Our diets impact the planet directly, and a new report claims that by shifting even partly from meat and dairy to more plant-based foods, we can help increase biodiversity and slow species extinction. Conducted by The Food Foundation, a non-profit organization, the report calculated that consumers could help prevent the extinction of more than 500 species just by reducing meat consumption and introducing more plant-based foods into their diets.

The report calls for people within the U.K. and the entire world to realize the direct impact their diets can have on endangered species. The meat and dairy industries disregard the need to incorporate practices that help foster biodiversity in food production. By promoting a sustainable food system, people can push to protect the species that have been cornered to near extinction due to rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Food Foundation’s research includes serious predictions about the world and its inhabitants if the food system is not addressed soon. The research team explains that failing to address land use and animal agriculture could result in 626 species losing habitable areas. But the larger ramifications could be tremendous, threatening the lives of uncountable species across the planet.

“According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, one million animal and plant species globally are now threatened with extinction and a significant portion of this threat has been caused by land-use changes associated with food production,” the report reads. “Some claim we are entering the sixth age of extinction.”

Researchers believe that there is reason to be optimistic, however. Even though current animal-based food consumption exceeds appropriate or safe levels, people can curb the negative environmental consequence by simply increasing fruit and vegetable consumption. Currently, the U.K.’s fruit and vegetable consumption falls far below the five-a-day recommendation, indicating room for improvement.

The Food Foundation started this report as a guide to policymakers that want to improve public health and nutrition. But most centrally, the report is a guide to sustainable practices. The report also highlights just how unhealthy animal agriculture production is for the planet. Beef production requires 100 times as much land than plant-based alternatives. By increasing vegetable consumption and reducing red meat intake by 5.5 grams, the U.K. population could help clear a significant amount (approximately 10 percent) of habitable land.

“These biodiversity gains would not come from the expansion of horticulture, which currently has low biodiversity levels, but from reducing the land requirement for meat production,” the report concludes. “This land could then be moved into species-diverse habitats such as natural land covers. Our modeling also shows that climate change is likely to impact U.K. biodiversity negatively but that the effects could be mitigated, to some degree, by the land-use changes potentially associated with a shift of dietary patterns towards less meat and more vegetable consumption.”

Your Diet Can Help The Planet

The Food Foundation report joins a growing portfolio of studies that have placed responsibility on animal agriculture for the worsening climate crisis. Alongside the "code red" issued by the UN last year, another study found that plant-based diets can slash greenhouse gases by up to 61 percent. The report from Nature Food found that by consuming more plant-based foods, people can cut into the global greenhouse gas emissions threatening the planet.

Among vegans and flexitarians, the biggest dietary trend to emerge in recent years is the climatarian – a person who eats according to what's the most sustainable food option. Beyond health and animal cruelty, people have turned their attention to how food can either harm or help the environment, and a recent survey found that 55 percent of people now consider the environment when making their grocery purchases. With more studies exposing the dangers of the meat and dairy industries, it is likely that more people will take up the climatarian handle in the near future.

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