This year’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco got pretty heated (no pun intended). Between California Governor Jerry Brown calling President Donald Trump a “liar, criminal, fool” and protestors rallying outside against fossil fuel extraction, despite the governor signing into law the state’s commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 this week, the event was certainly not lacking in high emotion. But on a cooler note, actors Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and everyone’s favorite primatologist, Jane Goodall, were also present at the Summit, and Baldwin and Goodall sat down for a chat on the importance of plant-based diets in regards to forests and the fight against climate change.
And although a primatologist and an actor may seemingly have little in common, the two celebrities have one very important commonality — they are advocates for the environment and promote ditching meat for the sake of the planet.
Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change, being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector (cars, planes, trains, etc.) combined. In fact, a recent study revealed that animal agriculture is more harmful to the environment than fossil fuel extractors like Shell and Exxon Mobil (so maybe those protestors at this year’s Summit should have been carrying anti-meat, egg, and dairy signs instead…). Going plant-based just for one year has the potential to cut your carbon footprint in HALF, while giving you a myriad of health benefits (vegan diets are free of cholesterol, antibiotics, etc. and chock-full of vitamins and nutrients) and saving the lives of so many innocent animals. If everyone adopted a plant-based diet, then yes, we could certainly meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keep our planet’s temperature from rising those two more dangerous degrees.
To learn more about the connections between our diets and the environment, be sure to check out the fact-filled, image-rich Eat for the Planet book!
And please remember to share this with your network as a reminder that going plant-based can literally help save the world!
A similar argument is unfolding on the federal level.
The meat-substitute market is expected to reach $7.5 billion-plus globally by 2025, up from close to $4.2 billion last year, according to Allied Market Research.
The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which worked to get the law passed, has cited shopper confusion and protecting local ranchers as reasons for the legislation.
“The big issue was marketing with integrity and … consumers knowing what they’re getting,” Missouri Cattlemen’s Association spokesman Mike Deering said. “There’s so much unknown about this.”
The bill was signed into law by then-governor Eric Greitens on June 1.
On Monday, the company that makes Tofurky filed an injunction in a Missouri federal court to prevent enforcement of the statute, alleging the state has received no complaints about consumers befuddled by the term “plant-based meats” and that preventing manufacturers from using the word is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Plus, it pointed out, “meat” also refers to the edible part of nuts and fruit.
The statute “prevents the sharing of truthful information and impedes competition,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. “The marketing and packaging of plant-based products reveals that plant-based food producers do not mislead consumers but instead distinguish their products from conventional meat products.”
The co-plaintiff is the Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Deering said he was surprised by the suit because the primary target of the law was lab-grown meat.
Tofurky’s main ingredient is the the first two syllables of its name – tofu.
“I have always envisioned Tofurky serving a greater purpose beyond the plate, acting as an engine for global change,” said Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos in a statement about the suit. “Using our privately-held position to extinguish threats to legal definitions of terms like “meat,” is one way we can further our mission to help reduce global dependence on animal agriculture; therefore, improving environmental sustainability, animal welfare and human health.”
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would regulate lab-grown meat. Traditional animal proteins are the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University, said consumers use the word “meat,” when applied to nonanimal protein as a shortcut to understand how they eat the food they see on supermarket shelves.
“There’s a segment of consumers that doesn’t have to eat alternative products but wants to,” he said. “In those cases, putting those options together in front of consumers gives them the thought that ‘Hey, maybe these two are similar. Maybe I can substitute.’ “
Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, laureate professor at the University of Melbourne and founder of the non-profit organization The Life You Can Save. His books include Animal Liberation, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (with Jim Mason) and The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically.
Vegans are suddenly everywhere. Restaurants that serve meals completely free of all animal products have opened all over New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in Britain, the number of vegans more than tripled in the decade from 2006 to 2016. But most surprisingly, Germany – where not so long ago, meat-heavy cuisine made the country a hostile terrain even for vegetarians – has Berlin showcasing itself as the European center of vegan fine dining.
Canadian consumption of beef and pork peaked in the 1980s, and has dropped sharply since. For a time, this drop seemed to indicate nothing more dramatic than a preference for chicken, but Canadian consumption of all meats has been falling since 2007. Today, restaurants that fail to offer animal-free meals risk losing millennials as customers.
The business pages, too, signal that meatless is the future: Canada’s biggest meat producer, Maple Leaf Foods, has bought plant-based food company Field Roast, known for its vegan sausages and vegan cheeses, for $120-million. Investors are flocking to startups developing plant-based alternatives to meat and other animal products. Fast-food restaurant A&W is aggressively pushing its plant-based burger, struggling to keep up with intense Canadian demand. Other companies are putting money into cellular agriculture, which produces cultured meat, fish, dairy and other animal products, all grown from animal cells but not involving the raising and slaughtering of a living animal.
With celebrities such as Beyoncé, Oprah and Pink, all singing the praises of reducing or eliminating meat consumption, veganism is undoubtedly having a moment.
