06/03/2019
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Food trade driving extinctions

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Some 100 bird species are forecast to go extinct based on current farming and forestry practices, according to a new global analysis. During the first 10 years of this century, this figure has increased by 7 per cent, with cattle farming the biggest factor, along with the impact of oil seed crops (such as palm and soy). By comparison, roughly 140 species have been lost during the last 400 years.

The study has recently been published in the Nature Ecology & Evolution journal, with the researchers using bird extinction as a measure of the loss of biodiversity linked with international trade in food and timber. Alarmingly, the findings show that international trade can drive threats to animal species far from the countries where the goods are consumed.


Eurasian Skylark is one of many European species being impacted by changes to farming practices (Steven Ashton).

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In 2011, a quarter of biodiversity impacts in Africa and a roughly a third in Central and South America were driven by the increased demand and consumption of good from other parts of the globe. The researchers estimated the number of species at risk of extinction due to the conversion of natural habitat to land for agriculture and forestry between 2000 and 2011, with the predicted figure as high as 121 if there is no change to current land use.

One of the researchers, Professor Henrique Pereira of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), explained that such losses can't be addressed with adding individual human responsibility (such as what people buy and eat). He said: "We have to provide more information for consumers on that – so that they know what they are buying."

Co-researcher Alexandra Marques added: "We must address unsustainable patterns of consumption driven by economic growth. Our choices here will have consequences elsewhere."

Ariel Brunner, from BirdLife Europe, said the study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that unsustainable food and farming system is "at the very heart of the ecological crisis – both in terms of driving the collapse of biodiversity and contributing to climate change."