Tue, Jun 12, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The best way to save the planet? Drop meat and dairy

Farming livestock for food threatens all life on Earth, and ‘free-range’ steak is the worst of all

By George Monbiot  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Yusha

Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: More than anything, this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else almost to zero and still we will drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.

All the evidence now points in one direction: The crucial shift is from an animal to a plant-based diet.

A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein.

It shows that animal farming takes up 83 percent of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18 percent of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76 percent and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production.

Part of the reason is the extreme inefficiency of feeding livestock on grain: Most of its nutritional value is lost in conversion from plant protein to animal protein.

This reinforces my contention that if you want to eat less soya, then you should eat soya: Ninety-three percent of the soya we consume, which drives the destruction of forest, savannah and marshland, is embedded in meat, dairy, eggs and fish, and most of it is lost in conversion.

When we eat it directly, much less of the crop is required to deliver the same amount of protein.

More damaging still is free-range meat: the environmental impacts of converting grass into flesh “are immense under any production method practiced today,” the paper says.

This is because so much land is required to produce every grass-fed steak or chop. Although about twice as much land is used for grazing worldwide as for crop production, it provides just 1.2 percent of the protein we eat.

While much of this pastureland cannot be used to grow crops, it can be used for rewilding: Allowing the many rich ecosystems destroyed by livestock farming to recover, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, protecting watersheds and halting the sixth great extinction in its tracks.

The land that should be devoted to the preservation of human life and the rest of the living world is at the moment used to produce a tiny amount of meat.

Whenever I raise the crucial issue of yield per hectare, I receive a barrage of vituperation and abuse. However, I am not having a go at farmers, just pointing out that the figures do not add up. We can neither feed the world’s growing population nor protect its living systems through animal farming.

Meat and dairy are an extravagance we can no longer afford. There is no way out of this.

Those who claim that “regenerative” or “holistic” ranching mimics nature deceive themselves. The animal industry demands ever-greater assaults on the living world.

Witness the badger slaughter in the UK, now spreading across the country in response to the misguided requests of dairy farmers.

People ask how I would justify the return of wolves, knowing that they would kill some sheep. I ask how they justify the eradication of wolves and a vast range of other wildlife to make way for sheep.

The most important environmental action we can take is to reduce the amount of land used by farming.

Unless you can cook well — and many people have neither the skills nor the space — a plant-based diet can be either boring or expensive. We need better and cheaper vegan-ready meals and quick and easy meat substitutes. The big shift will come with the mass production of cultured meat.

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