There are two distinct threats that could indicate that yes, meat is on the way out. One is that a continuation of present trends against consuming meat will make it socially unacceptable for a large segment of society, as tobacco is today. The other is that a technological revolution will make producers of live cattle, pigs and chickens as irrelevant as Kodak became when the once-dominant camera and film manufacturer failed to embrace the digital revolution.
Meat – or at least meat as we have known it – may be cooked.
Total meat consumption in Canada
kg per capita (eviscerated and carcass weight)
THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: AGRICULTURE AND AGRI-FOOD CANADA (INCLUDES CHICKEN, BEEF, PORK, FISH, FOWL, TURKEY, LAMB AND MUTTON)
If large-scale, commercial raising of animals for food is on the way out, that will be a very good thing for our climate and for our environment more generally. Livestock’s Long Shadow, a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, found that livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector – all the cars, trucks, planes and ships put together – and second only to the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity.
Modern meat production typically involves growing grains or soybeans – crops that we could eat directly – and feeding them to animals. The animals then need to burn much of this food energy simply in order to live and keep their bodies warm. The proportion of the nutritional value of the crops that we get back from eating the animals, or their eggs and milk, varies with the food and the species of animal. For beef, it is less than one-10th, but even for the more efficient food converters, such as laying hens and dairy cows, it is no more than one-third.
Loss of the energy from plant food is the most basic reason why meat creates more emissions per unit of food energy than plant-based foods, but the methane produced by cattle and sheep is another significant factor. Methane is a greenhouse gas that, tonne for tonne, warms the planet about 30 times as much as carbon dioxide. Ruminant animals produce it as part of their digestive process. Moreover, the idea that grass-fed beef is more sustainable than beef from animals fattened in a feedlot is a myth – in fact, as far as climate change is concerned, grass-fed beef is the worst meat you can eat. That’s because cattle fed on a rich diet of grains and soybeans put on weight faster than cattle fed on grass, and so do less digesting per kilogram of meat produced.
Global emissions by livestock species
In megatonnes of C02 equivalent
Other poultrySmall ruminantsBuffaloChickensPigsCattle825967667908195,02482
THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: FAO,GLOBAL LIVESTOCK ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT MODEL
Some people believe that eating locally produced food is the best way to make their diet sustainable. If they are eating meat, it isn’t. One study found that the average American would do more for the planet by going vegetarian just one day a week than they would by eating an entirely local diet.
Another study compared the climate impacts of what we drive with those of what we eat. It found that by switching from a standard North American car, such as a Toyota Camry, to a fuel efficient hybrid, such as a Toyota Prius, the average American driver would save about one ton of carbon emissions a year. But anyone changing from the average American diet to a vegan diet would, over a year, save about 1.5 tons of carbon equivalent. Moreover, that change needs no new technology and, in contrast to buying a new car, installing solar panels, or building wind farms, it has no upfront costs. On the contrary, plant foods such as dried beans and lentils are, per unit of protein, cheaper than meat. It is something we could all do, now.
If, however, we maintain our current levels of meat consumption while people in newly prosperous countries in Asia continue to narrow the gap between their lower levels of meat consumption and ours, we can abandon all hope of meeting the climate goals set at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Changing Climate, Changing Diets, a report from the highly respected London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs summarized the situation this way: “Even with best efforts to reduce the emissions footprint of livestock production, the sector will consume a growing share of the remaining carbon budget. This will make it extremely difficult to realize the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
That goal, remember, was considered necessary to implement what every major country, including the United States, pledged to do at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro: to stabilize greenhouse gases at a level low enough to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Some scientists, as well as the leaders of low-lying Pacific island nations, argued at the Paris conference that a temperature rise of 2 C was already too high. The conference resolved to seek to limit temperature rises to as close as possible to 1.5 C. There is general agreement that a rise exceeding 2 C could lead to feedback loops such as the release of additional large quantities of methane from the thawing Siberian permafrost. That will cause still more warming and release yet more methane. Global warming will then be beyond human control and unpredictably dangerous to the future of humanity and the other beings with whom we share this planet.
Climate change is the greatest environmental harm for which meat consumption must bear a significant share of responsibility, but there are many others. The concentrated manure of tens of thousands of intensively farmed animals pollutes rivers. People living near factory farms suffer from odours and flies. Crops fed to cattle compete for water with crops eaten directly by humans, and the need for water for cattle, for drinking, cleaning and other uses, has led to the severe depletion of underground aquifers that took millennia to accumulate.
The eminent Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil has written that for everyone in the world to eat as much meat as people in the affluent world now eat would require 67 per cent more agricultural land than the world possesses. It is difficult to justify a wasteful diet that demands so much agricultural land and water that it necessarily denies the majority of the world’s population the opportunity to eat a diet that is anywhere close to what we are eating.
