Environment Europe

How vegetarianism can help save environment & the planet

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In their lifetime, the typical British carnivore consumes more than 11,000 animals, each of which required a sizable amount of land, energy, and water to get to the dinner plate. It’s time to consider waste along with taste.

Eat less meat. It’s the easiest and most affordable thing anyone can do if we really want to lessen human impact on the environment. A staggeringly wasteful, energy- and land-intensive farming system that destroys forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas, and the air, relies on fossil fuels, and contributes significantly to climate change is what produces the majority of the beef and chicken joints on our plates. The UN, scientists, economists, and politicians all now acknowledge that the way we breed animals contributes to a number of interconnected human and ecological problems, but with 1 billion people already going hungry and 3 billion more mouths to feed in the next 50 years, there is a pressing need to reconsider our relationship with animals.

One is the planet’s overheating.

We consume twice as many animals as we did 30 years ago, or about 230 million tonnes, annually. We primarily breed four species—chickens, cows, sheep, and pigs—all of which require enormous amounts of food and water, release large amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases, and generate mountains of physical waste.

The answer is a lot, but the numbers are iffy and disputed. However, how much stress does our meat consumption place on ecological systems? More than all other forms of transportation combined, the UN estimated that the combined climate change emissions from animals raised for meat in 2006 accounted for about 18% of all global emissions.

The authors of the report, titled Livestock’s Long Shadow, did not just count the methane released by the farting, belching cattle; they also took into account the gases from their manures, the oil used to transport their carcasses to markets that were frequently thousands of miles away, the electricity required to keep the meat cool, the gas used to cook it, the energy required to plow and harvest the fields that produced the crops the animals ate, and even the energy required to pump the water the cattle need.

However, attempts to fully account for meat consumption are criticized as being overly simplistic. The number was revised upward by two World Bank scientists in 2009 to more than 51 percent. Should all the emissions from clearing forests be taken into account? What about the emissions from the fertilizer used to grow the crops that are fed to the animals? What about the emissions from the steel used to build the boats that transport the cattle? What about the “default” emissions, or the greenhouse gases that would be released by substitute activities to grow food if we stopped eating meat? And should the studies have been based on enormous US factory farms or on more sustainable breeding in Europe?

It’s a nightmare of accounting, but depending on how it’s done, the percentage of emissions from livestock that contribute to climate change can range from 5 to 10 percent to 50 percent. According to a Food Climate Research Network report from the previous year, the UK’s consumption of meat and dairy products is to blame for 8% of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. Regardless of how it is measured, livestock farming is among the top three emitters of greenhouse gases and one of the main causes of environmental deterioration.

2 Consuming land.

The mother of all food crises is predicted to occur in the next 40 years due to the world’s population expected to increase by 3 billion, a shift toward more meat consumption in developing nations, and these factors. In addition to the amount of land that can be used, meat eaters require a lot more space than vegetarians. An average American family, which consumes about 270 pounds of meat annually, requires 20 times as much land as a Bangladeshi family, which subsists on rice, beans, vegetables, and fruit.

Currently, livestock or the production of food for those animals occupy close to 30% of the planet’s available ice-free surface area. Daily hunger affects one billion people, but most of the world’s crops are now consumed by livestock. A 1997 Cornell University study found that while 302 million hectares were used for livestock, only about 13 million hectares were used to grow vegetables, rice, fruit, potatoes, and beans in the US. The issue is that farm animals are poor at turning food into flesh. The best poultry is broiler, which requires about 3 point 4 kg to produce 1 kg of meat, whereas pigs require 8 point 4 kg.

Other academics have calculated that we could feed at least twice as many people as we do now if the grain that is currently fed to animals in western countries were instead consumed directly by people.

To make matters worse, our insatiable appetite for meat and dairy products has resulted in overpopulation of vulnerable lands, severe soil erosion, and desertification. From southern England’s lowlands to Ethiopia’s highlands and Nepal’s mountains, overgrazing results in significant fertility loss, flooding, and other negative effects.

Yet care must be taken when interpreting the data. Millions of animals inhabit marginal land that is completely unsuitable for growing crops, but animal manures can revitalize the soil.

Consider this, however, before we jump to conclusions and group all livestock rearing together: in western countries, animals are bred and raised to put on as much meat as possible in the shortest amount of time before being slaughtered. However, in more underdeveloped areas, cattle are an integral part of human life and culture and, for many millions of pastoralists, the only source of food and income, especially in dry regions. The ceaseless movement of these nomadic herders over vast areas is the backbone of many African economies and, a major new study from the International Institute for Environment and Development suggests, a far more ecologically efficient method of farming than the way cattle are reared in Australia or the US.

3 Excessive water consumption.

When you eat a steak or a chicken, you are effectively consuming the water that the animal required to survive and grow. According to vegetarian author John Robbins, producing one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize, or rice requires 60, 108, 168, and 229 pounds of water, respectively. A pound of beef, however, requires more than 20,000 pounds of water, or about 9,000 liters. Likely 1,000 liters of water are required to produce one liter of milk. In contrast, a broiler chicken uses far less water to produce the same amount of meat as a cow (1,500 liters).

The thirstiest animals include pigs. Nearly 75 million gallons of fresh water are required annually by an average-sized North American pig farm with 80,000 pigs. A large one, with a million or more pigs, might require as much as a city.

