The relationship between meat consumption, environmental destruction and progressive climate change is now common knowledge.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) attributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions to meat, milk and egg production; the independent, US-based Worldwatch Institute even puts the figure at more than 50%. But one thing is for certain: these industries contribute more to climate change than all of the world's traffic combined, which accounts for 13.5% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Substances employed in the factory farming industry such as antibiotics and pesticides used in the treatment of animal feed, as well as harmful substances found in the excretions of livestock (ammonia etc.), poison both the soil and groundwater. As a result, factory farming is today the main culprit for forest dieback and one of the main causes of water contamination. Humans’ increasing resistance to antibiotics, for example, can largely be attributed to drinking water contaminated with residual levels of antibiotics. Factory farms are breeding grounds for multi-resistant bacteria that pose a major hazard to humans.
The Amazonian rainforest too is succumbing to the human craving for meat particularly in the industrialised countries of the world: every year, an area the size of England is cleared. Around 70% of these deforested areas are repurposed as grazing land for livestock, with a large proportion of the remainder being used as arable land for soya plants, which are used to feed the animals bred for meat. Only a vanishingly small percentage of the soya cultivated in Brazil is intended for direct human consumption. Not only is this a gigantic waste of resources, but the progressive destruction of the rainforest is also responsible for 17% of global greenhouse gases and, in addition, leads to the extermination of countless plant and animal species.
As you can see, meat consumption and environmental and climate protection are mutually exclusive.
The marine ecosystem is suffering from the craving for meat every bit as much as the terrestrial ecosystem. The oceans are being overfished, their ecological balance is at risk, and many marine species are threatened with extinction. Modern-day fishing, which employs state-of-the-art methods, is arguably one of the most destructive activities taking place on the planet today. Trawler fishing, for example, which is extremely widespread and sees much of the catch thrown dead or dying back into the water as unusable “bycatch” (more than 90% in shrimp fishery with dragnets), inflicts catastrophic ecological harm. Furthermore, the fishing industry and factory farming are two sides of the same coin: a significant proportion of the yield from fishing ends up on meat-eaters’ plates not as fish meat but as beef, pork and so on because up to 40% of the total catch is used as feed on factory farms (as well as for fish reared on aquafarms) to fatten up livestock ready for slaughter.
But traditional fishery practices are unable to meet the global demand for fish meat. Today, every second fish destined for human consumption is reared on an aquafarm, which is nothing more than an underwater factory farm and is extremely hazardous to the environment. Since fish and other aquatic life forms reared on aquafarms are fed mainly wild fish, aquaculture also contributes directly to overfishing and the exploitation of the world’s oceans.
It is clear that a diet based on animal products has no future. If, as forecast, the consumption of meat and milk doubles between 2000 and 2050, this could bring about the destruction of the
planet’s ecosystem. Even if everyone were to switch to local and/or organic products, this would not have much of an impact because even those on a diet containing meat who exclusively buy
locally produced organic food have a much larger eco-footprint than vegetarians and especially vegans. Put simply, the more plant-based our diet, the smaller our
Meat consumption is anything but a private matter – and above all because the wide-ranging negative impact of meat production on the environment and climate affects each and every one of us and puts our joint future at risk.
Parents above all should make it a matter of personal interest to leave behind for their children a world that is worth living in. A vegetarian diet, both for ourselves and our children, is the simplest and most effective way of making a long-term contribution to protecting our environment and climate, each and every day.
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