When I became a vegetarian in 1970, I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford, with a particular interest in ethics. But I had never thought that, by eating meat, I might be complicit in a moral atrocity on a gigantic scale. Today, such ignorance may seem culpable, but it was shared by almost everyone. The term animal rights did not exist, and very few would have known what vegan meant. There were so few ethical vegetarians that I had never met one until that fateful day when I chanced to have lunch with a Canadian graduate student in philosophy, Richard Keshen. As we entered Balliol College dining hall, Richard asked the person presenting the food if the sauce on the spaghetti had meat in it. When told that it did, he took a salad plate. I took the spaghetti, and later asked Richard why he was avoiding meat. He answered that he didn’t think we ought to be treating animals in the way that the animal whose flesh I was now eating had been treated.
That simple response, along with some things Richard told me about the development of intensive animal raising, or factory farming, led me to consider, for the first time, the moral status that we should accord to animals, and whether the various uses we make of them, including raising them for food, are defensible. I decided that I ought to stop eating meat, at least from animals raised in the usual commercial systems, and before long, I became a vegetarian.
In Animal Liberation, published five years later, I set out the basis for this decision. The boundary of ethical concern, I argued, ought not to determined by the boundary of our species, any more than it ought to be determined by the boundary of our race or sex. There are, of course, differences between humans and members of other species, especially in the capacity of normal humans beyond infancy to reason and to use a complex language. But a being does not have to be capable of reasoning to be able to suffer, as anyone who has spent time with an infant knows. There is good evidence that cows, pigs, chickens and fish are all capable of suffering, and so, most probably, are some invertebrates, such as the octopus.
Factory farming inflicts severe suffering on a staggering number of animals. The United States alone produces more than nine billion factory-farmed animals each year. Professor John Webster, formerly head of the school of veterinary science at the University of Bristol and a towering figure in animal-welfare science, has described the industrial raising of chickens as “the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.”
There are many grounds for this dire judgment. To anyone entering a chicken shed, the overcrowding is obvious, as is the polluted air, which contains enough ammonia from the accumulated bird droppings to sting the eyes and burn the throat. Only a more expert eye would know, however, that these birds have been bred to grow so fast that their immature legs cannot support their grotesquely large bodies, with the result that, Mr. Webster says, a third of them show signs of arthritis-like pain for the final weeks of their lives. They cannot sit down on the litter that covers the floor, however, because it contains so much ammonia that it burns their thighs. Some birds suffer the still-worse fate of having their legs collapse under them. Then, unable to move to water, they slowly die from thirst. (The birds are not worth enough to justify the extra cost of hiring sufficient staff to pay attention to individual birds.)
I could describe equally bad conditions for other industrially raised animals, but you can find plenty of videos on the websites of animal-advocacy organizations. It is no wonder, then, that one powerful motive for going vegan is the desire to cease supporting the factory farming of animals. One could decide instead to be an “ethical omnivore,” eating animal products only when one has adequate assurance that they were raised under conditions that gave them good lives. There are also fish: They, if not raised in confined aquaculture tanks or nets, lead natural lives until they are caught. Horrible as their deaths usually are, that might be a lesser evil than a lifetime of miserable confinement. But many of those who become aware of our ruthless exploitation of animals find it simpler and better to make a clean break with all animal exploitation.
It is a sad but true commentary on human nature that if the vegan movement were driven solely by ethical considerations, it would not be as large as it is today. When Bill Clinton appeared on television in 2010, looking trimmer and fitter than he had for years, and attributed the change to going vegan, people paid attention. Beyoncé recently invited her 112 million Instagram followers to join her in going vegan for 44 days as she prepared for the Coachella festival. Oprah Winfrey isn’t vegan, but has pledged to observe Meatless Mondays and urges her tens of millions of followers to do the same. In the sports world, too, proof of veganism’s health effects are rampant: Novak Djokovic, winner of this year’s men’s Wimbledon championship, is vegan, except for some occasional fish. Venus Williams went vegan after she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and Serena joined her in sisterly support and has since become passionate about vegan eating. English footballer Jermain Defoe says his vegan diet has helped him keep his career going at 35, when most other footballers have retired.
When movie stars, actors and pop singers talk about how great they feel on a vegan diet, and vegan athletes win tennis championships, boxing titles and long-distance races, many more people are motivated to cut out animal products.
Once people appreciate that they don’t need to eat animal products, and that they feel better without them, they will be more receptive to the ethical arguments against eating meat. Scientists told some subjects that they were about to be given a consumer test that required them to eat beef, while other students were told that the test required them to eat an apple. Both before and after they were given this information, all the subjects were asked to rate the mental capacities of cows. Those who had been told that they would be eating beef rated the mental capacities of the cows lower after they received this information than they had rated them before receiving it. Subjects who were told they were about to eat an apple did not change their rating of the mental capacities of cows. In other words, it’s easier to see cows for the sensitive beings they are when you are not about to eat one of them. And the same goes, I expect, for seeing the strength of an ethical argument against eating cows.
