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Viva! campaign to protect against future pandemics

Calderdale based group 3 Valley Vegans are backing the Viva! campaign which highlights the risks from the coronavirus to those with underlying health conditions.  A healthy vegan diet can help you lose weight, reverse type 2 diabetes, and protect heart health, reducing your risk of severe Covid-19.

Viva!,  the UK’s leading vegan campaigning charity,  have written an open letter to Boris Johnson, urging the government to support and encourage plant-based food initiatives to transition our food system and eradicate our reliance on unsustainable animal agriculture.

Covid-19 is just one of many zoonotic diseases including SARS, MERS, Ebola and HIV – all of which came from animals – and new viruses are appearing with increasing frequency. It is a stark warning of what’s to come if we don’t act now.

In their letter, they state that

“…across the globe animals are kept in horrific conditions in factory farms and wildlife markets. These settings provide a fertile environment for the transmission of viruses between different species and are the leading contributor to global heating. Meat and dairy production are responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products provide just 18 per cent of calories and 37 per cent of protein levels around the world (Poore, 2018).”

Avian and swine flu are particularly worrying due to the often thousands of chickens and pigs kept in one shed, with over 800 mega farms in the UK. In Cheshire recently an avian flu outbreak, although so far not posing a risk to humans, has resulted in the culling of 13,000 chickens at one farm, and an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) has now been declared across the whole of England meaning that it is a legal requirement for all bird keepers to follow strict bio-security measures to help contain the disease.

Bird flu hit the headlines in 1997 when it was found that a strain of flu virus was spreading from poultry to humans in Hong Kong.  Luckily this strain didn’t spread quickly between humans and therefore didn’t spark a global pandemic, but Dr Greger has warned of this possibility in the future, in his book published in 2006 “Bird Flu, A Virus of Our Own Hatching” especially as chicken consumption has increased dramatically.  Swine flu in 2009-10, however, did become a global pandemic originating in Mexico, near some of the largest pig farms housing thousands.

Ending factory farming of animals is the only way to prevent future pandemics.

For more information visit Viva.org.uk

3 Valley Vegans takes a break to recharge and reflect

Did you know, 3 Valley Vegans has been running for six and a half years now? In this time, we have delivered countless workshops, stalls, talks, films, our own music concert and our own festival. We have spoken to hundreds of people in the upper Calder valley and beyond, with visitors to our website from as far away as China, India and Australia. (Quick fact: our most viewed recipe is for Dorset apple cake.) Furthermore, there are over 200 posts on our blog, and we have a volunteers award from The University of Manchester.

Over these years, we have seen the vegan landscape shift. Supermarkets are reporting staggering increases in sales of plant-based alternatives. There are more people eating vegan food and following a vegan lifestyle than ever before, some inspired by the time to reflect during lockdown for COVID-19. At the same time, the impact of climate change only increases, while both systemic and localised animal welfare issues continue to cause concern.

The core group of members who arrange, plan, organise and review the online and face-to-face presence of 3 Valley Vegans has recently shrunk and we have decided it is time to take a break. We would like to use the next few months to recharge and reflect on what the aims and activities of the group should be, most appropriate to the needs of the community as it now stands. We are planning to come back around Veganuary 2021, hopefully we will be allowed to conduct one of our ever-popular cookery demos (without the worry of social distancing). 

Until the new year, we will continue to run our Facebook page and Facebook group; in fact, we strongly encourage you to share your news and events or local businesses to our Facebook group. We will keep our Twitter account running, and our eating out guide and shopping guide. If you would like to get involved as a volunteer in the new year, you can tell us at any time! Until then, keep doing what you’re doing, talk to each other, and maybe we can all help to realise the recent forecast that 12 million Brits will be meat-free by 2021.

Adapting to climate change: the vegan answer to declining agricultural yields

Rob Baylis, MSc, MIEMA, CEnv
July 2020

The decade between 2020 and 2030 is probably the most important in the history of humanity.

There is a choice to be made between two alternative futures.  The first is to treat the Climate Emergency with the same level of urgency as the Covid-19 pandemic by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases sufficiently to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Centigrade above what it was before the industrial revolution. In doing this, the quality of everyone’s lives will be much improved through better jobs, lifestyles and health along with reduced air pollution, more natural open spaces, more comfortable homes and less scope for conflict.  This will be especially important for the most vulnerable people in societies across the globe who will otherwise suffer the increasingly unequal and unjust impacts of climate change.

