There was an interesting little snippet in the news last month when Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the Chairman of the UN’s Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, suggested that a good way of reducing the production of greenhouse gases would be to eat less meat.
Apparently, although everyone thinks about transport as a major producer of greenhouse gases, it only accounts for about 13%. The production of meat is a considerably bigger culprit; according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, 18% of greenhouse gases originate with the processes involved in meat production. That includes the clearing of land, the production of fertiliser, the use of agricultural machinery, and of course the gases that come from the animals themselves.
Dr Pachauri was speaking at an event in London on 8 September organised by Compassion In World Farming have welcomed the suggestion. Their “ambassador”, Joyce D’Silva, told the BBC: “Surveys show people are anxious about their personal carbon footprints and cutting back on car journeys and so on; but they may not realise that changing what’s on their plate could have an even bigger effect.”
CIWF have made Dr Pachauri’s slide show (20 slides) and video clips of the event available on their website. Some of the statistics make sobering reading. For instance, one kilogram of beef is responsible for as many greenhouse gas emissions as the average European family car produces in 250 kilometres – and consumes enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for 20 days. Pork, lamb and chicken aren’t quite as heavy a burden on the environment, but they’re still much less efficient than crop-growing.
So are we all being told to become vegetarians overnight to save the planet? Apparently not; although Dr Pachauri thinks that pricing food according to the greenhouse burden would drive the price of meat up and induce people to eat less of it, he himself doesn’t favour mandating things like this. But he does point out that less meat (not no meat) is good for the health and would also reduce greenhouse gases.
In the meantime, farmers are being encouraged to reduce the burden on the environment – by using fewer agricultural inputs, giving livestock feed that doesn’t produce so much methane (emissions from UK farms have gone down by 13% since 1990) and, potentially, breeding animals that burp and fart less.
Something to think about when you’re planning Sunday dinner…