I’ve often contemplated going vegetarian. I really don’t eat all that much meat as it is, and I really don’t think I’d miss it all that much.
I tried it for a while a few years back, but it never stuck. I think I missed certain foods. Bacon, for example.
Daydreaming aside, I come from a family which doesn’t cook meat heavy meals. In fact, my mother could quite happily stop tomorrow. My girlfriend is a vegetarian so I’m being slowly being pushed into becoming a herbivore.
Now, if I am to live up to my eco-credentials (as aspirations of eco-friendliness), maybe it’s the only way forward.
Indeed, all this week, and in the run up to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, the BBC World Service is broadcasting a series called “The Climate Connection“.
The series follows five young people as they explore an issue they believe to be at the heart of the climate change debate. The participants come from all parts of the world and they look at potential solutions to the present crisis.
The series is in partnership with the Open University and their “Creative Climate” project. I’ll leave you to discover more about that if you wish. Just click here.
Tonight’s episode was titled “Does the World Need Meat” and followed a young American student from Columbia University in New York.
Together with the presenter she criss-crossed the United Sates in search of answers to that very question.
I thought it was a really interesting programme that took a very balanced approach and examined each side of the argument in equal measure. It did not try to impose a particular view on the listener in what can be a heated debate.
In fact, the “Climate Connection” series has so far been fair to all sides as it looks at quite contentious subject matters that divide opinion.
America and the beef obsession
Why America? Well, if there was ever an avid meat eating nation, this is it. This is the country that chomped its way through millions upon millions of bison, driving it close to extinction, and continues to worship the cow, especially when it is on their plates.
10 billion animals are killed every year in the United Sates in order to feed their voracious and ever growing appetite for all things sanguine.
Of course, unashamed meat consumption is not limited to the US. Such is the demand that one third of the planet is devoted to rearing livestock and demand is expected to double by 2050.
At present, livestock accounts for 18% of global emissions. In the US, that figure is 2.8%. If you have read one of my previous posts, cows et al burp methane and this causes global warming.
The level of burping has a lot to do with the synthetic grain they are fed. Indeed, if you modify their diet, the burps decrease.
Anyway, in the States, the vast majority of cattle are raised in pens and fed on corn. Makes for a tastier animal apparently. Grass just doesn’t cut it (no pun intended).
And there are estimated to be 9.5 million cattle in such pens, or feed lots as they are also known.
What was interesting was the range of views we got in the programme. We heard from both sides of the debate, starting with the staunch defenders of the meat industry. We heard from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the ‘voice’ of beef industry as their Chief Environmental Counsel described it. Keen to point out that livestock produce only 2.8% of the US emissions, she was defensive when the presenter put it to her that the intensive raising of cattle was unnatural.
The American Farm Bureau, the largest farm lobby group in the US, argued that the US is the most efficient food producer in the world and attempting to regulate the industry through stricter standards would only have the effect of moving production to other, less efficient, parts of the world with the net result that the methane footprint would invariably increase.
Their president declared that the war raging between the meat eaters and the herbivores in the US is a pointless one
We like our hamburgers. We like our steaks, We like our chicken. We like our bacon in the morning and I don’t see that changing in the near future
I am inclined to agree with the naysayers. Nevin Cohen, from the New School in New York, said that their is a fatal flaw in the lobbyists’ argument. They fail to account for the vast swathes of rainforest in South America that is destroyed to make way for the soy plantations that feed the cattle. This raises CO2 levels.
Transporting the grain to the US and elsewhere raises CO2 levels.
As a result, the meat industry has a carbon footprint of rather large proportions.
Perhaps we do, as consumers, need to change our eating habits. Perhaps policy makers need to change policies. Yet, as the economic situation of a country improves, so does its meat consumption.
Maybe Pedro Sanchez of the Earth Institute at Columbia University is right..the American way of producing beef is sick. Through unnatural practices, the US is producing fatty beef by feeding them grain after grain. The world needs meat, but we must do it right. We have to use intelligent farming practices.
The problems associated with large scale soy farming in South America are well known. It is saddening to see hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres of forest being cut down to feed the world’s appetite for meat and other agricultural products.
In its drive to become an agricultural giant, Brazil is plowing one of its most precious resources – the Amazon. We are talking farms the size of large English counties. They are now the world’s largest supplier of soybean and the country could soon replace the American heartlands when it comes to food production.
National Geographic covered the problem in typically excellent fashion.
So, the environmental arguments against meat eating are quite plain to see.
Will the world wake up tomorrow and turn vegetarian? No. People love their meat and will not stop eating it.
Can we modify our farming practices? Perhaps. I leave that to the experts.
More importantly, could alternative methods meet the ever growing demand for meat. Maybe only intensive farming would satisfy it.
I do believe that governments would be reluctant to do away with existing practices, if only for economic reasons. As we have seen, cattle farming in the US is a gargantuan operation with powerful lobbyists supporting it all the way up the steps to Capitol Hill.
Likewise, as much as Brazil would like to increase their eco-standing in the world, soybean farming will continue regardless. Why stop? There is a worldwide demand for the commodity.
If you would like to listen to the programme, click on the link below.
P.S. If you have read this far, well done. Note to self: rant less and keep the posts short.