Factoring meat into our carbon footprint

AUSTRALIA - The debate about climate change has been raging for a few years now and it is certainly beginning to heat up. The sceptics are slowly being muffled by the overwhelming scientific evidence. However, there is one simple thing which isn’t being mentioned in the global warming debate - our diets.
calendar icon 30 July 2007
clock icon 4 minute read
Speaking during the 2nd Annual Vegan Expo, Bne Sherman said that Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory identified agriculture as responsible for almost 20 per cent of net national greenhouse emissions in 2001. On average Australians eat over 70 kilograms of meat per person each year. Cut out beef from your diet and you'll save 1.45 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.

By way of comparison, if you were to switch from a normal sedan car to a hybrid car you would reduce your annual emissions by only just over 1 tonne. If you reduced your dairy intake by just two cups of milk a week, you would save 250kg of greenhouse pollution in a year.

These statistics show that reducing your meat and dairy consumption or, even better, committing to a vegetarian or vegan diet, is the easiest thing every one of us can do to address global warming. The time has come to factor meat into our carbon footprint.

With the increasing income of many nations today, there is a growing and unprecedented demand for animal products. A United Nations report states that “the global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector”. Global meat production is projected to double over the next 40 years. Demand for milk and eggs is also set to increase.

In Australia, 58 per cent of the land mass is used for agriculture and principally for grazing animals and the production of crops used in animal feed. This is more than half our country used for the livestock industry.

However, factory farming creates an equivalent environmental disaster. Animals in factory farms are fed on cereals and soya. Some 670 million tonnes of cereals were fed to livestock in 2002. This is projected to increase to 1 billion tonnes of feed in the next 20 years.

Cereals and soya are grown on land which has been converted from natural habitats, forests and grasslands, into croplands and paddocks for grazing. Since the 1960’s about 200 million hectares of the world’s tropical forest has been destroyed, mostly for cattle grazing and growing crops for animal feed. We need to consider the energy which is consumed by the production and transport of these huge amounts of feed.

While the figures above are sufficient to motivate many people to change their diet, the most important reason to consider our meat-eating habits is the lifetime of suffering inflicted upon the masses of animals rushed down the assembly line of factory farm production every year. The magnitude and extent of their suffering is greater than many of us are prepared to acknowledge.

This is why we need to keep in mind that while environmental arguments can be useful in bringing the issue to people’s attention, they can also distract and embroil us in a frustrating debate. Agribusiness is now grinding their PR wheels and trying to convince us that by re-using their waste to generate energy and power towns they are in fact, turning their factory farms ethical and “green”.

I challenge anyone to argue that a “green” factory farm will not inflict just as much pain and suffering on an animal. At the end of the day, if we are serious about addressing climate change, we need to broaden our focus and consider how our food choices impact upon all beings with whom we share this planet.

Source: Online Opinion

Further reading on food production and carbon emissions

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