Scientific analysis channelled through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that this choice will necessitate a reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050[1].  To achieve this, the level of emissions in 2020 will have to be cut by 50% by 2030, halved again by 2040 and the remainder eliminated in the following decade[2].  ‘Net zero’ will mean that any unavoidable emissions will have to be absorbed by carbon ‘sinks’ such as through restoring forests.

The second choice is to take inadequate, token or no action to limit greenhouse gas emissions, or even to grow them as is happening now with increases in consumption of animal products in some parts of the world, Amazon deforestation, Australian investments in coal mining, enlarging airports and the G20 nations (including the USA & UK) providing £95.5bn of unconditional support for fossil fuel firms between March and July 2020[3].   This business as usual choice will trigger irreversible climate changes (tipping points).  It is currently projected to deliver a disastrous global average temperature of over 4 degrees Centigrade by 2050[4].

Regardless of which path is chosen to the future, humanity will be forced to adapt to the changes in climate that are already with us now and those that are on their way as a result of historic emissions and the remaining ‘carbon budget’ that cannot be exceeded if global average temperature rise is to be no more than 1.5 °C above what it was before industrialisation.  Climate change is the cause of slow but already unstoppable rises in sea levels, retreating glaciers, more erratic monsoons and increasingly severe storms and heat waves.  The more frequent and intense instances of flooding in Calderdale must surely be local manifestations of climate change and the very heavy downpours it brings.  

Adaptation to the consequences of climate change is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media other than in the context of flooding.  One example of this media vacuum was a landmark report published in September 2019 by the Global Commission on Adaptation.  That report, Adapt now: A global call for leadership on climate resilience[5] indicates, amongst other things, that food insecurity is worsening because of more intense and frequent droughts and floods.  These impacts will be accompanied by a greater prevalence of pests, parasites and disease thereby reducing the productivity of land further.  

The Adapt Now report contains a very chilling forecast that agricultural yields could decline by as much as 30% by 2050 if ambitious action is not taken to limit climate change[6].  This would be linked to global demand for food increasing by 50% and prices rising by 20% for billions of low-income people.  At the same time, the report posits a 70% or higher growth in consumption of animal products.

To accept growth in the consumption of animal products without question or without proposing action would seem to be misguided but that is what the ‘expert’ authors of the Adapt Now report do.  Their proposals for adapting to declining agricultural yields are confined to that age-old substitute for action – more research – along with ‘digital advisory services for small-scale food producers’ and ‘expanded access to and use of adaptive technologies and agroecological practices’ that support ‘climate-resilient crops, fish and livestock’.  Or simply, tiptoeing around the edges of the symptoms rather than tackling the root cause of the problem.

Whilst it is laudable to focus on small-scale food producers and co-operatives, especially those in the less privileged parts of the world that will suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, the Adapt Now report proposes no actions to reform large-scale food production.

Meat and dairy consumption accounts for at least 14.5% of worldwide carbon emissions[7] and so there is already a compelling case, on climate change grounds as well as health, ethical and other reasons, for a widespread switch to a vegan/plant-based diet.  However, animal products also account for 83% of agricultural land-use whilst serving only 37% of protein and 18% of calorie consumption[8].  Therefore, vegan/plant-based diets must be a solution to food insecurity and discriminatory injustice associated with the projected decline in agricultural productivity.

The IPCC’s Climate Change and Land report, published in 2019[9], did attract media attention because it was brave enough to address animal-based agriculture. It argued that ‘dietary changes could free several million km2 (medium confidence) of land’ by 2050.  Others have estimated that a global shift from animal to plant-based foods would reduce agricultural land-use by 76%, and water pollution by 49% compared with 2010 levels[10].

Recommendations to cut consumption of animal products are regarded by the media and politicians as contentious because people would need to change their addictions and habits to make the reduction happen.  Governments, particularly right-of-centre governments, are keen to avoid what they see as limiting personal freedoms[11].  Despite dietary change being a low-cost tool for tackling climate change, another key reason for institutional resistance to it  is the noisy and misleading objections from animal-agriculture’s vested interest groups and lobbyists.  Moreover in the UK, for example,  parliament is well known for being dominated by MPs with animal agriculture interests. In a future article, I will return to analysing the validity or otherwise of arguments by vested interest groups but dietary change has to be taken seriously if humanity is to adapt to a 30% decline in agricultural productivity.

