Monday, April 14, 2008

Is meat eating sustainable?

According to George Monbiot it isn't.

'What level of meat-eating would be sustainable? One approach is to work out how great a cut would be needed to accommodate the growth in human numbers. The UN expects the population to rise to 9 billion by 2050. These extra people will require another 325m tonnes of grain. Let us assume, perhaps generously, that politicians such as Ruth Kelly are able to "adjust policy in the light of new evidence" and stop turning food into fuel. Let us pretend that improvements in plant breeding can keep pace with the deficits caused by climate change. We would need to find an extra 225m tonnes of grain. This leaves 531m tonnes for livestock production, which suggests a sustainable consumption level for meat and milk some 30% below the current world rate. This means 420g of meat per person per week, or about 40% of the UK's average consumption.

This estimate is complicated by several factors. If we eat less meat we must eat more plant protein, which means taking more land away from animals. On the other hand, some livestock is raised on pasture, so it doesn't contribute to the grain deficit. Simon Fairlie estimates that if animals were kept only on land that is unsuitable for arable farming, and given scraps and waste from food processing, the world could produce between a third and two-thirds of its current milk and meat supply. But this system then runs into a different problem. The Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that animal keeping is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental impacts are especially grave in places where livestock graze freely. The only reasonable answer to the question of how much meat we should eat is as little as possible. Let's reserve it - as most societies have done until recently - for special occasions.'

Mr Monbiot can't handle a vegetarian diet himself, and his suggestion that people eat tilapia, a freshwater fish with an unparalled conversion ratio, is just stupid. The article comes dangerously close to another 'do what I say, not what I do' article on sustainability and climate change.

But apart from that, there's plenty of food for thought in his article (Pun intended, sadly).

The fuel for food crisis is already upon us.

I will personally be advocating the 17th century British naval diet- 14 pints per man per day.

You won't miss cow one little bit.


Post a Comment

<< Home