Go easy on meat and animal products
The statistics are stark: one-third of the world’s grain is fed to livestock, while 1 billion humans are undernourished. If the grain – a good source of protein, and much of it produced overseas – was distributed to people who need it instead, world food poverty could be wiped out at a stroke.
Our current animal-intensive, factory-farming system of producing food is very good at turning a legacy of fossil fuels into cheap eatables, but disastrously inefficient in more ecologically-valid measures such as energy and land area. Waste from livestock production, and from high-intensity animal feed production, pollutes waterways and creates nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas. Cattle are also a major source of another greenhouse gas, methane!
Animals are used as production units in an industry which relies on a battery of artificial inputs. Routine antibiotics, growth hormones and other medicines keep animals alive in terribly unhealthy conditions and make them grow unnaturally fast. This system is bad for the environment and for the animals, and isn’t doing any favours for the people who are eating unhealthy creatures full of chemical residues.
- Some people argue that vegetarianism is the only way. This goes further than concern for the environment as a whole, and brings in the idea that causing suffering to animals is intrinsically wrong. As it is virtually impossible to produce milk without killing calves, or eggs without killing chicks, the logical conclusion is to go completely vegan, avoiding using any animal products at all.
- Other people feel that it is more environmentally sound to maintain traditional mixed farming systems, in which sheep and cattle graze less productive land and steeper slopes, chickens help by eating pests, and pigs turn over the soil by their natural rootling habits.
- One problem with vegetarianism – and especially veganism – from an environmental point of view is that these diets often rely on imported crops such as nuts and soya beans which do not grow well in the UK climate. Food miles are a measure of the impact of importing food.
- Soya growing is now a big agri-industry and as such has significant impacts.
- Even though eating some meat can be ecologically sustainable, the amounts of meat Westerners eat at present are not. Instead of being produced as part of traditional, integrated land management, our meat is produced by taking up the world’s supply of grazing land, of soya and of grain. Livestock production is one of the greatest causes of deforestation in the world, and overgrazing leads to desertification in many regions. Cattle grazing uses up around half of the world’s land surface area – land that could otherwise be left as wilderness or farmed to provide food for local people.
- One radical approach is only to eat meat that is culled from the wild. Rabbits, grey squirrels and deer are overpopulated in many areas of the UK, a natural surplus product of our current regime of land management, with its lack of wolves and other natural predators. (There is of course no guarantee at present that any meat on sale will either be the result of ecologically sensitive ‘harvesting’ or have been killed in a compassionate way.)
- Fish can be part of a sustainable diet – but only if you are careful which fish you eat. The Marine Conservation Society gives Top ten tips for buying seafood. Detailed information about particular fish can be found at FishOnline. Some would argue that we should avoid eating fish because many current fishing and fish-farming practises are cruel and environmentally damaging.