Studies & Numbers

One Health Study Calls for “Just Transition” to Plant-Based Diets

Researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute have presented a study with guiding principles to help policymakers accelerate a transition — fair for all — to a more sustainable and healthy food system based on plant-based foods.

Led by Cleo Verkuijl and part of a policy forum article published in the CABI One Health, the paper argues that a just transition in animal agriculture is necessary for more effective and equitable One Health outcomes. 

One Health is an approach that emphasizes the need for a transdisciplinary understanding that health relies on the interconnections between humans, animals, plants, ecosystems, and their shared environment. 

herd of cows eating hay in cowshed on dairy farm
© Syda Productions-stock.adobe.com

In the study, the researchers highlight that the impact of current industrial animal agriculture practices, including the emergence of infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution, are a threat to the One Health approach.

To address these issues, experts argue that there needs to be a shift toward plant-based diets, particularly in regions with high meat consumption. They urge governments in the Global North to lead this shift and promote policies that support the transition. 

However, the paper argues that a “just transition” in animal agriculture must address the economic, social, and environmental impacts of moving away from animal products. This transition should be well-planned and implemented to minimize disruptions and maximize benefits for affected farmers and stakeholders. 

© Jacob Lund – stock.adobe.com

Planning for just transitions

Policymaking plays a crucial role in achieving a just transition by addressing challenges related to food supplies and diets, economic dependence on animal agriculture, the interests of the meat industry, and animal welfare concerns.

To transition to a plant-based world, they present five guiding principles that align with the One Health approach and promote justice. 

These principles include:

  • Phasing down existing policies and fiscal support for industrial meat production, including ensuring that solutions do not worsen animal welfare.
  • Increasing support for alt proteins, including plant-based diets, and conducting further research on plant-based and cultivated meat to make policies on comprehensive assessments of their impacts.
  • Ensuring inclusive and participatory planning processes, engaging stakeholders, including government agencies, civil society organizations, and minorities, to develop plans that address their concerns and needs. 
  • Providing support to stakeholders to mitigate the negative impacts of a transition. Policymakers can also invest in local economic diversification and create new job opportunities to offset revenue losses. 
  • Identifying and addressing existing inequalities in the meat sector and involving stakeholders in addressing these issues. During this transition, vulnerable groups may struggle to find replacement jobs and face worker rights abuses.
soybean field, agricultural landscape
©[email protected]

A policy mix is necessary to support the transition rather than relying on one approach. The potential negative impacts of increased demand for plant-based foods, such as environmental problems associated with conventional monocultures, should also be considered, say the authors.

Jonathan Green, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, added, “Planning and support for just transitions in animal agriculture is essential if we are to successfully address the climate, biodiversity, and human health crises. Such an approach can help ensure disruptions are minimised and benefits maximised for workers, rural communities, and others affected by our food system.”

To read the full paper, please visit the CABI Digital Library.

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