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Rethinking Food

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Over 50 years of campaigning thoughtfully and peacefully to improve the lives of farmed animals, has brought us here.
The global climate, nature and health emergency we are currently witnessing has brought us here.
We are

RETHINKING FOOD

The stability of the planet is in peril. Our food system is failing. Our dependence on intensive animal agriculture has played an outsized role in this failure. In the need to change, food businesses are presented with an incredible opportunity to help set a more sustainable course where people, planet and animals can thrive and live in harmony. Together, we have forged new paths that are set to improve the lives of over a billion animals. We look forward to building on that. The power of our partnership is immense and by setting measurable targets to reduce the reliance on animal-based proteins, coupled with investment in higher welfare and regenerative farming practices we can, quite literally, change the world.

Our approach

Compassion is evolving its work programme with food companies to deliver a more resilient and sustainable food system which addresses the needs of people, planet, and animals.

Through extensive stakeholder collaboration, key interventions, and practical tools, we will help your business evaluate its current model, identify priority areas, build the business case for change and set strategies that are fit for the future.

Over time, these strategies will reduce the reliance on intensive animal farming, rebalance the animal protein in your consumer offer and help to regenerate nature and restore biodiversity.

Our team of experts will help you measure progress, deliver higher animal welfare and remain relevant and credible to customers whose attitudes and tastes are changing at pace, thus protecting profitability, market performance and brand reputation.

This is an exciting time for food businesses – for innovation, for investment and for being a part of a transformation towards a ‘planetary resilient’ food system.

A driving force for change

A driving force for change

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Our journey

Our journey

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Our strategic plan

Our strategic plan

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Time to act

Humanity poses a threat to the stability of the planet… We need to urgently redefine the food system and start the transformation towards a planetary health diet for all

Professor Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre, speaking at EAT and The Rockefeller Foundation’s virtual event, 24 June 20201

Scientific research supports the call for urgent fundamental changes in the way we produce and consume food for the sake of our own health, the climate and the environment. We must transform our food system if we are to address the multi-dimensional challenges of producing sufficient, safe and nutritious food for all within the safe operating space of all nine planetary boundaries.2

Planetary Boundaries graph. Credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015.

Credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al. 2015.

As of 2015, four of the nine planetary boundaries – climate change, loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity), land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles (phosphorus and nitrogen particularly from industrial agriculture) – had already been crossed, as a result of human activity.

Without a new food system, we will not be able to address the global health crisis, meet the targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, achieve the objectives of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Convention on Biological Diversity whilst also meeting the needs of a rising population projected to be around 10 billion by 2050.

A clear majority of credible scientific papers – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Intergovernmental Science Platform on Biodiversity (IPBES), and the EAT-Lancet Commission – conclude that meat and dairy must begin to play a much smaller role in our daily diets.

Montage of external reports on climate change and food production
It would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, ecologist, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Our failing food system

Until now, undernutrition and obesity have been seen as polar opposites of either too few or too many calories. In reality, they are both driven by the same unhealthy, inequitable food systems.

Prof Boyd Swinburn, University of Auckland, Co-Chair of the Lancet Commission on Obesity3

Despite years of increased investment, research and development and technological advancement, there remain significant failings in our food system.

Right now, more than 820 million people do not have enough to eat, whilst according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) the world wastes approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food every year (FAO, 2016).4

What that FAO calculation has not taken into account is the biggest single waste of food: feeding human-edible crops to industrial livestock. Cereals, soya and palm are fed to intensively reared livestock, who convert them inefficiently into meat, milk and eggs. Protein conversion ranges from as low as 4 percent for beef, to 25% for eggs.5 In addition, almost a fifth of the world’s total catch of wild fish is processed into fishmeal and fish oil, the majority of which are used to feed farmed fish.6 Through this process, enough food to feed four billion people is wasted. Enough to sustain more than half of humanity today.

