Speech Marianne Thieme European Food Confe­rence 2014

3 april 2014

Good morning! Thank you for inviting me to your conference on sustainable food. It’s exciting to know that more and more people in Europe are willing to look at the consequences of how much we consume and what we consume. I would like to introduce a big and urgent food waste problem: the waste of valuable vegetable protein used for animal feed. In order to make animal products in stead of feeding much more people directly with these vegetables. I will talk about producing and consuming animal proteins and its negative effect on animals, the climate, sweet water stocks, biodiversity, well, in fact, on the whole planet.

In this world dominated with crises like the food crisis, the economical crisis, the biodiversity crisis, the climate change, people become aware that we have lived as though we have three planets to use, to harvest from. And more and more we realise that we can’t eat money. That we have to re-value the things that really matter. The right of food, clean air and water, compassion not only for our own kind but also for other living beings.
Paul Bulcke, a senior executive at Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, says that based on scientific analyses his company fears that by 2030 there will be a shortfall of 30 per cent in the global production of grain. This loss is equivalent to the total grain production of India and the United States together. Bulcke also says that the depletion of fresh water stocks will hit not only agriculture but also the environment, and will impact political and social stability.
Fishery biologists expect oceans to be depleted already during our lifetime, with disastrous consequences for the climate, environment and food supply.
“Ah, so to speak,” many people think. “Surely it won’t come to that? Supermarkets are still full, we’re alright!”
And when the Dutch hear about food scandals such as the horsemeat fraud, they don’t immediately condemn it. Instead they say: “I wonder what horsemeat tastes like anyway?”
We know that biodiversity is seriously threatened and that thirty per cent of the decline is caused by the livestock industry. Without biodiversity there is no agriculture and therefore no food. Without nature and biodiversity the flow of resources for our everyday life will cease.
For as far as these problems have been identified, policymakers are afraid to come up with solutions. A Dutch commission led by the former CEO of the largest slaughterhouse in Europe, Mr. Daan van Doorn, recently carried out a study into the future of the Dutch livestock industry. The commission concluded that if the Dutch consumption pattern were to be adopted globally, we would need four earths to make this possible. He also went on to say: “In order to be able to feed the world, mega-farms are necessary, a further intensification of farming”. These views are echoed by representatives of the Rabobank and Wageningen University. More meat, more fish, more milk and eggs in order to feed the world, and therefore larger stalls, larger trawlers – more of the same.

We have become so addicted to growth and large-scale operations, that we can hardly think in other ways any more. We think every problem can be solved through large-scale solutions. In mega-farms we can install air scrubbers, keep germs from entering, and provide computerized medication. Ladies and gentlemen, increasingly more people are losing faith in this megalomaniac way of thinking in which man is controlling nature. In which man rationalizes nature until there is nothing left of it.
We thought we had animal diseases under control, but we see one outbreak after the other, with all the dangers to public health. We saw this with the Q fever epidemic where the health of people and the lives of animals were sacrificed on the altar of the economy.
We rear cattle breeds that can no longer give birth naturally.
We breed chickens that after six weeks are so heavy they literally grow to death. And if that is no longer tolerated, we create a new breed of chicken that dies after seven weeks and call that progress.
We shred or gas more than 30 million one-day-old chicks every year because they do not produce enough for us. For every kilo of fish we catch, we throw 2 kilos of dead fish overboard. We take calves away from their mothers straight after they’re born, because we want the milk for ourselves.
The former Dutch Minister for Agriculture, now Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the Food and agriculture Organisation, Mrs. Gerda Verburg, claims in interviews, without batting an eyelid, that if pigs and chickens abroad only knew how good they would have it here in the Netherlands, they would all want to come to the Netherlands.
As Einstein once said: “The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”
There is an urgent need for new ways of thinking. Not based on the old political views, but built upon transcending interests that provide possibilities for a sustainable future.
We now know that meat production has a far greater impact on the climate than vegetables and other agricultural products. In the scientific report ‘Our Nutrient World’, one can read that worldwide 80% of all nitrogen and phosphate nutrients are used in the production of cattle feed. Our massive meat consumption is bringing the nutrient balance completely out of kilter, say scientists.
Worldwide the livestock industry is responsible for more emissions of greenhouse gases than all the cars, aeroplanes, trucks, trains and ships put together. This week the International Panel on Climate Change launched a new report on the effects of animal product consumption and climate change. Research at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden claims that it’s inevitable that we have to reduce our animal product consumption. That only eliminating the emissions from the energy and transportation sectors would not guarantee staying below the UN limit of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Together we could therefore do a great deal for the climate by simply eating less meat and other animal products. Research from the University of Amsterdam has shown that if the population of the United Kingdom were to cut out meat one extra day a week, then that would reduce as much greenhouse emissions as removing five million cars from the roads.
There are plenty of alternatives, and the EU should stimulate these further. This month our government advised the Dutch to eat less meat and until 2012 there was a 6 million euro innovation budget for companies who want to develop meat substitutes.
Only a century ago there were millions upon millions of cart horses in the United States; now there are nearly extinct. Agricultural mechanization has led to more efficient ways of working the land than having a horse pull a plough. Similarly, we should also free animals bred for slaughter from the food chains.
In this day and age of advanced technology it seems ridiculous to have valuable vegetable protein first go through the stomach and intestines of an animal after which only 10% of useful protein remains.
We have the choice of using 1 kilo of soya to produce 300 grams of chicken, or producing 3 kilos of meat substitute. We can feed the world by producing less animal protein and more vegetable protein for human consumption.
If we were to use the existing crob land for high-quality plant food for human consumption, then according to the University of Minnesota we can feed 9 billion people.
We cannot allow one billion people to go to bed hungry every night, and children to starve, simply because we fancy eating more. As if we were at a buffet helping ourselves to four plates of food whilst not caring whether there will be anything left for those at the back of the queue (the third world).
Our planet can provide enough for everybody, but not for everybody’s greed. And that is why a revolution is necessary – now more than ever.
You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one!

Thank you very much!