Blog Action Day is a perfect opportunity to reinforce one of the themes at GMO Journal – namely that the food choices you make not only impact your family and you personally but they also impact the environment, in a big way. In a world where sometimes it seems that our life is determined by someone or something else, it is refreshing to realize that your individual choice can and does make a profound difference. We all have that ability and it does not require you to demonstrate, sign petitions, or volunteer your time for a cause – although those are all great things to do. So, before you pick up that burger, hot dog, or dig into a steak, consider the following.
A 2006 United Nations report came to what was an unappetizing conclusion for many meat eaters:
Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation. … [and also that] the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale, from local to global.
That’s right, zealous meat eating (think once or twice a day) is, to put it simply, bad for the environment. In fact, never has the link between animal agriculture and problems of land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity been clearer. Additionally, because in the future global populations will rise, and a rising population leads to greater demands for meat, especially as incomes rise, environmental problems will only intensify. The UN report, for example, notes that global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
How is that possible, you ask, that so many of the environmental problems are linked to animal agriculture. For starters, lots of land is needed because feeding animals for meat, dairy, and egg production requires growing some ten times as much crops as we would need had we consumed plant foods. Forests are often cleared to grow the soy and corn to feed cattle. According to the UN report, for example, animal agriculture takes up a 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the total land surface of the planet. As a result, farmers growing cattle for slaughter are probably one of, if not the biggest, causes of slashing and burning the world’s forests. Today, 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland and feed crops cover much of the remainder.
Energy and fossil fuels are also wasted in preparing animals for human consumption. Specifically, animals have to be transported to slaughterhouses, and after slaughter, their carcasses require refrigeration. After that, their flesh is distributed all across the country, with additional stops along the way, at times, to grinding houses. Producing a calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels – and spewing more than ten times as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide – as does a calorie of plant protein.
But CO2 isn’t our only problem. Gases, such methane and nitrous oxide, are also contributors to the greenhouse effect, with 23 and 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide, respectively. And while animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, it emits 37% of our methane, and an incredible 65% of our nitrous oxide.
But there is more. With animal agriculture comes wasted resources and pollution. For more information about the environmental degradation that results from animal agriculture visit: http://www.goveg.com/environment.asp.
The future health of our planet is, undoubtedly, grim. So what can you do? Taking personal responsibility for consumption habits will be a good start. Try going vegetarian. The University of Chicago reports that going vegan is 50% more effective than switching to a hybrid car in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As a vegetarian myself for the last 15 years, I have heard from people on numerous occasions that they simply cannot imagine living without meat. Maybe today is a day you start imagining and making that possibility a reality. But even if you are not ready to go cold turkey, no pun intended, you may consider cutting down on your meat consumption. For example, according to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. roads. How about making your Monday meatless?
It’s a cliche and its a trite one but making a difference begins with you. It’s time admit our complicity in the environmental problems and stop waiting for someone else to devise a solution. Go meatless, and make it organic.
Further Reading on the issue:
- Livestock’s long shadow, by The Broker magazine
- Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns, by UN News Centre
- Livestock a major threat to environment, by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Vegetarian is the New Prius, by The Huffington Post