At the same time two billion men, women and children are overweight or obese7, with poor diets being responsible for more deaths than any other risk factor8. The overconsumption of meat, dairy and eggs in developed regions exceeds both dietary guidelines and new planetary diet guidelines.

The United Nations in 2016, reported that food production, when not sustainably managed, is a major driver of biodiversity loss and polluter of air, fresh water and oceans, as well as a leading source of soil degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.9 The way we produce food also contributes to antimicrobial resistance10 and non-communicable diseases, as well as emerging and foodborne diseases, and provides poor conditions for workers and vulnerability to price squeeze from input suppliers, processors and retailers. It also delivers poor animal welfare.

The impact of intensive animal farming

The climate, nature and health emergency we face is undoubtedly caused by multiple factors, a major one of which is intensive animal farming.

Issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and public health can be collectively addressed through the elimination of factory farming and the move towards high welfare regenerative farming systems. Continue reading to learn more about the scale of the impact of factory farming.

Cartoon of diverse group of people with the word people written above

People

  • Unhealthy diets are acknowledged as the largest global cause of disease, with the over-consumption of sugar, salt and saturated fat in highly processed foods, coupled with inadequate consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, the overconsumption of red and processed meat – only made possible by intensive animal farming – contributes to heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
  • An estimated two billion people – around a quarter of the world’s population - suffer from severe or moderate food insecurity.11 despite enough calories being produced to feed more than twice the world’s population.12
  • Every year there are around 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 420,000 deaths13 predominantly from Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. Coli. In addition, agricultural intensification is associated with 50% of emerging zoonotic diseases since 1940. Zoonotic transmission is responsible for three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in humans. SARS, EBOLA, and HIV are linked to the consumption and close contact with the body fluids of wild animals (civets, bats, and primates, respectively).
  • Around one-third of the world’s population relies on farming, livestock, forests or fishing for food and income.14 The livelihoods of many farming communities are adversely affected by intensive animal farming. These include negative impacts on employment as industrial agriculture needs less labour, lack of effective wealth distribution and a reliance on costly inputs.

HEALTH FOOD SECURITY

FOOD SAFETY LIVELIHOODS CULTURE

View of Earth from space with 'planet' written above

Planet

  • Intensive animal farming threatens several planetary boundaries, including climate change, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), land-system change, freshwater use, and the loss of biodiversity. If we are to avoid dangerous levels of climate change, all sectors, including energy and transport, will need to reduce their emissions.
  • Intensive livestock production is already responsible for 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. Under a business as usual model of food production, in which meat and dairy consumption rises in line with a growing global population and rising GDPs, the agriculture sector alone would emit enough greenhouse gasses to take up the entire two degrees Celsius emissions budget by 2050.15
  • A range of studies show that a substantial decrease in the consumption of meat and dairy is urgently needed if the emissions from food and farming are to be reduced below their current levels and that a shift to more plant-based diets is essential if we are to meet the Paris Climate Agreement targets.
  • In addition, the intensification of crop production for animal feed has accelerated land and soil degradation – on a business-as-usual model, the UN warns of just sixty years’ productivity left in the world’s soils.
  • Around one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction16, with intensive animal production a primary factor.17 As meat consumption rises, so farmland expands depriving wildlife of their natural habitat and bringing them into dangerously close proximity to human activity providing the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread, some of which are zoonotic and pose a threat of pandemics.

PLANETARY BOUNDARIES CLIMATE CHANGE

BIODIVERSITY LOSS LAND USE WATER USE

Three piglets rubbing snouts in a field with lots of dandelions with the word 'animals' above

Animals

  • Industrial livestock production systems have been designed with little thought to the behavioural needs and wants of animals. The resulting systems rely heavily on technology, the prophylactic use of antibiotics to help prevent disease, genetic selection beyond the physiological limits of the animal, and a high-volume, low-margin economic model.
  • Intensive systems are largely barren confinement systems, such as cages and crates or highly stocked barns or feedlots, with few provisions for physical comfort or occupation. They frequently deprive animals from the comfort of their own kind, through single penning, and are reliant on routine mutilations to prevent the worse behavioural effects of boredom and frustration such as tail biting and feather pecking. They are usually, but not confined to, large scale operations.
  • Globally, more than 77 billion land animals are reared for food each year, with two out of three of those animals reared in intensive systems. Estimates of farmed fish are between 50 and 160 billion.
  • While progress is being made towards incremental change such as the removal of cages for hens and sows, and the reduction of high stocking densities for chicken in some parts of the world; a greater degree of intensification is occurring in others.
  • Farm animals and fish are sentient beings capable of feeling pain and emotions such as depression or joy. They deserve to lead a good quality of life, one not only free from suffering, but one that provides opportunities for positive experiences such as comfort, pleasure, play; to learn, be confidence and have a sense of choice. It is our ethical responsibility and moral imperative in which we all have a part to play.

FARMED ANIMALS FARMED FISH

WILD ANIMALS WILD FISH SENTIENCE

Despite the compelling evidence from multiple sectors, there has been limited action to begin to deliver a healthy and sustainable food system. Intensive animal farming continues to consume vast resources, including cereals and soy, to produce animal feed. Forests are destroyed and re-purposed into farmland and the intensification of crop production which, with its use of monocultures and agro-chemicals, has led to overuse and pollution of ground- and surface-water18, soil degradation19, 20, biodiversity loss21, and air pollution22. Policy makers may recognise the serious environmental crises we face but many are reluctant to acknowledge the part played by intensive animal production in generating these crises.

To address this, we need to RETHINK our food system and work collectively and creatively on the transition that will move us all towards a more humane, resilient, and sustainable food system.

The way forward

The EAT-Lancet Commission report (2019) on ‘Food, Planet, Health’ , provided the first full scientific review for a healthy and sustainable diet and detailed the changes necessary to create a sustainable food future. The Commission’s reference diet or planetary health diet, provides a science-based framework for a flexible solution to stay within planetary boundaries, that will feed up to 10 billion people by 2050, limit a global temperature rise to less than two degrees and ensure optimal human health and nutritional guidelines. It also allows for adaptation to dietary needs, personal preferences and cultural traditions.

The planetary health diet is a global reference diet for adults that is symbolically represented by half a plate of fruits and vegetables. The other half consists of primarily whole grains, plant proteins (beans, lentils, pulses, nuts), unsaturated plant oils, modest amounts of meat and dairy, and some added sugars and starchy vegetables.

EAT forum.org23

The Planetary Health Diet

The Planetary Health Diet

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Call for reduction

Call for reduction

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The planetary health diet represents a dramatic shift in consumption patterns with developed countries seeing a significant reduction in the amount of animal-based protein and a subsequent increase in plant-based proteins . It is recognised there are different challenges in developing countries with a need for local strategies to be devised in line with EAT Lancet dietary recommendations regarding sufficient protein intake. All regions, however, need to increase the consumption of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and nuts.

Alongside a significant reduction in the production of animals, Compassion and others are urging a further and equally dramatic transformation in production systems. All animals should be reared in higher welfare systems and there should be a significant move towards more regenerative agricultural practices.

CHANGE IS POSSIBLE

Just as our current food system changed over 75 years ago in response to post World War ll food shortages, it can evolve again - to a more innovative, technological, humane and climate friendly system. It has to evolve. The current model is unsustainable.

Key to achieving this would be the “rebalancing of protein” from animal-based foods to a more plant-based diet including an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption. We anticipate reduction in animal-based consumption levels to vary according to regions as specified in the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet. Rebalancing the high levels of animal protein consumption in the US, Europe and other high consuming regions is essential for future sustainability.

Some governments and indeed cities are already calling for reduced meat consumption in their national dietary guidelines and are actively recommending plant-based sources of protein rather than animal-based.