In direct competition for water with cities is farming, which uses 70% of the water available to humans. However, as the demand for meat rises, there will be less water available for both crops and drinking. Rich but water-scarce nations like Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Gulf states, and South Africa argue that it makes sense to grow food in less developed nations to preserve their water supplies. These nations are now purchasing or leasing millions of hectares of land in Ethiopia and other nations to meet their food needs. Every cow raised in the southern Ethiopian state of Gambella and exported to Abu Dhabi or Britain relieves pressure on water supplies at home while increasing it elsewhere.

4 causing the destruction of forests.

Since 30 years ago, international agribusiness has focused on tropical rainforests, not for their timber but rather for the land that can be used to graze cattle or grow soy and palm oil. Millions of hectares of trees have been cut down to make hamburgers for the US and, more recently, to make animal feed for farms in Europe, China, and Japan.

According to Friends of the Earth’s most recent food report, What’s Feeding Our Food, an area roughly equal to Latvia or twice the size of Belgium is converted to farmland every year, along with an estimated 6 million hectares of forest land and a comparable amount of peat and wetlands in other places. According to the statement, the majority of that money is used to support livestock or to cultivate the crops needed to feed cattle.

As soy becomes the primary crop grown worldwide for chicken feed, cattle ranching is being pushed further into the forest by the industry.

5 Endangering the environment.

The western livestock and poultry industries are now dominated by industrial-scale agriculture, and a single farm can now produce as much waste as an entire city. For every kilogram of edible beef a cow puts on, it excretes about 40 kilograms of manure, and the effect can be dramatic if thousands of them are packed into a small space. Their waste is channeled into enormous lagoons that can hold up to 40 million gallons of waste each. These cesspools frequently burst, leak, or overflow, dumping nitrates, phosphorus, and nitrogen into rivers and underground water sources.

Rivers spanning tens of thousands of miles in the US, Europe, and Asia are regularly polluted. About 10 million fish were killed in a single spill of millions of gallons of waste from a pig factory lagoon in North Carolina in 1995, which also resulted in the shellfishing closure of 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands.

The biodiversity of the planet is now in danger due to the sheer number of animals raised for human consumption. A large US organization called Conservation International estimates that 23 out of 40 or so global “biodiversity hotspots,” or the places thought to be most valuable for life, are now seriously impacted by livestock production. More than one third of the 825 “ecoregions” around the world identified by conservation group WWF are said to be threatened by livestock.

6 Degrading the seas.

Not all of the region’s issues are related to the current oil pollution disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River’s mouth typically experiences a “dead zone” in the summertime due to the massive amounts of excess nutrients from factory farms, sewage, nitrogen compounds, and fertilizer that are carried downstream by the powerful river. These nutrients come from animal waste, factory farms, sewage, and a variety of other sources. As a result, the oxygen in the water is completely consumed by algal blooms, making it impossible for any living things to survive.

From the South China Sea to the Scandinavian fjords, nearly 400 dead zones with sizes ranging from one to over 70,000 sq km have now been identified. Even though it’s not the only problem, animal farming is one of the worst.

7 Degrading air.

Anyone who has ever lived close to a sizable factory farm knows how strong the smells can be. Additionally to greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide, pigs and cows also produce a large number of other polluting gases. Although statistics for the entire world are not available, in the US, livestock and crops used for animal feed account for 37% of pesticide use, more than 50% of all manufactured antibiotics, and a third of the nitrogen and phosphorus in fresh water. Livestock also produces nearly two thirds of the man-made ammonia, which is a significant factor in acid rain. Additionally, intensive factory farming of animals adds to ozone pollution.

8. Making us more vulnerable to illness.

Salmonella, E coli, cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform are just a few of the pathogens found in animal waste that can spread to people through contact, manure, and water runoff. Millions of pounds of antibiotics are also annually added to animal feed to hasten the growth of cattle. However, this makes it more difficult to treat human illnesses because it fuels the emergence of resistant bacteria.

9 Letting the world’s oil run dry.

Oil is the foundation of the western animal farming economy, which is why there were food riots in 23 countries in 2008 when the price of oil reached its peak. Every step in the process that results in meat on the table requires electricity, including the production of the fertilizer used to grow the animal feed, the pumping of the water required to keep the animals alive from rivers or deep underground, and the fuel required to transport the meat in enormous refrigerated ships and onto supermarket shelves. According to some studies, animal agriculture now consumes up to one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the US.

10. In many ways, meat is expensive.

According to surveys, 5–6 percent of people eat no meat at all, and millions more consciously limit or never eat meat. New government data that show we consumed 5% less meat by weight in 2016 than in 2005 support this.

The Vegetarian Society estimates that the average British carnivore eats over 11,000 animals in a lifetime, including 1 goose, 1 rabbit, 4 cattle, 18 pigs, 23 sheep and lambs, 28 ducks, 39 turkeys, 1,158 chickens, 3,593 shellfish, and 6,182 fish. Nevertheless, the numbers are still mind-boggling.

For this, claim the vegetarians, meat eaters face higher risks of becoming obese, developing cancer, developing heart disease, and other illnesses, in addition to financial ruin. Generally speaking, a meat-based diet is twice as expensive as a vegetarian one.

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