I was delighted therefore to facilitate a panel discussion with leading sustainability experts at a special Dairy Industry Sustainability Consultative forum in Melbourne. The hot topic for debate was what ideas, actions and incentives would accelerate the transformative shifts in food production and consumption needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow climate change and build critically-deficient sustainability into global and Australian food systems.
The ideas that emerged included cutting edge technologies such as the ability to truly recycle plastic milk bottles into biocrude oil and back into plastics. Feeding of special seaweed feed to cattle that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 95% in beef, with trials showing similar positive results in dairy cattle. We also discussed the shifts required in farming practices e.g. smaller farms, farm cooperatives and regenerative farming.
I was not aware that the Australian Dairy Industry are already leading the way with a Sustainability Framework, in place since 2012, and have clear targets and programs. (clapping emojis!). I left the forum full of optimism for the progress that has already been made and the commitment to meeting stringent targets and deadlines in the future. Between the power of science and the will of every one of us to make and demand change, we can have a healthy future for us and our planet.
So, while the clever scientists, farmers and food producers get on with improving the sustainability of supply chains, let's take as much action as we can. Here are some of the practical steps we can take as individuals.
1. Reduce food waste. Just think about how much food ends up in your bin and think how much food that is once all our bins are combined. In Australia it is estimated that 7.3 million tonnes of food ends up in landfill where it rots and produces carbon dioxide and methane... greenhouse gases. You can reduce your food waste by:
- Buying only what you need. Planning your meals, at least roughly, and doing your shopping with a list can help you save money and reduce waste.
- Get savvy with how to save food that is on the turn or you know you won't be able to use before it goes off. Your freezer is your best friend here. You can also oven dry fruits, fresh herbs or breadcrumbs from a few days old bread. Whip veggies on the turn into a soup. Invest in a Food Saver that vacuum packs foods extending their shelf life.
- Get into composting or worm farms and you have natural fertiliser for your garden.
- You'll find more great tips here from Clean Up.
2. Spend less on discretionary ‘junk’ foods and drinks. These are ultra-processed foods that are nutrient poor, increasing your risk of chronic diseases while taking a lot of energy to produce making them amongst the least sustainble foods.
3. We do indeed need to eat more whole plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and legumes. However, the jury is still out on the real impact on health or the environment from plant-based processed foods. Don't be fooled by clever "plant-based" marketing terms. If it's on the front of a highly processed food put it back and head to the grocer instead.
4. There is a place for sustainably produced dairy foods and meat. Buying a plant-based milk is not necessarily more sustainable than dairy milk, while a lab created faux meat burger is not neccesarily better for you or the planet than a sustainably produced meat burger. Support local farmers, especially small farms and those showing that they have sustainability practices in play. Regenerative farming is an exciting space for example.
For more information on the role of dairy foods in sustainable diets visit dairy.com.au/sustainablediets
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