On World Day for Farmed Animals, Let’s Honor Who They Are

The amount of pain and suffering these animals endure is incalculable.

Posted Oct 02, 2019

Over 150 million animals are killed for food around the world every day—just on land. That comes out to 56 billion land animals killed per year in the U.S. alone. Including wild-caught and farmed fishes, we get a daily total closer to 3 billion animals killed.” 

October 2 is World Day for Farmed Animals. On the website for the annual recognition of what these billions of nonhuman animal (animal) beings go through at the hands of humans before they’re brutally killed for unnecessary meals we read:

“Each year, an estimated 70 billion cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other sentient land-based animals are caged, crowded, deprived, drugged, mutilated and macerated in the world’s factory farms. Then they are brutally slaughtered for our dinner table. Countless aquatic animals are caught and suffocated by vast trawler nets, so we can have our fish fillet or tuna fish salad.”

When fishes and other water animals are thrown into the equation—billions of these sentient beings also are farmed animals—the number easily swells to trillions of animal beings killed each year on food farms and in the wild.

Slaughtering sentience: How much pain per pound do these animals suffer?

“…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?… The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…”  —Jeremy Bentham

It’s a sad fact that the amount of pain and suffering these animals endure before they’re killed truly is incalculable. So-called “food animals,” including fishes and other aquatic animals, are intelligent and sentient, feeling beings. (See “It’s Time to Stop Pretending Fishes Don’t Feel Pain.”) When someone eats animals and animal products, they’re consuming a good deal of pain and suffering. While many people are led to believe that consuming dairy is OK, because the animals are kept alive, dairy animals also deeply suffer when they’re used and abused as “milk machines.” (See “The Scary Facts of Dairy Violate the Five Freedoms” and “The Mistreatment of Female ‘Food Cows’ Includes Sexual Abuse.”)

It’s also important to recognize that “being smart” really isn’t a factor in how much animals, including humans, suffer. It’s what they feel that’s important. (See, for example, “Are Pigs as Smart as Dogs and Does It Really Matter?” and references therein.) A young girl once asked me if so-called “food animals” suffer like her companion dog suffers when he’s in pain. When I said, “Yes, they do,” she blanched and almost started crying.

At another talk I was asked, “How much pain per pound do these animals suffer?” and I said that it was really impossible to calculate any meaningful number, but it’s a good question to get discussions going about what these animal beings endure in their relatively short and horrific lives.

Those who choose to eat other animals and animal products also endure a good deal of cognitive dissonance. On many occasions, I hear people lament something like, “Oh, I know they suffer, but I really like my _____.” You can fill in the blank with meat, beef, pork, bacon, chicken, fish, lobster, and so on. (See “‘Oh, I know animals suffer, but I love my steak'”: The self-serving resolution of the ‘meat paradox.‘”)

I often hear people say that farmed animals aren’t treated all that bad and that there are regulations and laws that adequately protect them. However, it’s a fact that the regulations and laws that supposedly protect farmed animals are incredibly weak and weakly enforced, and egregious violations are very common.

Far too much lip service is given to protecting these amazing and fascinating animals. And it’s because people—including those who use them and eat them—know that there is incredible and inexcusable suffering among the trillions of food animals who wind up in humans’ mouths that regulations and laws exist in the first place. If these animals didn’t suffer, there would be no reason to protect them. Current regulations allow for more than 1,100 pigs to be slaughtered per hour.

Even with iconic animal welfarist Dr. Temple Grandin’s work to help farmed food animals along, the amount of pain and suffering farmed food animals endure is reprehensible, and, of course, avoidable. Only an extremely tiny percentage of these sentient beings may, in fact, benefit, as they trod along her so-called “stairway to heaven” on their way to the killing floor while hearing, seeing, and smelling the slaughter of others. Their lives before their death sentence are actualized—right after birth, as they mature, and when they’re shipped to slaughterhouses as if they’re unfeeling objects—and are inarguably, brutally horrific. (See “Stairways to Heaven, Temples of Doom, and Humane-Washing” and “My Beef With Temple Grandin: Seemingly Humane Isn’t Enough.”)

