9 September 2008

selling the "eat less meat" message

At last there is a real debate in high places about how we need to eat less meat to reduce carbon emissions. The highly respected Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has now pitched in saying: “meat production accounts for about 18% of the world’ s total greenhouse emissions so among options for mitigating climate change changing diets is something one should consider.”
It was the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations that in 2006 estimated the greenhouse gases associated with the livestock industry to be 18% of global emissions. That’s partly because cows burp methane (and cows in the industrialised meat industry that are fed processed feedcake burp more methane than those that eat grass), but also because of the fossil fuels that are used to grow grain to feed to cattle, to make processed feedcake for cattle to eat, to pump water for cattle to drink, to refrigerate meat, to transport refrigerated meat and to sell meat in supermarkets in open fridges and freezers.

The UK government’s own website www.direct.gov.uk says: “the production of meat and dairy products has a much bigger effect on climate change and other environmental impacts than that of most grains, pulses and outdoor fruit and vegetables. A Cornell University study concluded that animal protein production requires more than eight times as much fossil-fuel energy than production of the equivalent amount of plant protein. It would be a far better use of resources if we humans simply ate some of the vegetable protein directly.

It’s only in the last 50 years that we have massively increased the quantity of meat and dairy we consume, whilst at the same time doing less manual work. Our bodies simply cannot cope with so much animal protein. And of course we now eat poor quality meat, often stuffed with antibiotics, growth promoters and other chemicals, and we prepare it badly as well. There’s no getting away from it – large quantities of cheese burgers and pepperoni pizzas are simply not good for you. On present trends half of all children in the UK in 2020 will be clinically obese because they eat too many poor quality burgers and other junk food, and because they do not do enough exercise.

This is not a call for everyone to go vegetarian. This is about eating less meat, and making sure that when we do eat meat it is better quality meat, to help both the planet and our health.