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

There are three main objections:

The first is that the idea of artificial meat is disgusting. If you feel this way, I invite you to look at how your sausages, burgers and chicken nuggets are raised, slaughtered and processed. Having worked on an intensive pig farm, I am more aware than most of what disgusting looks like.

The second objection is that cultured meat undermines local food production. Perhaps those who make this claim are unaware of where animal feed comes from. Passing Argentinian soya through a nearby pig before it reaches you does not make it any more local than turning it directly into food for humans.

The third objection has greater merit: Cultured meat lends itself to corporate concentration. Again, the animal feed industry — and, increasingly, livestock production — has been captured by giant conglomerates.

However, we should fight to ensure that cultured meat does not go the same way: In this sector as in all others, we need strong anti-trust laws.

This could also be a chance to break our complete dependence on artificial nitrogen. Traditionally, animal and plant farming were integrated through the use of manure. Losses from this system led to a gradual decline in soil fertility. The development of industrial fertilizers saved us from starvation, but at a high environmental cost.

Today, the link between livestock and crops has mostly been broken: Crops are grown with industrial chemicals while animal slurry stacks up, unused, in stinking lagoons, wipes out rivers and creates dead zones at sea. When it is applied to the land, it threatens to accelerate antibiotic resistance.

In switching to a plant-based diet, we could make use of a neat synergy. Most protein crops — peas and beans — capture nitrogen from the air, fertilizing themselves and raising nitrate levels in the soil that subsequent crops, such as cereals and oilseeds, can use.

While the transition to plant protein is unlikely to eliminate the global system’s need for artificial fertilizer, the pioneering work of vegan organic growers, using only plant-based composts and importing as little fertility as possible from elsewhere, should be supported by research that governments have so far failed to fund.

Understandably, the livestock industry will resist all this, using the bucolic images and pastoral fantasies that have beguiled us for so long.

However, it cannot force us to eat meat. The shift is ours to make. It becomes easier every year.

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