So will meat go the way of tobacco? If you associate a vegan diet with activism for animals or for the environment, you may think that drawing an analogy between meat and tobacco is a stretch. After all, the campaign against smoking was based on the truth that smoking sharply increases the risk of dying from lung cancer or other smoking-related diseases. Although the consumption of processed meat and red meat is associated with higher levels of colorectal cancer, this does not apply to all forms of meat, and the health risk appears to be lower than it is with smoking. If, however, people find that they feel good on a vegan diet, the ethical arguments will be more widely accepted, and it could become unacceptable, at least in some circumstances, to eat animals.
In 2015, Charles Krauthammer, the conservative Washington Post columnist who died earlier this year, asked, in one of his columns, what present practice, universally engaged in and accepted by people of great intelligence and moral sensitivity, will be seen by future generations as abominable, in the way that we now see slavery as abominable? Mr. Krauthammer’s answer was: our treatment of animals. “I’m convinced,” he wrote, “that our great-grandchildren will find it difficult to believe that we actually raised, herded and slaughtered them on an industrial scale – for the eating.”
Perhaps it won’t take three generations for people to see the industrial raising of animals as an abomination. That day may be closer than we think.
Animal rights vegan activist and parent, JoAnn Farb, has written a
article, including her own experience relating to why some ethical vegans
not comfortable with their ethics in the company of people who are not or
not yet vegan. Why, she asks, do “some vegans join the oppressive class and
throw vegan *activists* under the bus”? Should we make a point of “not
values,” or is this more about social anxiety than a gesture of civility?
*JoAnn Farb is a former microbiologist, national speaker, and publisher of
*FEAST Lawrence Newsletter. She uses big picture holistic thinking to
*social justice with environmental sustainability and health. She is
*her third book, “GLUTEN – The Science that Explains the REAL Reason Paleo
*Popular.” She and her husband live in Kansas and have two grown life-long
This is a statement that I have heard a few times recently.
As veganism has become more popular, it has triggered pushback. When I began
doing vegan activism in the 1990s, vegans weren’t seen as a threat to animal
agriculture or to people’s coveted family or religious traditions. Grocery
stores, hospitals, and local TV news welcomed me and repeatedly provided
for me to criticize animal exploitation while encouraging people to give
veganism a try. Some were inspired or motivated to change as a result of
Those who didn’t “get” my message or disagreed, ignored me and moved on.
vegans were so rare, this message was a curiosity not a threat.
But now, almost everyone in America knows there are millions of vegans.
is a viable lifestyle AND growing in popularity! Vegans are setting athletic
records, running successful companies, and birthing and raising healthy
families. This changes everything. Conscious of it or not, those who are
vegan live with the continuous discomfort that they are participating in
*unnecessary* violence against other beings. Unlike the 1990s, now simply
“I am vegan” reminds non-vegans that they are not living consistent with
their own values – in fact a widely held value. Most of us agree: *It is
*unnecessarily harm animals.* Just BEING vegan around some people feels to
like they are being attacked, because it’s reminding them of this painful
But those who DO embrace veganism struggle with a different discord –
like an outcast from their tribe, family, or social group. Any choice that
us apart from our group can expose us to “change back.” Pressure.
In order to help you understand why saying “*I am not that kind of vegan*”
problematic, I will share with you what happened to me as a child.
I grew up next door to the best grade school in one of the top rated school
districts in the entire country. Most all of us who went to that school had
parents who grew up poor during the depression. The combination of
higher education along with an expanding job market is what allowed my
and other parents in their neighborhood to do so well economically that they
seem rich when compared to how they grew up.
The children in my neighborhood wore the trendiest clothes and enjoyed the
latest, greatest toys and gadgets provided in mind-numbing abundance at
twice each year. Their pantries were stocked with an array of seductive junk
But that was not how it was at my house.
My parents were frugal, and didn’t even try to keep up with the neighbors.
made fitting in hard for me. But I had an even bigger obstacle socially: I
one of the only two fat kids in my entire grade. Though my parents weren’t
really status conscious, they were fat-phobic and tried hard to make me lose
weight. Sugary treats were kept under lock and key at my house, though I had
access to cheese wheels, meat and eggs. I remember being ecstatic when I
to fry hamburgers in butter on the stove, and make omelets that oozed with
Grade school was hell for me. I was taunted for being fat and for not
fashionably. “Highwaters!” my classmates shrieked as they pointed at my
too-short jeans before running away. Everyone knew I was part of a small
of outcasts. We were the “untouchables” of our grade. Included with me was
other heavy girl, a thin shy girl with terrible acne, a white-haired, poorly
coordinated boy, and a scary boy who hit and never followed directions. Just
above us in the hierarchy were a handful of students who although not as
shunned were still avoided. The hierarchy was made visible and reinforced
through the act of picking teammates or partners for activities.
