“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems – at every scale from local to global. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
United Nations Food and Agriculture Policy Branch
The lives of billions of farmed and wild animals are at stake, as are the last remaining wilderness areas of this wondrous planet we inhabit. We are in a fight for the survival of so much that we and you hold dear – extraordinary places, a myriad of magnificent creatures, even the lifeblood of our world itself.
Agriculture causes one quarter of ALL global warming gases and livestock farming causes four fifths of that. This is significantly more than all the world’s transport (14 per cent) and similar to the damage by industry (21 per cent). But farming animals causes so much more damage even than this.
Right now, fires are burning across the ancient and beautiful Amazon rainforest. There have been over 80,000 blazes this year alone. As you know, this is home to one tenth of the world’s species and produces one fifth of our oxygen. But what you may not know is that just four months ago, a free trade deal was agreed between Brazil and the UK/EU to encourage the vandalism.
Our nation has given Brazil financial aid for its beef industry, directly encouraging the destruction of the forests, which are trashed for cattle grazing and soya fodder. The fodder is exported worldwide – including to the UK - to feed cattle, pigs and chickens. Meat eating is driving the fire that scorches the earth’s lungs.
This harrowing scene of destruction is similar across the world. As animal agriculture expands, natural wildernesses shrink. We are now experiencing the world’s sixth mass extinction, with one million species at risk.
For convenience, we use shorthand to describe momentous events that are eroding our planet. ´Loss of biodiversity´ is one example. It means the extinction of plant and animal species that were once abundant. It is the desperation of a drowning turtle caught in a fishing net, it is the devastation of forests across the globe, it is the disappearance of beautiful wild cats such as the jaguar and Malayan tiger because they no longer have a home.
Every piece of meat that’s eaten, every fillet of fish and every chunk of cheese contributes directly to this accelerating erosion of our world - and all because they are foods produced in an orgy of inefficiency that the world can no longer afford. They are the main reason why forests are felled, wetlands are drained, deserts are spreading and oceans are dying.
A ‘beef’ steer will consume 17kg of vegetable protein to produce 1kg of meat and all other ´food´ animals repeat this inefficiency to one degree or another. To say it is insane sounds too glib - but it is insane, irresponsible, obscene.
Can a vegan diet really help save our world?
Oxford University is at the forefront of researching the environmental impacts of farming. One of their lead researchers is the author of a crucial study published in Science. It looks at almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries, covering 90 per cent of foods eaten. They found that moving from current diets to a vegan diet that excludes animal products has ‘transformative potential’.
Veganism would reduce food’s land use by a massive 76%. Food’s greenhouse emissions, acidification and water pollution would be slashed in half.
For the USA, where meat consumption is three times the global average, dietary change has the potential for an even greater effect on food’s greenhouse gas emissions, reducing them by two thirds to three quarters!
The science is overwhelming, the destruction real and quantifiable and the concern amongst ordinary people profound. Yet almost nothing is done. Look at the Committee on Climate Change’s web site – you won’t find a word about diet. They were set up to advise the UK government on the climate crisis and how to adapt to global warming. Their words are incredibly weak.
Worse than this, most environmental organisations and some animal charities remain largely silent - some even encourage free range meat, fish and dairy consumption under the guise of ‘sustainable’ methods. Free range farming causes staggering damage to the environment. Factory farming is not only unsustainable but cruel beyond belief. All animals are needlessly slaughtered – most as babies.
What’s needed is not stealth but a profound change in people’s habits as soon as possible and that can only happen when they have the facts and when all concerned organisations are communicating the same message – and doing it consistently.