The natural cost of meat

Celebrity chef and food writer Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, continues to lead campaigns for seasonal, ethically produced food, along with ‘War on Waste’ and the call to reduce the amount of meat we eat.

Hugh follows in a long line of environmentalists who recognise that the global food system is unsustainable. While a billion people go hungry, hundreds of thousands suffer from obesity and food producers in rich and poor countries alike struggle to make a living.

Industrial meat and dairy production is having a huge impact on the planet. The UN reported that the livestock sector produces 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions from a combination of methane emissions, fossil fuel consumption, nitrogen fertilisers and deforestation.

Lord Stern, the economist and author of the Stern Report on Climate Change, was ridiculed for pointing out that rearing livestock produces methane which is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as an agent of global warming, and that it was essential that we reduced our meat and dairy produce consumption.

Some economies are heavily dependent on animals as a source of goods for sale and transportation, rather than food consumption, which makes behavioural change difficult. But in North East Wales this is not the case. Reducing the amount of meat we eat, and eating meat that is produced ethically, locally, and of a better quality to avoid waste, can have a big impact on improving our health, animal welfare and the environment.

Emissions can be reduced by changing the ways animals are reared. Sheep and cattle traditionally ate grasses and shrubs that humans couldn’t eat, now they are fed on huge quantities of grains, rice and maize. About 40% of the world’s cereals are used to feed farm animals, but only around a third of the calories in the feed are converted into useful meat or dairy produce.

We do have a choice here of which meats to buy – for instance our local farmers’ market and butchers rear and sell ‘grass-fed lamb’. Paying the right price to producers makes these farming methods sustainable.

The ‘eat less meat’ message may be unpalatable to many but ‘eat more veg, pulses, nuts and grains’ to save money, improve your health and reduce carbon emissions is a compelling argument.

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