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Let them eat bugs! The latest from the UN biodiversity conference

By Adam Houser |March 8th, 2021|Economy, Environment
“Let them eat bugs!”

That seems to be the rallying cry for environmental organizations of late, as many groups called for the international community to restrict both meat consumption and pesticide use at a recent UN Biodiversity virtual meeting.

Specifically, the UN meeting centered on agricultural practices pertaining to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The general goal of these meetings is to achieve what the UN calls living in “harmony with nature” by 2050.

But to the participating NGOs, that goal should be achieved no matter the cost to humans.

Many groups condemned what they called the negative environmental impact of meat-eating, and specifically, raising livestock.

The CBD Alliance didn’t mince words, saying: “A recent report by UNEP and others make it clear that feeding the world’s population without destroying biodiversity is not possible without a significant reduction in the consumption of meat and dairy from intensive livestock production systems, because animal farming occupies 78% of agricultural land while providing only 18% of global calorie supply and 37% of global protein supply.”

But meat is a product only wealthier nations and families can afford. To imply that meat is somehow bad because it only supplies 37% of the world’s protein doesn’t prove meat is bad, it only shows how many more people need access to meat.

Overconsumption should always be a concern when it comes to obesity, but meat-eating brings many important nutrients to a healthy human diet. Leaner red meat contains protein, B12 vitamins, iron, and more nutrients essential to human health. Chicken contains important amino acids.

And thanks to modern farming methods, more people are being fed than ever before in history. In the United States alone, conventional farm production per acre tripled over the last 70 years. Corn production increased 500% while using 20% less land.

Yet even modern farming practices were the target of NGOs during this UN meeting.

A group called ProNatura, in collaboration with Friends of the Earth Europe called for minimizing the use of all pesticides and asked the UN to begin targeting fertilizers as well.

The African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) said that “Industrial agriculture in Africa is built upon gross inequalities and social exclusion and has benefitted primarily the corporate sector, while hunger and malnutrition are continuously on the rise.”

To be certain, freedom of entrepreneurship and human rights issues need to be addressed in many parts of Africa and the world. Yet according to the Global Hunger Index, hunger severity in many parts of Africa has fallen significantly over the last two decades.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the “Global Hunger Index Severity Scale” (GHI), a grading scale for evaluating a country’s hunger problem, showed marked improvement for the nation over the last 20 years. The GHI scale fell from 33.8 in 2000 to 26.0 in 2020. Similar numbers can be seen in Chad, where the index went from 50.9 to 44.7. Sierra Leone has also seen significant improvement, going from an “extremely alarming” rating of 58.3 in 2000 to a “serious” problem of 30.9 in 2020.

Of course, all these numbers are still too high. But eliminating pesticides and telling Africans they need to eat less meat isn’t just bad policy, it is inhumane.

Only time will tell if these environmental NGOs will have their say over UN policy, or if the miracles of modern agriculture will be preserved.

Adam Houser
Adam Houser coordinates student leaders for CFACT’s collegians program and writes on issues of climate and energy.