You might think those lower down in this hierarchy, experiencing this
would be the first to challenge it or at least not do the very same thing to
others. But in fact the opposite happened. The more oppressed one of us
the more intensely we distanced ourselves from anyone with low status. We
more oppression if associated with any of the other victims.
My observations are consistent with what’s been documented in other cases of
oppressed groups. Time and again, those concerned with their own inclusion
contribute to the victimization of others – be it the class system of India,
oppressed US minorities trying to better their own lot (and being called
“uppity” by others likewise oppressed), or some women struggling for
male dominated arenas.
One common way this pressure can be managed is to distance ourselves from
the dominant group find *most* problematic. Supporting the oppressor’s
– even just in a tiny way, can ease some of the pressure by aligning us, at
least in part, with those who hold the power. In other words, some vegans
the oppressive class and throw vegan *activists* under the bus, to help
themselves from the “change back” pressure of the dominant paradigm.
This is what is happening when you hear someone say, “I’m not THAT kind of
vegan.” Though this may make it easier for the person expressing this
to comfortably mingle with and feel more accepted by those who are still
enabling the oppression, it works against our cause. We NEED people willing
speak out about injustice. When vegans say to others, “I am not THAT kind of
vegan,” it is a clear expression of judgment against people speaking out. It
isolates activists. It makes other vegans contemplating speaking up feel
into silence. It supports and empowers the oppressive mindset. If *our*
that is, those choosing to abstain from intentional violence against other
beings – think we are wrong for daring to raise awareness of violence
animals, that plays right into and reinforces the oppressive paradigm. It
provides additional justification for non-vegans to disregard veganism
Can you think of a single example of progress made on any social justice
that was NOT the result of someone trying to push their values? That is why
continue to speak out and raise awareness however I can.
I will not apologize for speaking up when I see injustice, and the more
who join me in this, the better I believe our world will be.
BERLIN – Last year, three of the world’s largest meat companies — JBS, Cargill and Tyson Foods — emitted more greenhouse gases than France and nearly as much as some big oil companies. And yet, while energy giants like Exxon and Shell have drawn fire for their role in fueling climate change, the corporate meat and dairy industries have largely avoided scrutiny. If we are to avert environmental disaster, this double standard must change.
To bring attention to this issue, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, GRAIN and Germany’s Heinrich Boell Foundation recently teamed up to study the “supersized climate footprint” of the global livestock trade. What we found was shocking. In 2016, the world’s 20 largest meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these companies were a country, they would be the world’s seventh-largest emitter.
Obviously, mitigating climate change will require tackling emissions from the meat and dairy industries. The question is how.
Around the world, meat and dairy companies have become politically powerful entities. The recent corruption-related arrests of two JBS executives, the brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, pulled back the curtain on corruption in the industry. JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, earning nearly $20 billion more in 2016 than its closest rival, Tyson Foods. But JBS achieved its position with assistance from the Brazilian Development Bank and apparently, by bribing more than 1,800 politicians. It is no wonder, then, that greenhouse gas emissions are low on the company’s list of priorities. In 2016, JBS, Tyson and Cargill emitted 484 million tons of climate changing gases, 46 million tons more than BP, the British energy giant.
Meat and dairy industry insiders push hard for pro-production policies, often at the expense of environmental and public health. From seeking to block reductions in nitrous oxide and methane emissions, to circumventing obligations to reduce air, water and soil pollution, they have managed to increase profits while dumping pollution costs on the public.
One consequence, among many, is that livestock production now accounts for nearly 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is a bigger share than the world’s entire transportation sector. Moreover, much of the growth in meat and dairy production in the coming decades is expected to come from the industrial model. If this growth conforms to the pace projected by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, our ability to keep temperatures from rising to apocalyptic levels will be severely undermined.
At the November United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, several U.N. agencies were directed, for the first time ever, to cooperate on issues related to agriculture, including livestock management. This move is welcome for many reasons, but especially because it will begin to expose the conflicts of interest that are endemic in the global agribusiness trade.
To skirt climate responsibility, the meat and dairy industries have long argued that expanding production is necessary for food security. Corporate firms, they insist, can produce meat or milk more efficiently than a pastoralist in the Horn of Africa or a small-scale producer in India.
Unfortunately, current climate policies do not refute this narrative, and some even encourage increased production and intensification. Rather than setting targets for the reduction of total industry-related emissions, many current policies create incentives for firms to squeeze more milk from each dairy cow and bring beef cattle to slaughter faster. This necessitates equating animals to machinery that can be tweaked to produce more with less through technological fixes and ignoring all of this model other negative effects.
California’s experience is instructive. Pursuing one of the world’s first efforts to regulate agricultural methane, the state government has set ambitious targets to reduce emissions in cattle processing. But California is currently addressing the issue by financing programs that support mega-dairies rather than small, sustainable operators. Such “solutions” have only worsened the industry’s already-poor record on worker and animal welfare, and exacerbated adverse environmental and health-related effects.
