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Less than a quarter of transfer payments are used to grow the kinds of foods that are good for human health and the environment: fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.

MARCO SPRINGMANN: The global food system is in disarray. Animal agriculture is a major driver of global heating, and as many as 12 million deaths from heart disease, stroke, cancers and diabetes are each year connected to eating the wrong things, like too much red and processed meat and too few fruits and vegetables.

Unless the world can slash the amount of animal products in its food system and embrace more plant-based diets, there is little chance of avoiding dangerous levels of climate change and mounting public health problems.

Agricultural subsidies help prop up a food system that is neither healthy nor sustainable. Worldwide, more than US$200 billion of public money (that is, money collected through taxes) is given to farmers every year in direct transfers – usually with the intention of supporting national food production and supply.

This might not be a problem in itself – after all, we all need to eat. But the way governments provide subsidies at the moment exacerbates the health and environmental issues of food production. That’s one of the findings of a new study published in Nature Communications by my colleague Florian Freund and me. According to our analysis, about two-thirds of all agricultural transfer payments worldwide come without any strings attached. Farmers can use them to grow what they like.

In practice, this means every fifth dollar is used to raise meat, and every tenth dollar to make dairy products – the kinds of foods farmers have grown used to producing but which emit disproportionate amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, and which are also linked to dietary risks such as heart disease and certain cancers…

Less than a quarter of transfer payments are used to grow the kinds of foods that are good for human health and the environment, and which a healthy and sustainable food system would need much more of: fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts…

Policymakers in the EU are currently aiming to reduce the environmental impacts of subsidy payments while those in the UK are considering a public money for public goods approach, which pays farmers to provide things like clean water, wildlife habitat and a nutritious food supply. Sadly, proposals of this kind are often watered down when they’re implemented.

Our analysis proposes something which is largely missing from current plans: changing the mix of food production. What food farms choose to grow has a greater effect on the environment and health than how it is grown. Redirecting subsidies towards the production of healthy and sustainable food should be an essential part of reforming agriculture worldwide. SOURCE…

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