Overview | Global Warming | Deforestation and Loss of Biodiversity | Overuse of Fresh Water | Destruction of the Oceans | Fish Farming | Pollution: Antibiotic Pollution | Chemical Pollution | Heavy Metal Pollution | Pesticide Pollution | Desertification | Bird Flu | Health | References
Deforestation and Loss of Biodiversity
The loss of forests and the loss of biodiversity are almost one and the same thing as forests contain 60 per cent of the world’s extraordinarily rich selection of flora and fauna. They also play a vital role in climate regulation and are an important sink for carbon. Livestock are one of the major causes of deforestation, almost certainly the major cause.
During the 1980s as much as 15 million hectares of tropical forest were destroyed every year. In the 1990s, a decade when awareness was probably at its highest, the devastation accelerated. Between August 2003 and August 2004, 700,000 hectares were destroyed in Brazil alone – an area the size of Belgium.
It is estimated by the Global Forest Resources Assessment that forest covers less than 30 per cent of the total land surface. In Britain it is under five per cent of primary forest for a land that was once 80 per cent forested (GRFA, 2005).
The destruction of forests has continued unabated, at a rate of 8.9 million hectares annually in the decade to 2000 and 7.3 million hectares annually between 2000 and 2005. Official estimates often offset this loss against the planting of new forests, which have been running at 2.8 million hectares since 2000. However, many of these forests are monocultures and offer not a fraction of the biodiversity of the primary forests which have been destroyed.
The process of slash and burn – cutting down undergrowth saplings and unwanted trees and burning them – eradicates all growth and unlocks centuries worth of stored CO2 in only minutes. Tropical deforestation is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of the total of human-caused (anthropogenic) carbon dioxide emissions.
There are several causes of deforestation, which include logging, acid rain, clearing by landless and poverty-stricken farmers, urbanisation and fire but the overwhelming reason is ranching and the growing of fodder crops. What really kick-started this wholesale destruction was an explosion decades ago in the US fast-food hamburger market. It required masses of low-quality cheap beef reasonably close at hand. In 1996, the US imported 80 million pounds of beef from Brazil (Greenpeace, 2006). Meat is also imported from other Central and South American countries.
It has been estimated that just one hamburger made from Costa Rican beef results in the eradication of one large tree, 50 saplings, seedlings from some 20-30 different species, hundreds of species of insects and a huge diversity of mosses, fungi and microorganisms (Gellatley, 1996).
To make the situation worse, Burger King, Wendy’s, McDonalds and all the other multinational chains, have exported the hamburger culture to every corner of the world, increasing the global demand for beef.
When an economic value is applied to rainforests, it is estimated that when sustainably harvested for fruits and latex, one hectare of Peruvian Amazon rainforest is worth £3,762. The same area of land is worth only £551 for clear-cut timber and a paltry £81 as pasture.
Very little is said about the 60 million people who live in the forests and depend upon them for their homes, their source of survival and spirituality and their culture. Their deep knowledge of these wondrous places counts for nothing and they are accused of standing in the way of progress in the scramble to supply the world with beef and other meats.
Europeans have made their own contribution to this destruction with their ever-increasing dependence upon cheap meat. Most of the high-protein supplements fed to Europe’s livestock come from the developing world and increasingly from Brazil in the form of soya. Europe is the key market for soya from the felled Amazon rainforest with some18 million tons being imported annually (Greenpeace, 2006).
This feed finds itself indirectly part of just about every piece of fast food fried chicken, burger, cheese pizza, sausage or bacon sold across the EU.
According to Greenpeace there are just three large corporations controlling the trade – the ADM Corporation (Archer Daniels Midland), Bunge and Cargill. These giant companies provide everything farmers required to rape the forests, including pesticides and fertilisers, transport and storage. In 2004-2005, 1.2 million hectares were planted with soya in the Amazon.
It has been argued that soya production follows deforestation for logging and cattle ranching and is not the reason for it - but this is no longer true. Huge tracts of forest are being cleared, often by slave labour, specifically for soya production.
The current situation is that 70 per cent of cleared Amazon rainforest is used for ranching – for the grazing of hamburger cattle – while most of the remaining 30 per cent is used for growing soya animal feed production (UN FAO, 2006).
Sadly it is a game without end as the soils of rainforest land are thin and after a few years of being saturated with agrochemicals they become unproductive and the process of clearing and burning is repeated.
This is not simply a Central and South American problem but is happening across the world and has been constant throughout history. Europe lost most of its primary forests in the 19th century but the lessons still haven’t been learned and clear felling continues in Canada, US and Australia and often for reasons of animal agriculture.
Developing countries across the world are encouraged to increase exports by the World Bank and the IMF, who fund road building into forests to facilitate it. These, of course, provide access to loggers and make raw materials accessible, which is closely followed by global corporations such as Cargill who begin the process of destruction.
Deforestation is not something that happens accidentally because governments and industry are unaware of the problems. It is a process that takes place because all those responsible work in cooperation to make it happen. Deforestation is a policy not a mistake and livestock – or rather the profits that can be made from them - are the driving force behind it.
The loss of forests is not an abstract process but has far-reaching implications, most of which we are unaware until it is too late. The UN FAO believes that livestock are the major cause of biodiversity loss (the loss of plant and animal species) as they are the major cause of deforestation.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2005) estimates that species are disappearing 100 to 1000 times faster than should be expected on the basis of fossil records. It believes that one-third of all amphibians, a fifth of mammals and one-eighth of all birds are now threatened with extinction. This is based on known species and yet it is estimated that 90 per cent of all existing species are unknown and so the true rate of extinction could be 10 times greater than that estimated by the MEA.
Valuable sources of sustainable timber, food, clothing and potential medicines are being eliminated and essential contributions to recycling of nutrients, pollination, seed dispersal, climate control and purification of air and water are being trashed without a second thought. This is much more than simply a moral issue.
As there is essentially no longer a supply of new land anywhere in the world, if the meat and dairy industries continue to expand there will be further encroachment into the planet’s remaining forests and wildernesses and a rapid intensification of agriculture on the land that is already being used. It is a deeply depressing scenario which will ensure that the environment continues its remorseless trend towards making life extremely difficult for us as a species or even impossible.This is the opinion of Viva! and many serious environmental scientists.
8 York Court, Wilder Street, Bristol BS2 8QH, UK
T: 0117 944 1000 F: 0117 924 4646 E: email@example.com