Context: With regular outbreaks of zoonotic diseases, the Coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to be the last planetary health crisis caused by the close contact between humans, animals, and microbes.

Understanding the interlinkages in the COVID-19:

  • On World Environment Day, the usual routine is to call for the protection of ‘Nature’ but nature isn’t defenseless. 
  • The emerging concept of planetary health characterizes the impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth’s ecological systems.
  • Coronavirus pandemic is showing us that our lives and livelihoods are intricately intertwined with ecological systems and when we inflict tremendous harm on the planet, the consequences can be catastrophic.
  • We don’t think of the pandemic as an ecological disaster, but COVID-19 didn’t happen in a vacuum. It is a direct consequence of anthropogenic impacts on the planet. 
  • Nowhere is this link clearer than in the food system, and particularly in our reliance on animals for protein.

Threats of factory farming:

  • Large-scale, industrial animal agriculture for meat, eggs, and dairy is also called factory farming.
  • It creates and exacerbates planetary health risks at every scale.
  • Scientists at the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the sector is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems.”
  • Our need for animal protein uses vast tracts of land and quantities of water to raise those animals, to graze them, and to grow crops to feed them. 
  • It is considered to contribute more to climate change than emissions from the entire transportation sector. 
  • Wild and farmed seafood production also causes significant environmental degradation, species loss, and habitat destruction. 
  • Consequently, animals are also the sources of viral outbreaks of swine flu and avian flu.

Factory Farming in India

  • It is still a small industry compared to the U.S., Brazil, or China.
  • However, it is increasingly being seen as an employment and income generator in a country with water scarcity and diminishing landholdings. 
  • However, India needs to build upon our strengths in agriculture and in manufacturing to create a new food system that works for farmers and is robust to systemic shocks. 

Status of diversifying protein sources away from animals

  • Experts have identified that diversifying protein sources away from animals is a hugely neglected intervention for human and planetary health.
  • However, with rising demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, a chorus of ‘chickpeas over chicken’ may not be enough. 
  • All over the world, companies in the ‘alternative protein’ sector are making upgraded versions of meat, eggs, and dairy from plant or crop ingredients, or directly from animal cells. 
    • These foods satisfy consumers and producers without taking away their choice, because they taste the same, are used in exactly the same way, but are vastly better for planetary health. 
  • Few countries like Singapore and Canada are already making alternative protein a central piece of their food security with an emphasis on research, entrepreneurship, and self-sufficiency.

Lessons learnt from CoVID-19

  • Coronavirus pandemic has underscored that we can scarcely afford the consequences of an inefficient protein supply. 
  • We need to completely rethink our way of producing food, and create a 21st-century economy delivering plentiful, safe, and nutritious protein.
  • Food security and agricultural income are among our nation’s major challenges in the coming years. India needs to turn this crisis into an opportunity by stimulating research and entrepreneurship in alternative proteins

India has an opportunity to set aside the liabilities of industrial animal agriculture and create a smarter alternative protein industry supplying us and the rest of the world.

Virtual celebrations of the World Environment Day, 2020 (5th June)

  • The theme of World Environment 2020 is 'Celebrating Biodiversity' — a concern that is both urgent and existential. 
  • In view of the prevalent crisis situation due to the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry will be holding virtual celebrations of World Environment Day on this year’s theme with a focus on Nagar Van (Urban Forests).

Safeguarding biodiversity in urban lands

  • Biodiversity in India
    • India though having less landmass and more human and cattle population has nearly 8 percent of biodiversity. 
    • India is endowed with rich biodiversity having several species of animals and plants.
    • It hosts 4 of the 35 global biodiversity hotspots containing several endemic species. 
      • These hotspots are 1.Himalaya 2.Indo-Burma 3. Western Ghats and Sri Lanka 4.Sundalands
  • Traditional focus on rural areas
    • Biodiversity conservation has traditionally been considered confined to remote forest areas.
    • However, with increasing urbanization, a need has arisen to safeguard and save biodiversity in urban areas also. 
  • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change relaunched a scheme for creating an urban forest in 200 corporations and cities because all these cities have gardens but not the forest. 
    • The urban forest will certainly help in creating and enhancing the lung capacities of these cities.