Logically, there has to be two ways to make this adaptation.  Either, use more land for producing food, or eliminate inefficiencies in the production and use of food.  Given that the availability of land for agriculture is limited and there is much inefficiency in the use of existing agricultural land, it makes sense to tackle inefficiency as a priority. 

There are various aspects of inefficiency in food production.  One aspect is the estimated 9.5 million tonnes of food wasted in the UK every year[12].  Out of this, 380,000 tonnes of meat is wasted with a  value of £3 billion according to a  meat industry initiative Meat in a Net Zero World[13].  There is room for optimism here since both the public and private sector In the UK agree that food waste should be cut dramatically.

Not surprisingly, Meat in a Net Zero World fails to address the fundamental inefficiency inherent in meat (and other animal-derived foods).  Animals exploited for human food spend their lives converting plants into flesh, eggs and milks at the same time as releasing greenhouse gases, defecating, urinating and converting food into energy.  In contrast, vegans eat plants directly.  The result of this is that the mean area of land required to produce beef is 164m2 per nutritional unit compared with 3.4m2 for peas[14].  That’s 48 times more land for beef than needed to grow peas to provide the same level of nutrition. 

Part of the reason for the huge disparity in land requirements is the large areas dedicated to growing animal feed instead of food for direct human consumption.  Changing to a vegan/plant-based diet will therefore be crucial in liberating the land necessary to cope with the forecast drop in agricultural productivity if cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are not enough to limit global average temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Centigrade.   It will also release land for restoring natural vegetation, such as forests, to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


[1] https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/

[2] J. Falk, O. Gaffney, A. K. Bhowmik, P. Bergmark, V. Galaz, N. Gaskell, S. Henningsson, M. Höjer, L. Jacobson, K. Jónás, T. Kåberger, D. Klingenfeld, J. Lenhart, B. Loken, D. Lundén, J. Malmodin, T. Malmqvist, V. Olausson, I. Otto, A. Pearce, E. Pihl, T. Shalit, Exponential Roadmap 1.5.1. Future Earth. Sweden. (January 2020.)

[3] https://www.edie.net/news/11/G20-nations-funnel–151bn-of-Covid-19-recovery-funding-into-fossil-fuels/

[4] Interpolated from https://climateactiontracker.org/

[5] https://gca.org/global-commission-on-adaptation/report

[6] This is in addition to forecasts that the UK has less than 40 years of fertility left in its agricultural soils due to intensive farming.

[7] http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/

[8] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360, 987–992

[9] https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/

[10] Poore & Nemecek, op. cit.

[11] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45838997

[12] https://wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Food_%20surplus_and_waste_in_the_UK_key_facts_Jan_2020.pdf

[13] WRAP, 2020, Banbury, Meat in a Net Zero world

[14] Poore & Nemecek, op. cit.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

Vegan school meals: why should they be available for all and how can I help?

3 Valley Vegans is informing parents about campaigns to get vegan school meals on the menu for all school children. Some Calderdale schools are now providing vegan meals for those requesting it, but we believe vegan meals should be available for all, as an option, for the environment, health and the animals.

Why support vegan meals in schools?

There are many sources to consider which advocate or encourage plant-based diets for all ages:

  • Veganism is supported by the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 9 which protects personal beliefs including veganism. This has been reinforced in a 2020 legal case in which ethical veganism was confirmed as a protected belief under the 2010 Equality Act in the same way as religious beliefs. The case therefore removes any doubt that it is illegal to discriminate against vegans by treating them less favourably than others i.e. not catering for them with vegan meals that are as equally nutritious as those served to non-vegan pupils.  Also, there is a wealth of evidence that shows a vegan diet to be healthy, and to be preventative with diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (see the China Study). Many children suffer from dairy intolerance, which may cause eczema, who for health reasons need to avoid dairy.
  • The World Health Organisation states processed meat is a group one carcinogen, and red meat which includes beef, lamb and pork as a group 2 carcinogen. In the WHO School Policy 2008 framework it states “A nutritious diet should meet the nutrient and energy needs of students and be based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plant-based sources.”
  • The British Dietetic Society recognise that a well-planned plant based diet is suitable for every age and lifestyle, and the NHS confirm this.