The language we use to refer to other animals really matters. On World Day for Farmed Animals, let’s honor all nonhumans who are used for food. It’s really a matter of who we eat, rather than what we eat, when it comes to the sentient nonhumans who wind up in our mouths. A few years ago, after I gave a talk and asked people to consider who they are choosing to eat rather than what they were eating, I learned that five people changed their meal plans because the word who made them realize “they were eating pain and suffering.”

Asking people to change their meal plans isn’t some sort of “radical animal rights” move, as some claim it to be. In fact, it’s all about decency. It’s about showing respect and compassion and honoring who these individuals really are: namely, deeply feeling sentient beings. We need a Golden Rule for how we treat other animals based on decency. Silence isn’t golden; it’s deadly.

It’s high time to phase out food animals and animal products once and for all. All of these animal beings need all the help they can get and then some. World Day for Farmed Animals is a perfect time to honor and to respect who these fascinating beings truly are.



Chemical maker DSM sees strong demand for methane-reducing cow feed additive

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Dutch specialty chemicals company DSM is expecting strong demand for its feed additive which limits the amount of methane burped into the air by cows, its contribution to the global fight against climate change.

Methane has a much larger effect on global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2) and reducing methane emissions could buy time to confront the much bigger challenge of cutting the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

“We see a lot of demand already, from food producers and farmers”, DSM’s Clean Cow program director Mark van Nieuwland told Reuters in an interview, even though the launch of the additive, Bovaer, is still more than a year away.

“Large (food) companies have clear climate targets, and they need farms to change to meet those. Also consumers are increasing pressure on farmers and many farmers themselves want to limit emissions.”

Swiss KitKat and Nescafe maker Nestle this month said it wanted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, while French dairy maker Danone has said it wants to halve its CO2 emissions by 2030.

Cows constantly burp up the powerful greenhouse gas methane but DSM says including Bovaer in a cow’s diet could cut these emissions by at least 30%.

“Giving this to only three cows will have the same effect as taking one car off the road”, Van Nieuwland said.

DSM expects to launch Bovaer in Europe either late next year or in early 2021. It is currently waiting for authorization from the European Union to label it as an environmentally beneficial product.


The company estimates that Bovaer has a potential global market value of 1 to 2 billion euros and aims to expand into other markets soon after the European launch.

DSM has made a profitable switch from bulk chemicals to sustainable food ingredients and materials, growing sales of animal feed products to around 30% of its 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion) in total sales last year.

“We have to deal with methane in the next 5 to 10 years if we want to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees”, Van Nieuwland said.

Bovaer cuts methane emissions when mixed into a cow’s feed by inhibiting an enzyme in the digestion process which normally causes the release of the gas.

After ten years of research the Dutch company says it has dozens of global peer reviewed studies backing its claims and showing no effect on the health of cows or the milk they deliver.

The trial will run from November until February 2020, and the results are expected to be applicable throughout Europe, DSM said.

“This can have a real impact and we want to make it as big as possible”, Van Nieuwland said. “The faster we move, the better.”

‘Terrible way to go’: Humane society wants changes after hundreds of cows killed in blaze

Animal welfare group says barns no longer are mandated to have certain safety requirements

Firefighters battling a barn fire northeast of Steinbach on Monday morning. (Steinbach Online)

An animal welfare group is calling on Manitoba’s provincial government to review how animals are being housed, after 800 cows were killed in a barn fire northeast of Steinbach, Man.

Brittany Semeniuk, an animal welfare consultant for the Winnipeg Humane Society, spoke on CBC Radio’s afternoon show Up To Speed, one day after the devastating blaze at Pennwood Dairy. She said the prevalence of such events drives home the need for changes.

“They do occur in a very high frequency and I mean I don’t need to convince anyone that perishing within a fire where you’re trapped in a building is a terrible way to go,” Semeniuk told host Ismaila Alfa.

Pennwood Dairy was one of Manitoba’s largest dairy producers. Of its 1,000 cattle, only 200 lived through the blaze, according to the Steinbach Fire Department.

Fire chief Kelvin Toews said the fire was the “probably the largest barn fire” the department has ever had to deal with.

“We’ve had barn fire where we’ve lost one or two barns, but this is quite a sizeable loss,” he said.

Manitoba previously had its own farm building code, but Semeniuk said in 2017 the general Manitoba building code replaced it.

