The role of animals in sustainable land use : can a plant-based diet benefit both animals and land use?

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Biosystems and Technology (from 130101)

Abstract: Introduction: Agroecology and sustainability are both concepts that aim to find solutions towards a healthy planet. This thesis is based on two pillars with a plant-based diet as the connection between them. The two pillars are 1) the missing animal perspective and 2) a more resource efficient land use. The first pillar is invisible but also actively neglected to be a part of the sustainable development, whereas land use and diet, are identified as important aspects in the discussion about and acting towards our human common future. Aim: Investigate how the perspectives of animals in the agriculture are described in the context of sustainable land use if a transition to a plant-based diet would occur and how much arable land a plant-based diet demand. Methods: This study contains two methods. The first is a qualitative method: a focus group discussion (FGD) with people having knowledge and experience of nature conservation. The second method used is a quantitative method focusing on land use and diet: calculation of land use for a plant-based diet from a weekly menu. Results of the qualitative method: The industrial agriculture was described as disconnected from the society and unethical towards the animals. It was agreed on, with one exception, that in an ideal world meat eating is substantially reduced and animals are treated well. A scenario without eating animal derived products was described as unrealistic because we need animals for the many benefits we get from them. Another perspective that was mentioned in the FGD was trying to show how all animals want to live and that we should be conscious of how we separate animals for different purposes. Results of the quantitative method: The amount of arable land needed for the plant-based menu is 1790 m2 per person for a year, including food losses and waste. A few changes in the menu could reduce land use to 1230 m2. Discussion and conclusion: There will be excessive arable land that can be used for other purposes than for food and for a food production based on more gentle methods that also includes the cultivation of ley. It also shows that land use can be reduced with only a few changes of the raw product. However, potential solutions to a more sustainable food system can be lost depending on what perspective we have on the environment and how we value it.

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