By providing a vegan option in schools, the government will be addressing human rights, environment, health (government guidelines encourage us to eat more fruit and veg, 5 a day, as recommended by WHO), and poverty (free school meals for vegan children).

What can I do as a parent?

ProVeg offer support to schools on how to increase the intake of vegetables, fruits and other plant-based foods.

The Vegan Society have a template letter which families can use when writing to schools. They also have letters for caterers and educators too.

Calderdale Council no longer provides any catering to schools.  Therefore, we suggest you write to individual schools, although some schools provide the catering for a number of others in the area and deliver prepared meals daily. Nevertheless, it may be worth referring to a Calderdale Council internal human resources policy, introduced recently in response to the climate emergency, that requires meals and catering at Council events to be plant-based by April 2021.  This is relevant since many school staff (not academies) still receive their salaries via the Council.

Did you know that it’s still mandatory for school caterers in England to serve meat, fish, and dairy? Sir Paul McCartney, MPs, and environmental, health, and other groups have asked the government to revise these guidelines so that schools have a choice in the matter. Add your name to the healthy children’s meals petition by PETA UK.

In summary, have a look at the template letter or better yet craft your own using the sources above. Write to your children’s school, or the one where their food is prepared and ask what they are doing to support you. Add your name to the healthy meals petition.

Image by Andrzej Rembowski from Pixabay

Plant Based Health Professionals write open letter to UK government

On World Nutrition Day in May more than 200 NHS doctors and other health professionals wrote an open letter to NHS leaders and the UK Government urging them to make radical changes to the current unsustainable and unhealthy food system. The letter received considerable attention on social media and was also published in The Metro.

The letter was produced by Plant Based Health Professionals UK, a rapidly growing organisation of doctors and health professionals whose aims are:

  • to promote plant based nutrition for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases
  • to education health professionals and the public on wholefood plant based nutrition and
  • to provide evidence-based recommendations for public policy on nutrition.

The letter stresses the need for rapid, nationwide changes to the obesogenic and unsustainable food environment in the UK, which has added to the UK’S COVID-19 death toll.

Three in four of the world’s new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic and are mainly transmitted through wildlife trade and factory farming. This combined with the increasing demand for cheap meat and dairy is contributing to environmental degradation and the rise of antibiotic resistance. The letter also stresses that 90% of global wild fish stocks have been over-fished or fished at capacity and farmed fish are contaminated with antibiotics and chemicals that pose a risk to human health.

Poor nutrition is of particular importance to communities of lower socio-economic means and is disproportionately affecting minority ethnic communities which makes them particularly vulnerable to disease.

The letter proposes changes such as the banning of subsidies and introduction of taxes for junk food, soft drinks and animal farming; banning of advertising which increases the consumption of unhealthy foods and importantly the introduction of subsidies to move towards a predominantly whole food plant based diet in order to improve human and planetary health.

The full letter is available to read at Plant-Based Health Professionals UK and you can see a video of the doctors talking about the urgent need for change.

How to keep your immune system healthy

Today we’re in the middle of a pandemic.  A new coronavirus has passed from animals into humans and countries worldwide are fighting to limit the number of people infected with the virus which causes COVID-19.  It goes without saying that the most important aspect of fighting infections such as COVID-19 is to maintain strict hygiene and to reduce the chance of the virus entering the body. The fewer viruses enter your body the better chance your immune system has.

A healthy lifestyle is the second most important aspect of preventing or reducing the impact of infections.  A healthy lifestyle reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer and the evidence shows us that people with chronic diseases are more at risk of dying when they develop infections such as COVID-19.

What is a whole plant food diet?

smoothies
Image by silviarita from Pixabay

A varied diet with a strong emphasis on whole plant foods is important and it’s the overall quality of the diet that matters rather than individual components.  Try to emphasise whole plant foods such as lots of brightly coloured and green vegetables and fruit (aim for up to 10 portions a day), whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.  A whole food diet helps us to maintain a healthy weight but also provides the essential nutrients we need to reduce our risk of both long term diseases and short term infections. See the Vegan Approach for more information about a balanced vegan diet.