A reduction in global consumption of animal protein by 53% by 2050 and the provision for livestock to forage and eat pasture and farming by-products, rather than human-edible crops in factory farms, would have the following impacts by 2050 compared to a business as usual approach.24

18% Reduction in GHG emissions
35% Reduction in non-renewable energy use
9% Reduction in the rate of global deforestation
12% Reduction in the rate of soil erosion
26% Reduction in the use of arable land
22% Reduction in the use of pesticides
46% Reduction in the use of nitrogen fertiliser
40% Reduction in the use of phosphorus fertiliser
21% Reduction in the use of freshwater for irrigation

Source: Schader C et al. 2015. Impacts of feeding less food-competing feedstuffs to livestock on global food system sustainability. J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20150891. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.0891

By adopting further regenerative farming practices, we will amplify these impacts.

The power of business

The decisions food businesses make and the speed in which they are taken are crucial in addressing this enormous challenge of feeding the growing population within fixed planetary boundaries. Whether through sourcing, pricing, marketing or product positioning - choice editing at scale – all these decisions impact heavily on our health, the environment and on the welfare of animals across the globe.

Leading businesses are already harnessing nature and technology to meet growing consumer needs in this space.

New plant-based products, cellular meat alternatives and innovative menu suggestions are being developed at pace across the food industry as food businesses look to ‘add’ protein alternatives.

Many others are investing heavily in improving animal welfare through adopting cage free policies and through initiatives like the Better Chicken Commitment.

However, few businesses are ‘replacing’ animal-based protein altogether.

Continue reading to see what companies are doing in this space.

What we offer

Vast glass building filled with plants and trees, with walkways around it, and a waterfall coming through the middle of the roof

Rethinking Food aims to work in collaboration with leading food companies on the development of a resilient food system. One that relies less on industrial agriculture and animal products - to one that is more plant-forward, inclusive and regenerative - restoring nature and biodiversity and meeting the needs of people and animals within our planetary boundaries.

Our unique approach looks at opportunities to significantly improve animal welfare and rebalance the protein offer to consumers, for a food system fit for future.

Wherever you are on your journey Compassion has something to offer:

Business case

We will help you make the business case for change, identifying areas for improving animal welfare and rebalancing your protein portfolio, all tailored to your specific company requirements.

Analysis

We offer a GAP analysis service for your business, to measure your animal footprint and welfare standards, and identify areas for incremental change, to help rebalance your protein footprint and create a more resilient and sustainable supply chain.

Tools & Framework

You will have access to our latest resources and easy to use tools to help you measure your animal and environmental impact and set a course for action.

Best practice

We will showcase what companies are doing in this space to build consumer buy-in and loyalty, to provide inspiration and guidance for your own marketing strategies.

Innovation

We will promote the latest industry innovations, in areas such as farming practices, product development and communication, that provide off the shelf solutions for your business.

Reporting

We will provide you with a reporting framework to help you continually measure and report progress on key metrics for your animal welfare and environmental impact.

Recognition

We will celebrate and show-case companies demonstrating leadership in this space through our suite of awards, and in particular the Friendly Food Award and Sustainable Food and Farming Award.

Global agreement for sustainable food & farming

If we are to mitigate the threat to people, planet and animals currently represented by our current food systems we need urgent action at a global level. This will require a high level international coordinated initiative.

Without this, it will not be possible to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Nor will it be possible to achieve healthy diets for all. We will not be able to halt the devastating impact of food production on biodiversity and our environment thereby compromising life as we know it for future generations.

Compassion in World Farming believes that action on food systems within the framework of the United Nations is imperative, just as it was for the existential issue of climate change.

A collective effort

We are seeking support to build momentum for a new Global Agreement for Sustainable Food and Farming to inspire food system change and spark a new era in regenerative agriculture. Change can only be realised collaboratively and we are embarking upon an ambitious work programme with both businesses and policy makers to make this happen.