She said the problem started with recent repeals and amendments of security and fire protection requirements in low-occupancy buildings, which are recommended in the dairy industry, but not always practised.

“They follow the codes of practice for their own industry which is governed through the National Farm Animal Care Council, but within these codes of practice none of these codes are mandatory,” she said.

Semeniuk said in the past 10 years about 40,000 hogs have bee killed in barn fires, and just a few months ago almost 27,000 chickens were burned alive.

“A thousand pigs or a thousand chickens could still be qualified as low human occupancy, despite having a large number of animals, but because barns proved to be a lower safety hazard than human health, it was generally accepted to remove a lot of those previous precautions,” she said.

Semeniuk says protecting animals from fires isn’t the only reason for such precautions — allowing them to enjoy a certain quality of life is also important.

“They can’t perform their basic behavioural needs like foraging and flying and rooting and things like that,” she said. “It is currently not required to provide dairy cows with any sort of access to the outdoors.”

Simply put, Semeniuk said the humane society wants better living conditions for animals and to provide them basic welfare requirements.

Regulations for barn standards are put into place by the fire commissioner, who will routinely provide updates and necessary changes to how new barns need to be constructed, according to David Wiens, a member of the board of directors for the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba.

“As we go along, there’s new regulations that come in place. New barns that are being now have fire barriers within the barn to prevent the rapid spread of the fire,” he said.

Wiens isn’t entirely sure of the makeup of the barn that caught fire, but said four barns were attached to one another.

The Officer of the Fire Commissioner of Manitoba said they do not keep track of livestock losses. The fire is still under investigation.

We must transform food production to save the world, says leaked report

Cutting carbon from transport and energy ‘not enough’ IPCC finds
Hereford beef cattle.  The IPCC report says meat consumption should be cut to reduce methane emissions.
 Hereford beef cattle. The IPCC report says meat consumption should be cut to reduce methane emissions. Photograph: Australian Scenics/Getty Images

Attempts to solve the climate crisis by cutting carbon emissions from only cars, factories and power plants are doomed to failure, scientists will warn this week.

A leaked draft of a report on climate change and land use, which is now being debated in Geneva by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that it will be impossible to keep global temperatures at safe levels unless there is also a transformation in the way the world produces food and manages land.

Humans now exploit 72% of the planet’s ice-free surface to feed, clothe and support Earth’s growing population, the report warns. At the same time, agriculture, forestry and other land use produces almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, about half of all emissions of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, come from cattle and rice fields, while deforestation and the removal of peat lands cause further significant levels of carbon emissions. The impact of intensive agriculture – which has helped the world’s population soar from 1.9 billion a century ago to 7.7 billion – has also increased soil erosion and reduced amounts of organic material in the ground.

It is a bleak analysis of the dangers ahead and comes when rising greenhouse gas emissions have made news after triggering a range of severe meteorological events. These include news that:

 Arctic sea-ice coverage reached near record lows for July;

 The heatwaves that hit Europe last month were between 1.5C and 3C higher because of climate change;

 Global temperatures for July were 1.2C above pre-industrial levels for the month.

This last figure is particularly alarming, as the IPCC has warned that rises greater than 1.5C risk triggering climatic destabilisation while those higher than 2C make such events even more likely. “We are now getting very close to some dangerous tipping points in the behaviour of the climate – but as this latest leaked report of the IPCC’s work reveals, it is going to be very difficult to achieve the cuts we need to make to prevent that happening,” said Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

The new IPCC report emphasises that land will have to be managed more sustainably so that it releases much less carbon than at present. Peat lands will need to be restored by halting drainage schemes; meat consumption will have to be cut to reduce methane production; while food waste will have to be reduced.

Among the measures put forward by the report is the proposal of a major shift towards vegetarian and vegan diets. “The consumption of healthy and sustainable diets, such as those based on coarse grains, pulses and vegetables, and nuts and seeds … presents major opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the report states.

There also needs to be a big change in how land is used, it adds. Policies need to include “improved access to markets, empowering women farmers, expanding access to agricultural services and strengthening land tenure security”, it states. “Early warning systems for weather, crop yields, and seasonal climate events are also critical.”

The chances of politicians and scientists achieving these goals are uncertain, however. Nations are scheduled to meet in late 2020, probably in the UK, at a key conference where delegates will plant how to achieve effective zero-carbon emission policies over the next few decades.

The US, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, will have just had its presidential elections. A new Democrat incumbent would likely be sympathetic to moves to control global heating. Re-election of Donald Trump, who has called climate change “a hoax”, would put a very different, far gloomier perspective on hopes of achieving a consensus.

Humanity’s climate ‘carbon budget’ dwindling fast

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The concept of a carbon budget is dead simple: figure out how much CO2 humanity can pump into the atmosphere without pushing Earth’s surface temperature beyond a dangerous threshold

The concept of a carbon budget is dead simple: figure out how much CO2 humanity can pump into the atmosphere without pushing Earth’s surface temperature beyond a dangerous threshold (AFP Photo/PATRIK STOLLARZ)


Paris (AFP) – The concept of a carbon budget is dead simple: figure out how much CO2 humanity can pump into the atmosphere without pushing Earth’s surface temperature beyond a dangerous threshold.

The 2015 Paris climate treaty enjoins the world to set that bar at “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) in order to avoid an upsurge in killer heatwaves, droughts and superstorms made more destructive by rising seas.

Last year, the UN’s climate science body concluded this already hard-to-reach goal may not be ambitious enough.

Only a 1.5C cap above pre-industrial levels, for example, could prevent the total loss of coral reefs that anchor a quarter of marine life and coastal communities around the globe, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a landmark report.

But calculating exactly how much CO2 — produced mainly by burning fossil fuels but also deforestation — we can emit without busting through either of these limits has been deceptively hard to calculate.

Indeed, scientific estimates over the last few years have differed sharply, sometimes by a factor of two or three.

“The unexplained variations between published estimates have resulted in a lot of confusion,” Joeri Rogelj, a lecturer at Imperial College London, told AFP.

To help clear up that muddle, Rogelj and colleagues set out to solve the carbon budget puzzle — or at least make sure that everyone is reading from the same page.

This seemingly academic exercise, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, has huge real-world repercussions.

“The trillion-dollar question is how much of a carbon budget do we have left?”, Rogelj said.

– Wild cards –

About 580 billion tonnes, or gigatonnes (Gt), of CO2, if we’re willing to settle for a 50 percent chance of capping global warming at 1.5C, according to the October IPCC report, for which Rogelj was a coordinating lead author.

At current CO2 emission rates — 2018 saw a record 41.5 Gt — that budget would be exhausted in less than 14 years.

The CO2 allowance for a coin-toss chance of holding the rise in Earth’s temperature to 2C is more generous, about 1,500 Gt, and would last roughly 36 years.

Can methane burps be bred out of cows?

Measurements are taken of methane that comes out of grass-fed cows in Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland.


A study of more than 1,000 cows throughout Europe found that the microbes in their guts responsible for methane are inherited.

Underneath the lazy demeanor of a cow is a complex digestive system that transforms grass into the complex carbohydrates cows need to live. A byproduct of that digestion is methane—a lot of methaneone of the most potent greenhouse gases found on Earth.

Though methane stays in the atmosphere for less time than carbon, it’s highly effective at trapping heat. The EPA estimates around 25 percent of methane in the U.S. comes from cows.

Reducing those methane emissions is a major goal for environmentalists trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change, and new research indicates that they may be able to achieve that goal by altering the genetic makeup of common cows.

Some microbes inside cows more actively contribute to producing methane than others. A new study in the journal Science Advances shows that many methane-producing microbes are inherited, and by selectively breeding cows without those inherited traits, scientists think they’re one step closer to engineering a more environmentally friendly cow.

It’s a prospect that makes scientists hopeful. Meat and dairy consumption have been on the rise for the past decade, and many countries are scrambling to feed growing populations while simultaneously reducing emissions.


What 1,000 European cows can tell us

In 2012 the European Union commissioned a team of more than 30 scientists to research the relationship between livestock and methane emissions.

They called their research project Ruminomics—ruminants are a category of animals like cows, buffalo, yaks, and sheep. The rumen is the first of four compartments found in a ruminant’s stomach, where grass is partially digested via fermentation before passing through the rest. Ninety-five percent of the excess methane is expelled via their burps.

It’s in the rumen that the methane production process begins. Bacteria produce hydrogen as they begin fermenting carbohydrates, and single-celled organisms called archaea combine that hydrogen with carbon dioxide to produce methane.

You can think of it “like a triangle,” says study author John Wallace from the University of Aberdeen. “At the corners of the triangle you have three things: one is emissions, two is the rumen microbiome, and the third is the host animal’s genome. The aim of our study was to see how connected those were.”

They looked at Holstein cows on farms in the U.K. and Italy, as well as Nordic Red dairy cows in Sweden and Finland. Specialized tools were designed to collect samples by inserting a brass cylinder into a cow’s mouth and pulling fluid from the rumen where the scientists could see a pool of protozoa, fungi, bacteria, archaea, and DNA crucial to the experiment. Breath samples were also taken to measure how much methane cows were burping.



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Of each cow’s core microbes in the rumen, Wallace says their results identified which microbes were passed down from one generation to the next. Certain microbes like the succinovibrionaceae were common in cows that produced less methane.

Greener pastures for greener cows

“Our idea now is that since we know these organisms are heritable and interconnected, this can be a target for breeding animals with improved milk yields, lower emissions, or other properties that people might want,” says Wallace. “If we could inoculate young animals with a low-methane microbiome, we have every reason to believe that will persist throughout life, which will lead to animals producing much less methane.”

In a place like California where there’s a target to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent, low-methane cows “could be part of the solution,” says Ermias Kebreab from the University of California Davis.

Kebreab said he was excited by the study’s results, and that it’s a good first step toward work that will still take years to practically execute. His own work has centered on how diet affects the amount of methane produced by cows. Last year he found that adding methane to their feed significantly reduces the emission.

Both Kebreab and Wallace said a big hurdle will be convincing farmers to let their cows be bred for low-emission traits, since farmers tend to select for money-making traits like milk production and size, but lower emissions wouldn’t have any direct financial benefit. In regions without emissions reduction targets, Kebreab said farmers would need additional economic incentive.

Wallace says selective breeding of lower-methane cows has already begun, and there have yet to be noticeable negative side effects.

3 factors are driving the plant-based ‘meat’ revolution

 as analysts predict companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods could explode into a $140 billion industry

impossible whopper
Plant-based “meat” is going mainstream.
 Burger King
  • Plant-based “meat” sales are set to explode, with Barclays estimating that the market for alternative meat could grow by 1,000% over the next 10 years, reaching $140 billion.
  • Barclays says that climate change, animal welfare concerns, and greater interest in wellness are driving the meat-substitute revolution.
  • “Sustainability is increasingly more relevant as consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, have become more aware of the damage that food production has caused to the planet,” Barclays states in a recent report.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Plant-based “meat” is going mainstream, as grocery stores and fast-food chains jump on the alternative meat bandwagon.

The market for alternative meat could reach roughly $140 billion over the next 10 years, according to a report released this week from Barclays. Currently, the market for plant-based “meat” is just $14 billion.

Read more: Evidence is mounting that fast-food chains from Chick-fil-A to McDonald’s will be forced to add vegan menu items — or face the consequences

Barclays posits that alternative meat could take over 10% of the $1.4 trillion meat industry. This is a goal that has been central to the rise of plant-based “meat” makers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat as the companies target meat eaters over vegetarians.

Here are the three factors that Barclays says are driving the meat-substitute revolution.

Climate change and environmental worries

climate change
A protester attends a demonstration under the banner “Protect the climate — stop coal.”
REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

“Sustainability is increasingly more relevant as consumers, especially Millennials and Gen Z, have become more aware of the damage that food production has caused to the planet,” Barclays states.

Plant-based products aren’t necessarily a perfect solution, with Barclays highlighting palm oil production’s links to deforestation. However, with climate change becoming “a more relevant topic,” Barclays says that companies have the “opportunity to highlight how their products address this concern.”

Animal welfare concerns

New Zealand cow farmRetuers/David Gray

With more than 95% of farm animals raised on factory farms, Barclays says that concerns regarding animal cruelty are making plant-based “meat” more popular. People are becoming more aware of farming industry practices and pressuring companies to change, as well as exploring plant-based options.

“In extreme cases, the birds may also face sleep deprivation as some factory farms keep lights on all day and night to encourage more eating rather than sleeping.”

However, most people aren’t giving up meat entirely in response to the mistreatment of animals. Barclays sees the biggest opportunity for growth coming from people who still eat meat, not vegetarians and vegans.

Health and wellness concerns

White Castle Impossible burger
Fast-food chains are adding plant-based burgers to the menu.
Sarah Jacobs/Business Insider

People around the world are more health-conscious than ever before, with Barclays saying that wellness is now a lifestyle as opposed to a trend.

However, many people remain confused on how to actually become healthier. And, many meat alternatives have just as many calories as — and even more sodium than — traditional meat products.

“Besides people thinking that they are healthier than what they really are, they tend to address their issues with protein by focusing on taste and price, which could deter adoption of alternative meats if they don’t satisfy consumers on these counts,” the report reads.

SEE ALSO: Chick-fil-A is exploring vegan menu items as chains like Burger King and Chipotle double down on meat substitutes

AOC explains why ‘farting cows’ were considered in Green New Deal

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent plenty of air time explaining “farting cows,” as she defended her so-called Green New Deal on the premiere of Showtime’s “Desus & Mero.”

According to an initial outline of the measure, the freshman Democrat and Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said they “set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”

The language was later changed to “emissions from cows.”

On Thursday night, comedy duo Desus Nice and The Kid Mero asked Ocasio-Cortez why she thought the initial reaction to the Green New Deal focused on bovine exhaust.

“In the deal, what we talk about, and it’s true, is that we need to take a look at factory farming, you know? Period. It’s wild,” Ocasio-Cortez said, according to Fox News.

“And so it’s not to say you get rid of agriculture, it’s not to say we’re gonna force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that. But it’s to say, ‘Listen, we gotta address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Like, let’s keep it real.’”

“Slow down,” Desus joked.

“But we have to take a look at everything,” the ultra-left-wing pol continued, “and what we need to realize about climate change is about every choice that we make in our lives, you know?”

The Democratic socialist also defended her call for a 70 percent marginal tax rate on incomes over $10 million.

“It really comes down to the question of, ‘Isn’t $10 million enough?’ Like, when does it stop?” she said. “At what point is it amoral that we’re building Jeff Bezos a helipad when we have the most amount of homeless people in New York City?”

Does Organic Agriculture Contribute to Climate Change?


Organic agriculture seems like it would be better for the environment than conventional. But a new study suggests it produces more carbon dioxide.

Which is better for the environment: organic or conventional agriculture? For consumers trying to make sound food choices, it’s an important question. A new international study finds that organic agriculture actually contributes more to climate change than conventional farming does. The study argues that since organic agriculture requires slightly more land for the same yield, organic systems lead to more deforestation, which in turn results in more carbon dioxide emissions. But measuring environmental impact is extremely complicated.

Back in 2010, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba and Maria Müller-Lindenlauf, of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), took an in-depth look at the climate impacts of organic agriculture. F.A.O.’s Codex Alimentarius Commission defines organic agriculture as:

a holistic production management system that avoids use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and genetically modified organisms, minimizes pollution of air, soil and water, and optimizes the health and productivity of interdependent communities of plants, animals and people.

Organic agriculture still uses fertilizers and pesticides, but not synthetic ones. And when it comes to climate, the F.A.O study suggests, the fertilizer issue is key.

Conventional agriculture relies on nitrogen fertilizers, produced through a process involving copious amounts of ammonia and methane. Nitrogen fertilizers in turn, release some degree of nitrous oxide, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, with a much greater warming potential per unit released than carbon.

Organic farms bypass the need for chemical fertilizers by planting legumes. Organic farms also tend to store more carbon in the soil, slightly offsetting other greenhouse gas emissions, though, as the F.A.O. study notes, the carbon storage is likely not permanent. Plus, organic farms may burn more fossil fuels through machinery when weeds are removed mechanically.

As for the suggestion that organic agriculture requires slightly more land for the same yield, it depends on the crop. Conventional dairy production, for example, produces much more milk per cow. But there is hardly any yield difference when it comes to organic vs. conventional rice. In some cases, the same crop may have different yields-per-area in the developing world vs. the developed world—organic yields are often higher in developing countries. This is because, as the F.A.O. report notes, some of the ecologically sound practices are difficult to scale up to industrial levels, and work better at smaller scales.

On the other hand, grass-fed livestock requires a lot more space than feedlots, often leading to deforestation.

Many conscious consumers want a definitive answer about whether conventional or organic farming is better, when in fact, both have effects on the climate. There are also other concerns that go into consumer choices, such as animal welfare. And, as Stefan Wirsenius, one of the authors of the international study, says, “The type of food is often much more important. Eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef.”

Beef-eating ‘must fall drastically’ as world population grows


Current food habits will lead to destruction of all forests and catastrophic climate change by 2050, report finds

Cattle farming in California.
 Cattle farming in California. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

People in rich nations will have to make big cuts to the amount of beef and lamb they eat if the world is to be able to feed 10 billion people, according to a new report. These cuts and a series of other measures are also needed to prevent catastrophic climate change, it says.

More than 50% more food will be needed by 2050, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI) report, but greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will have to fall by two-thirds at the same time. The extra food will have to be produced without creating new farmland, it says, otherwise the world’s remaining forests face destruction. Meat and dairy production use 83% of farmland and produce 60% of agriculture’s emissions.

Increasing the amount of food produced per hectare was the most critical step, the experts said, followed by cutting meat-eating and putting a stop to the wasting of one-third of food produced.

“We have to change how we produce and consume food, not just for environmental reasons, but because this is an existential issue for humans,” said Janet Ranganathan, vice-president for science and research at the WRI.

Tim Searchinger, of the WRI and Princeton University, said: “If we tried to produce all the food needed in 2050 using today’s production systems, the world would have to convert most of its remaining forest, and agriculture alone would produce almost twice the emissions allowable from all human activities.”

The new report, launched at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, follows other major scientific analyses showing that huge reductions in meat-eating are “essential” to avoid dangerous climate change. Another found that avoiding meat and dairy products was the single biggest way to reduce an individual’s environmental impact on the planet, from slowing the annihilation of wildlife to healing dead zones in the oceans.

The world’s science academies concluded last week that the global food system was “broken”, leaving billions of people either underfed or overweight and driving dangerous global warming. Another new reportconcluded that the global food system required “radical transformation” if climate change and development goals were to be met, including “widespread dietary change”.

After increased productivity, the WRI report focuses on meat from ruminant animals. The digestion of cattle and sheep produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Beef provided 3% of the calories in the diet of US citizens but was responsible for half the emissions, the WRI said.

The report recommends that 2 billion people across countries including the US, Russia and Brazil cut their beef and lamb consumption by 40%, limiting it to 1.5 servings a week on average. Most of the world’s citizens would continue to eat relatively little beef in the WRI scenario.

But Searchinger said: “The world’s poor people are entitled to consume at least a little more.” The 40% reduction is a smaller cut than in other studies. “We think that is a realistic goal,” he said. “In the US and Europe, beef consumption has already reduced by one-third from the 1960s until today.”

Tobias Baedeker, of the World Bank, said farmers would require a lot of support to make the changes required but that redirecting the world’s huge subsidies could be a “game-changer”. Subsidies of more than $590bn (£460bn) a year are given to farmers in 51 nations, representing two-thirds of global food output, according to the OECD. In the US, these subsidies halve the current price of beef, the WRI says.

The sophisticated marketing and behaviour-change strategies that food companies already used to influence customers could help shift diets, said Ranganathan, as could governments encouraging less meat in schools, hospitals and other public institutions.

Other changes to farming that are needed, according to the WRI, include better feed to reduce methane production from cows, limiting biofuels made from food crops, managing manure and fertiliser better and cutting energy use by farm machinery. It also said the overall demand for food could be cut, with policies to curb population growth such as “improving women’s access to education and healthcare in Africa to accelerate voluntary reductions in fertility levels”.

The WRI report was launched at the UN climate summit in Poland where almost 200 nations are aiming to turn the carbon-cutting vision set out in Paris in 2015 into reality. The rapid ramping up of action is another key goal. Climate action must be increased fivefold to limit warming to the 1.5C scientists advise, according to the UN.