Thursday, February 12, 2015

Bad News for the Planet

Is it necessary for people to eat as much meat as we do? Until relatively recently, meat was generally only eaten on special occasions and, even then, largely by the rich. For millennia we have raised animals on non-arable land and fed them indigestible waste from our food production, either harvesting their milk or their meat in return. Eating meat was occasional.

Climate change, with all the challenges that that brings, will be accelerated if we continue to factory farm at the rate we presently do. Intensive farming process is doing little to help the environment. The increase in the production of meat can only serve to further damage our already exhausted planet. Emissions have increased by 144% in Asia alone in the last 50 years, a huge increase particularly when noting this does not include the figures from the UK, Europe and America. The fertilisers used on the food for the animals to eat produces the harmful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide. Additionally animals, for example cows, sheep and goats, secrete high concentrations of toxic methane (23% of the overall global gas emissions) into the atmosphere, a gas they produce naturally. It is clear that, from the beginning of the meat production chain, the planet is being harmed. The outlook worsens when this is coupled with the rest of the food production chain: transporting animals from factory to abattoir and back to factory, to be cleaned then packaged, and distributing the finished product. The majority of studies indicate 10-25% off all emissions that currently hit the Earth’s atmosphere stem from the meat production process. Studies from 2007 suggest rearing animals for food constitutes around 80% of agricultural emissions. This is likely to have increased further when considering in 2004 the Environmental Protection Agency stated agriculture contributed to 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If in 2007 it was projected as being between 10-25%, in 2015 it is likely to have reached the latter end of the percentage, or even bypassed it.

30% of land is currently used for rearing animals for meat production. There are suggestions that this is as high as 38% — in the 2011 article “Five Scenarios for 2050: Conditions for Agriculture and Land Use” the authors claim 38% of global land resources are used for agricultural ends. The largest amount of this percentage is used for grazing animals. 11% of land is arable, meaning sustainable for plant and crop growth, with 33% of the arable land used for animal feed production; 33% of all arable land is being used to feed animals that will ultimately feed us. So around a third of all Earth’s land is used to bring animals into existence and then slaughter them. Mass production of meat drains around 10 times the amount of water than plant-based products do. Some reports consider this is a generous forecast and suggest it is likely to be much higher than that.

We can get more from less with wheat, corn and soya bean growth and consumption than with meat. Would it be so difficult to eat less meat?

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