Solutions do exist. For starters, governments could redirect public money from factory farming and large-scale agribusiness to smaller, ecologically focused family farms. Governments could also use procurement policies to help build markets for local products and encourage cleaner, more vibrant farm economies.
Many cities around the world are already basing their energy choices on a desire to tackle climate change. Similar criteria could shape municipalities’ food policies, too. For example, higher investment in farm-to-hospital and farm-to-school programs would ensure healthier diets for residents, strengthen local economies, and reduce the climate impact of the meat and dairy industries.
Dairy and meat giants have operated with climate impunity for far too long. If we are to halt global temperature spikes and avert an ecological crisis, consumers and governments must do more to create, support and strengthen environmentally conscious producers. That would be good for our health — and for the health of our planet.
The biggest eaters of burgers, steaks and ribs contribute the largest hunk of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to a new study that examined individual eating habits across the country.
New research from the University of Michigan and Tulane University finds that 20 percent of American eaters accounted for nearly half of total diet-related emissions, and that their diets were heavy on beef.
If those people consumed fewer calories and shifted to a more moderate diet with less beef, that could achieve almost 10 percent of the emissions reductions needed for the U.S. to meet its targets under the Paris climate agreement, the researchers found.
The study, published Tuesday in Environmental Research Letters, adds to a growing pile of evidence linking beef with high greenhouse gas emissions, but it is the first to look at what people ate—or recalled eating—rather than at data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which measures how commodities flow through the economy.
“USDA tracks how much of a commodity is imported and exported, what gets used for non-food purposes, and applies food waste losses to those numbers. What comes out of that is divided by the population,” said Martin Heller, the study’s lead author. “What we looked at is what an individual said they ate on a particular day.”
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With the “recall survey” approach, Heller and his co-authors were able to examine what and how certain portions of the population ate, providing data they believe could be more useful in developing diet-related recommendations that might drive consumers toward more sustainable food choices.
The study comes as more countries are recommending lowering beef consumption for environmental reasons, and as some contemplate taxes on beef, in part to help reach their emissions targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Comparing Diets, Low-Impact to Beefy
To develop their estimates, Heller and his team built a database that looked at the environmental impacts of producing 300 commonly eaten foods. They then linked the database to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a nationally representative survey that includes self-reported dietary data for more than 16,000 Americans.
The researchers were able to rank those diets by their greenhouse gas emissions. They found that the top 20 percent, with the highest carbon footprint, was responsible for eight times more emissions than the lowest 20 percent, and that beef consumption accounted for 72 percent of the difference.
Meat production overall—largely from beef, but also including pork and chicken—accounted for 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the highest-impact group, but only 27 percent in the lowest-impact group. And while the highest-impact group consumed an average of nearly 3,000 calories a day and the lowest just above 1,300, when the researchers adjusted the findings based on caloric intake, the highest-impact group still represented five times more emissions.
The researchers did not look specifically at how the beef was produced, which can influence its carbon footprint. “That information is not available on the dietary side,” Heller said. “People aren’t saying where their beef is coming from or how it was raised. It was just beef.”
Where Do Those Emissions Come From?
Agriculture accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, according to the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. Globally, food production is responsible for 30 percent of total emissions.
Of the 14.5 percent of global emissions from the livestock industry, more than two-thirds come from beef, largely from fertilizer used to grow grain and from cattle belching.
The study notes research that says dietary choices will become critical to meeting emissions targets under the Paris climate agreement as global demand for food rises with a growing population.
Nearly half of the United States’ diet-related greenhouse gas emissions result from only 20 percent of Americans’ dietary choices, a new study finds.
The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, finds that Americans with the highest levels of beef consumption account for 72 percent of the increase in diet-related emissions between the highest- and lowest-impact groups in the study, which produces about eight times the amount of emissions compared to the lowest-impact group. The study’s researchers attribute this to the fact that animal-based foods, particularly cow-based, contribute significantly higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions per pound than plant-based foods.
“Reducing the impact of our diets could achieve significant reductions in greenhouse gas emission in the United States,” said lead author Martin Heller, a researcher at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, in a press release. “It’s climate action that is accessible to everyone, because we all decide on a daily basis what we eat.”
This study is one of the few to break down the environmental impacts of individual self-selected diets, as opposed to other studies that evaluate environmental effects of diets at the aggregate level. “Such work is essential for estimating a distribution of impacts, which, in turn, is key to recommending policies for driving consumer demand towards lower environmental impacts,” the study states.
Prince Charles is wrong to support grass-fed beef. The idea that beef from cows raised on bucolic pastures is good for the environment, and that we can therefore eat as much meat as we want, doesn’t add up. New calculations suggest cattle pastures contribute to climate change.
“Sadly, though it would be nice if the pro-grazers were right, they aren’t,” says lead author Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network. “The truth is, we cannot eat as much meat as we like and save the planet.”