Business leaders

We are calling for businesses to express support for a Global Agreement on Sustainable Food and Farming and to help us raise awareness and shape future dialogue at critical global meetings during 2021 and beyond.

2021 will see key events at which urgent global action on food systems could be agreed, including:

  • the Conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • the UN Food Systems Summit
  • COP26, the Climate Change Conference

Business support for food system transformation is essential. It’s business that will be responsible for so many of the changes needed. It’s business that so often leads the way to sustainable solutions.

Never has there been a more urgent need for action. The United Nations itself has warned that humanity is not on track to achieve key environmental goals, including on climate change, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, excess nutrient run-off and land degradation.

We invite you to become one of the first businesses to offer support for a new Global Agreement on Sustainable Food and Farming. Please download and sign the agreement, and return it to the email address in the letter heading.

To find out more please get in touch.

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Get in touch

If you would like to know more about our Rethinking Food programme, please get in touch with our Food Business Team.

References

  1. Rockström, J. Stockholm Resilience Centre, speaking on 24 June 2020 at EAT and The Rockefeller Foundation’s virtual event https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H--JgCgFec0&t=1s
  2. Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K. et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, 472–475 (2009) doi:10.1038/461472a
  3. Quoted from an article by Sarah Bosely in The Guardian 28 January 2019 https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/27/food-industry-obesity-malnutrition-climate-change-report last viewed 31st July 2020
  4. FAO. (2016). Key facts on food loss and waste you should know. Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/
  5. Alexander et al (2016) Protein efficiency of meat and dairy production. Human appropriation of land for food: the role of diet. Global Environmental Change. Taken from Our World in Data
  6. FAO (n.d.) Main ethical issues in fisheries. [ONLINE] Available at http://www.fao.org/3/y6634e/y6634e04.html
  7. Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. "More than 2 billion people overweight or obese, new study finds: Massive global research project reveals 30 percent of the world's population affected by weight problems." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 June 2017.
  8. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators, Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990–2017: a systemic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, The Lancet 393(10184), April 2019. https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(19)30041-8/fulltext
  9. UNEP Global Environmental Outlook 2019 op.cit.
  10. World Health Organisation, 2011 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2011/whd 20110406/en/
  11. http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition/en/
  12. https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf
  13. https://www.who.int/activities/estimating-the-burden-of-foodborne-diseases
  14. Transforming food and agriculture to achieve the SDG’s http://www.fao.org/3/I9900EN/i9900en.pdf
  15. Bajželj, B., Richards, K. S., Allwood, J. M., Smith, P., Dennis, J. S., Curmi, E., & Gilligan, C. A. (2014). Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Climate Change, 4(10), 924-929
  16. https://ipbes.net/news/global-assessment-summary-policymakers-final-version-now-available
  17. FAO transforming food and agriculture to achieve SDG’s http://www.fao.org/3/I9900EN/i9900en.pdf
  18. Mekonnen, M. and Hoekstra, A., 2012. A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products. Ecosystems.: DOI:10. 1007/s10021-011-9517-8
  19. Edmondson, J.L. et al., 2014. Urban cultivation in allotments maintains soil qualities adversely affected by conventional agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology 2014,51,880-889
  20. Tsiafouli, MA. et al., 2015. Intensive agriculture reduces soil biodiversity across Europe. Global Change Biology:21, p973-985
  21. World Health Organisation and Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. 2015. Connecting global priorities: biodiversity and human health
  22. Lelieveld et al, 2015. The contribution of outdoor air pollution sources to premature mortality on a global scale. Nature, Vol 525
  23. The Planetary Health Diet. Eat. Online. Viewed 28 October 2020 https://eatforum.org/learn-and-discover/the-planetary-health-diet/
  24. Schader C et al. 2015. Impacts of feeding less food-competing feedstuffs to livestock on global food system sustainability. J. R. Soc. Interface 12: 20150891. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.0891
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