A meaty issue

I first decided to become a vegetarian as a child. This was not a popular decision at home among my meat eating parents and was the source of an onogoing struggle until at some point during my late adolescence I starte eating meat again.  I returned to my vegetarian roots about six years ago, reinforced by my exploration of Buddhism which prohibits killing and therefore the consumption of meat, and I haven't looked back.

cowface.jpgThe undeniable growth in awareness of how food is produced, demonstrated by the plethora of books and articles about the issue that one sees in bookshops, newspapers and magazines doesn't quite seem to have addressed the benefits on all of these fronts of eating less meat.

Friends of the Earth of which I am a member is doing its bit with its Real Food Campaign. However, a recent article in its member's publications Earthmatters demonstrates the need for more coherent and consistent approaches to food policy.

The article, entitled 'Meaty Brain Food' by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame and the author of The River Cottage Meat Book extoled the virtues of better animal husbandry and being able to trace your meat.

But as I pointed out in a letter to Earthmatters, whilst improvements in animal welfare are welcome they will not address the essential fact that the production of meat for human consumption is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.

There are lots of reasons why this is the case.

ciwf_reprtcover.jpgFarming animals is incredibly environmnetally intensive. Land use provides a compeling example. One acre of land produces 20 pounds of beef protein or alternatively 261 pounds of rice protein.

Spiralling demand for meat such as chickens, of which people in the UK eat over 1 million a day, has increased demand for soya animal feed which is in turn contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon.

In short, using vast areas of land to grow crops for animal feed doesn't make sense when more food can be ontained by using land to grow crops for direct human consumption.

Other valuable resources are used in meat production too. Each calorie of meat takes far more water to produce than a calorie of grain, so one of the simplest ways to increase the ratio of food produced to water is to reduce dependence on meat.

Meat production also fuels global warming. Livestock herds account for 10 per cent of all greenhouse gases, including approximately 25 per cent of methane emissions one of the most damaging grenhouse gases.

Unfortunately the vast majority of people remain unaware of the environmental impact of meat production. There are however some excellent resources out there that I've just discovered.

Chief among them is Compassion in World Farming's 'Eat Less Meat' campaign, the centre piece of which is their report entitled 'The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat'. If you're busy the report summary 'Reducing Meat Consumption: The case for urgent reform' is a quick but highly informative read.

For more information:

Compassion in World Farming

East Less Meat

The Global Benefits of Easting Less Meat 

Reducing Meat Consumption: the case for urgent reform