Many meat eaters have long felt guilty that the beef steaks they love are bringing environmental disaster.
A key problem is that microorganisms in the guts of cattle emit millions of tonnes of methane every year. A typical cow releases 100 kilograms of methane a year and the world has about a billion of them. Since methane is a greenhouse gas, this exacerbates global warming.
But a counter-view has gained currency. First popularised by Zimbabwean ecologist and livestock farmer Allan Savory, and supported by organic farmers like Prince Charles, it argues that grazing cattle on pastures is actually good for the climate.
The idea is that plants on pastures capture carbon from the air, especially when fertilised by manure. Pastures should also reduce our need for food crops grown on land that releases carbon when ploughed.
Doing the sums
Confused by conflicting claims, Garnett and her colleagues calculated the flow of greenhouse gases into and out of pastures. She found that “in some circumstances, you can get carbon capture, but not always and the effect is small. You cannot extrapolate from a nicely run Dorset farm to a global food strategy.”
At best, carbon capture only offsets 20 to 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from grazing, mostly the methane from cattle. “And the carbon capture stops after a few decades,” says Garnett, when the carbon-enriched soils reach equilibrium with the air. “Meanwhile, the cattle continue to belch methane.”
The analysis is more comprehensive than past studies, says Tim Benton at the University of Leeds, UK. “It asks, if we are to eat meat, is there a better way to grow it? The answer is: not really.”
Supporters of cattle grazing aren’t giving up just yet, though. Some say cattle have simply replaced wild ruminants, which also release methane. But Garnett points out that many cattle, especially in the tropics, graze on former forest land. In places such as the Brazilian Amazon, clearing trees for cattle causes massive greenhouse gas emissions.
At low densities of around one animal per hectare, carbon capture in soils could still exceed methane emissions, says Richard Young of the Sustainable Food Trust in Bristol, UK, which supports cattle grazing. However, he concedes that this isn’t true at higher densities.
Garnett’s conclusion is supported by a study published on 29 September, which found that methane emissions from cattle are 11 per cent larger than older methods would suggest, and thus a bigger contributor to global warming (Carbon Balance and Management, doi.org/cdpz).
“We need to reduce emissions from livestock,” says Benton. “That needs to come from dietary change.”
Would you be willing to give up ice-cream and hamburgers if it saved the environment? Good news: lab-grown meat is set to hit shop floors this year, so you don’t have to.
A 2017 study showed that if all Americans substituted beans for beef, the USA would come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse gas goals originally set by the Obama administration in 2009.
Perhaps spurred on by shocking polemical documentaries like Cowspiracy and the UN’s reportthat showed that processed meat is as carcinogenic as cigarettes, veganism is on the rise. Lately, veganism has risen from its grassroots origins and become a widespread form of eco-activism.
Believe it or not, the meat and dairy industries are starting to listen and lab-grown meat is set to become a reality.
The Dark Truth Behind the Veganism fad
Is veganism just another bandwagon? Or, do these almond-milking vegaholics know what they’re talking about?
“What’s so wrong with eating meat?”, you may ask.
As all of the current U.S. generations currently alive have enjoyed, we no longer have to go out and hunt for animals when we want to eat meat. In fact, we don’t even have to go to the grocery store. We can order 24 chicken nuggets from the driver seat or have groceries delivered by an Amazon contractor.
Our lifestyles have changed drastically, but we still claim that we need to eat like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. The sheer numbers involved with keeping everyone fed on steak and cheese are causing a lot of problems behind the scenes.
The brutality of the meat and dairy industries have been exposed in documentaries you may have come across on Netflix. Vegecated,Forks Over Knives and Earthlings are cited as contributing factors by many vegan converts.
However, critics question the validity of the facts provided in these “life-changing” documentaries.
Perhaps it was because the revelations of what has become normal were so shocking or maybe because people aren’t ready to face the consequences of their lifestyles. But, Cowspiracy, in particular, got a bad rap for using questionable statistics in the original version.
Although such advocacy documentaries still have their value and are worth watching if you want to get informed, they should be taken with a pinch of salt.
A more reliable source of facts about veganism and the environment are reviewed research papers and official reports. Although these reports may not have the same drama, the facts are clear-cut. The environmental impact of animal agriculture and it’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water waste is extreme.
Here’s the impact that meat and dairy have on the environment explained in facts and figures:
Animal agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption.
In 2016 the UN reported that the livestock sector is one of the most significant contributors to environmental degradation, both locally and globally.
A UN report that followed this in 2010 warned that rising meat and dairy consumption combined with a population set to be 9.1 billion by 2050, meant a shift towards veganism was vital. It stated that only a major change in the human diet could save the world from climate catastrophe and major food shortages.
Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane gas a day. What most don’t realize is that this greenhouse gas’s alleged effect on climate change is much greater than C02 which usually steals the spotlight.
Numerous reports have claimed that methane is up to 100 times more harmful than C02.
14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by raising livestock for meat, eggs, and milk. That’s more than all transportation, including planes combined.
Raising livestock also uses 70% of all agricultural land, making it the leading cause of deforestation, water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
It’s estimated that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.
One-third of the world’s grain is now fed to animals.
Antibiotic use in animals is a major contributor to rising levels of antibiotic resistance in the human population
A 2017 study showed that meat manufacturers JBS, Cargill, and Tyson (All giants in the meat industry) emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of France.
What would Happen if we all Went Vegan?
A study carried out by Dr. Marco Sprinmann at the University of Oxford attempted to estimate what the world would be like if we all went vegan in 2050.
The results are astonishing and show that in one single year greenhouse emissions would be cut by two thirds. $1.5 trillion would be saved in climate damages and healthcare expenditure. He also estimated that global mortality would be reduced by 10%, with 8 million fewer deaths caused by chronic disease.
Springmann also emphasized that these figures are probably an underestimation.
Could Lab Grown Meat Save the World?
Veganism doesn’t have to be all granola and lettuce.
As consumers become more aware of the extent of the current sustainability crisis, eating habits have begun to change. This move towards more plant-based diets has had repercussions in the food production industry. Big names have started to invest in meat and dairy alternatives.
We saw the first synthetic burger make its debut in 2013. It quite literally took to the stage and was eaten in front of an amazing audience. T
he fact that humans could grow real meat without harming animals or the Earth left us in awe. Although the lab grown meat cost thousands to make at the time, now it can be produced cheaply on a commercial scale. Just five years later, the race is on to get it on the shelves.
Something that we wouldn’t have believed to be possible is fast becoming a reality. Could synthetic meat replace traditional meat completely?
A startup called Memphis Meats is currently developing “clean meat” with investors like Bill Gates and Richard Branson. Just For All is another major player in the synthetic meat industry who promises to launch their products in supermarkets by the end of the year. Even the some of the world’s biggest meat companies like Tyson and Kraft are attempting to reinvent carnivorous staples.
Real Meat Without Slaughtering Animals
Most successful lab grown meat products are created using cell proliferation.
Let’s say we want to create a cruelty-free, eco-friendly chicken nugget. No tempeh, no tofu–we want the real deal.
As chickens have an unlimited source of cells that are constantly regenerating and regrowing, the scientists figured that they could take a handful and continue to grow them infinitely. All that is needed from the animal is a cell sample. This could be a feather for example.
This feather is then taken to the lab where it is provided with plant-based nutrients. Just as the cells would grow in the animal, they multiply quickly in the lab turning into a high-density food source–a.k.a. meat.
And it’s not just chicken, any kind of animal protein can be grown from a single cell in the lab. Synthetic meat is estimated to be 10 times more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse.
This cutting-edge technology that is used to re-create food is going to drastically change the meat and dairy industries. Just for all’s products range from cookie dough to mayonnaise. Other companies are producing scrambled “eggs” from mung beans and brewing cow’s milk from yeast.
In the current world we live in, it is unlikely that everyone will go vegan. Meat is the centerpiece of our plates and ingrained in most cultures. However, synthetic meat offers another solution to the major problems mass-production of meat and dairy pose.
A recent Ketchum survey shows signs of an optimistic response to lab grown meat. 62% of Americans are likely to try synthetic animal products, which rises to 71% among millennials.
Lab Grown Meat is Not a Miracle Fix
Synthetic meat is also seen as a threat to the animal agriculture industry. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation states that livestock supports the livelihoods and food security of almost a 1.3 billion people.
Farming still employs over 26% of workers globally. That’s not accounting for those working along with other parts of the meat-supply chain like in processing and packaging.
Additionally, synthetic meat is still meat. Although Lab-grown meat is dubbed “clean meat”, as it lowers the risk of microbial and antibiotic contamination.
Eating too much of it is still detrimental to human health. It increased our risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Synthetic meat can ease the negative impact on the environment but at the end of the day, processed meat is still carcinogenic.
The power to reconsider what we consume is in our hands. This choice empowers us to choose what the future of our planet will be. We can choose to cut down our meat and dairy consumption, become a vegetarian or take the plunge and go vegan.
With the current state of our environment, we need to consider every option possible. Yes, food choices come down to personal circumstances. But, simply eating less meat and dairy could help us prevent negative environmental impacts to the Earth.
Clearly, vegan sausage–just like any other type of meat (animal-death) replacement or “substitute”–is far healthier than the rotting flesh it replaces. So why do so many people still choose the “real” thing?
Perhaps there’s something else wrong with the majority of people, besides their outward appearance or cholesterol level. There’s certainly something wrong with the way they think if they would willingly ask that animals be caged and trucked to slaughterhouses because they imagine they taste better than some plant-based “imitation”.
Worse yet, they think it’s wierd that we care that: