Environment

Summary

Livestock farming uses far more resources than agriculture. The Stern Report warned of a global catastrophe if nothing is done to stop global warming. The UN’s report Livestock’s Long Shadow described how livestock farming contributes more to global warming than all the world’s transport put together! Numerous modelling studies show how greenhouse gas emissions could be substantially reduced if people cut their meat intake. Going vegan could cut your emissions seven-fold. The health benefits are an added bonus! If you care about the environment then it is essential that you adopt a green diet – a vegan diet.

For more information on how what you eat affects the environment see: www.viva.org.uk/what-we-do/our-work/environment

Livestock farming requires vast amounts of land, water and fuel, harms biodiversity and leads to species extinctions. It devastates ecosystems, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, uses up water, oil and coal and contributes to climate change. It causes about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

It takes far more resources to feed a meat-eater than a vegetarian or vegan; animal protein requires 5-10 times more water than vegetable protein. Leading scientists have issued stern warnings about global food supplies, saying that the world may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet to avoid catastrophic shortages.

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a report written for the British government in 2006 by economist Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics (LSE) and also chair of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at Leeds University and LSE (Stern, 2006). The report discussed the effect of global warming on the world economy. It is significant as the largest and most widely known and discussed report of its kind. The Stern Report concluded that although dealing with global warming by cutting emissions of greenhouse gases will cost a lot of money (about one per cent of the world’s GDP), doing nothing about it will cost the world an awful lot more, anything from five-20 times more. The report warned that we face losing up to a fifth of the world’s wealth from unmitigated climate change suggesting that if unchecked, it will devastate the global economy on the scale of the Great Depression or the 20th century’s world wars.

The United Nations’ report, Livestock’s Long Shadow says livestock farming is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transport (cars, buses, trucks, trains, ships and planes) combined (FAO, 2006). Changing the way we eat could have a phenomenal effect on the environment.

And what about soya? The vast majority of soya grown in the Amazon is used for animal feed so people can eat meat and dairy. Vegetarians and vegans eat a tiny fraction of that and if you want to be sure to avoid soya from the rainforests, buy organic.

The links between health and the environment are also beginning to emerge; the diet that is good for us is also good for the planet. A 2012 study modelling consumption patterns in the UK estimates that a 50 per cent reduction in meat and dairy consumption, if replaced by fruit, vegetable and cereals, could result in a 19 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and up to nearly 43,600 fewer deaths per year in the UK (Scarborough et al., 2012). Pulses were included in the modelling but were not explicitly discussed as they were included in the ‘vegetable’ category. In other words they were not thought to have an influence on health that is different to vegetables.

As discussed previously, researchers from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food said that a global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to eight million lives by 2050, lead to healthcare-related savings and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds (Springmann et al., 2016). The report said that adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050, but the widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring emissions down by 63 per cent and a vegan diet would reduce them by 70 per cent. Lead author of the report, Dr Marco Springmann, said: “The size of the projected benefits should encourage individuals, industry and policymakers to act decisively to make sure that what we eat preserves our environment and health”.

Demands on food production are ever-increasing and meeting them globally is a substantial challenge. Feeding animals food that humans could eat is clearly a waste of precious resources. One study revealed that 36 per cent of calories produced by the world’s crops are currently being used for animal feed with only 12 per cent of these calories eventually finding their way into the human diet as meat and other animal products (Cassidy et al., 2013). Growing food solely for human consumption, without feeding it through farmed animals, could increase available calories by as much as 70 per cent, which could feed an additional four billion people! There really is no longer any excuse for wasteful Western diets now.

The EPIC team investigated to what extent an environmentally friendlier diet is also a healthier diet in the EPIC-NL cohort study (Biesbroek et al., 2014). They found that substituting meat with other major food groups was associated with a lower mortality risk and a reduced environmental burden. Especially when vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pasta, rice or couscous were used to replace meat.

A study from German consumer protection organisation Foodwatch, says that giving up meat could drastically reduce your carbon footprint. Meat-eaters’ diets are responsible for almost twice the emissions as vegetarians’ and going vegan could cut your emissions more than seven-fold (Foodwatch, 2008).

Other research shows that you can improve your health and do your part for the environment by dropping meat from the menu. Researchers from California looked at the diets of 34,000 people of which around half were vegetarians. They found that meaty diets required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertiliser and 1.4 times more pesticides than the vegetarian diets (Marlow et al., 2009). Lead author, Dr Hal Marlow, said “Almost everyone has some knowledge that it costs less environmentally or is healthier to be a vegetarian, but there’s no understanding yet of really what that means until you put some numbers behind it”.