A healthy diet gives us a healthy microbiome which means keeping all those gut bacteria happy. The most important thing is to eat plenty of fibre, which is found only in plant foods as this feeds the gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome is important for a healthy immune system but we still don’t know exactly how this works. We do know that most people in the UK don’t eat enough fibre so increase your whole plant foods, such as legumes, vegetables and flax.

What lifestyle choices affect the immune system?

Not smoking is vital for a healthy immune system. Smoking compromises the immune response because of the chemicals associated with it, such as cadmium, carbon monoxide, nicotine, and nitrogen. It also aggravates bacterial and viral pulmonary infections and rheumatoid arthritis.

thirsty
Image by Farhan M Shujon from Pixabay 

Good hydration keeps the body functioning properly. Water is great but different types of teas and some coffee are also healthy.  Try to limit alcohol as despite being a depressant (which isn’t good for stress) it’s also linked to some chronic diseases such as cancer.

Exercise has been shown to improve the immune system and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Exercise also boosts the presence of endorphins (the pleasure hormone) which makes it a good way of managing stress. Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week and strength building exercises twice a week.

Sleep is the time when your immune system kicks into action fighting infections and when we’re ill we tend to sleep more – it’s the body’s way of telling us what we need to do.  If we lack sleep we’re more likely to become susceptible to viruses. Try to get at least seven hours a night of good quality sleep.  Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed and sleep in a cool and dark room. Try not to eat for a couple of hours before going to bed.

What about society and the environment?

Stress promotes inflammation and reduces a body’s defence against infection. Long term stress can lead to high levels of cortisol which impairs the immune system. Stress reduction is easier said than done but there are ways of reducing stress such as breathing exercises, journalling, mindfulness, yoga or other ways that work for you.

blue-zones-cropped
Image: Blue Zones

Maintaining social contacts even if you can’t meet up with people is important as part of a healthy lifestyle.  The Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live longer and healthier lives than elsewhere in the world. They differ in many ways but they all have in common having a purpose, living amongst people they are happy with and having social contacts with other people they like.

Reducing our exposure to environmental toxins could affect our immune system but the jury’s still out on this one. There are indications that the increasing amount of pollutants we’re exposed to both in and outside our homes could impair both our own and our children’s immune system.  Cutting down on chemicals in the home and garden is easy. It’s not quite so easy to avoid air pollution but simply follow some of the tips from the BBC to cut your exposure.

What specific nutrients can help?

veg-1 multivitamin capsules
Veg1 (Image: the Vegan Approach)

Once you’ve considered the guidance above and thought about how you can improve your general health, there is some evidence that points to specific nutrients that can help to support a healthy immune system.

  • Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections and everyone in the UK is advised to supplement in the winter. It’s also a good idea to supplement if you stay indoors a lot, are older or cover up your body.  Veg1 from The Vegan Society provides a vegan source of this vitamin.

Antioxidants may help to boost the immune system and some that have been found to be beneficial are:

  • Flavonoids found in many plant foods are shown to help the immune system and have been found to significantly reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Eat and drink plenty of the following: apples, green tea, grapes, berries and dark chocolate (more than 70% cocoa content).
  • Vitamin C is easily provided by the diet but lots of people don’t get enough. Eat plenty of fruits such as citrus (oranges, grapefruit), pepper, kiwi fruit and broccoli.
  • Beta carotene which is also used to form vitamin A, and is found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, red peppers, dark greens such as kale and apricots.
  • Zinc is important for the immune system and can be found in nuts, seeds and pulses. Sprouting pulses and nuts helps to improve the amount of zinc available to the body.
  • Selenium can be lacking in the UK diet but a day’s supply is found in one or two brazil nuts. Don’t overdo selenium though as it can be toxic in large doses.
  • Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-infective and some laboratory studies have shown it can fight viruses. It’s found in turmeric which is one of many healthy spices. It’s easy to incorporate it in all sorts of foods such as tagine, curry, scrambled tofu, even in pasta.

It’s important to remember that all of the above are best eaten in the form of food rather than as supplements (apart from vitamin D) as there is so much we don’t know about how food works synergistically. Again, it’s the quality of the overall diet that’s important.

To find out more about how to maintain a healthy immune system in these challenging times visit Plant Based Health Professionals.

 

By Elizabeth King MSc, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition