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

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo)
Alberta records 410 COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

file photo
Maskwacis RCMP investigate pedestrian fatality

Collision on Highway 2A causing fatality still under investigation.

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Sharon Hickin, general manager of the Days Inn Sylvan Lake and the new Lake House Diner, poses for a photo outside the new restaurant. Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News
Pandemic puts extra hurdles in place for new Sylvan Lake businesses

Over the past seven months numerous new businesses have opened in Sylvan Lake, despite the pandemic

Rachel Notley, leader of Alberta’s official Opposition, speaks in Edmonton on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. Notley says the government needs to sharply ramp up the number of contact tracers if it wants to get a handle on the rising number of COVID-19 cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Opposition calls for more COVID-19 contact tracers as case numbers rise

Alberta has about 800 tracers, and chief medical health officer Dr. Hinshaw says more are being recruited

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. Hospital and health-care workers who staged a one-day illegal walkout returned to work Tuesday while politicians swapped recriminations and accusations in the house over the dispute. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta health staff return to work, surgeries resume after one-day walkout

AHS estimated 157 non-emergency surgeries, most of them in Edmonton, had to be postponed as a result of the walkout

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

Most Read