Radio 4’s Tom Heap’s recent comments on the high impact of a carnivorous diet on the environment are not groundbreaking news. The UN has calculated that livestock warms the planet more than transport and for years The Vegetarian Society have campaigned to raise awareness about the damaging effect to the climate of eating meat.
Cows and sheep burp, fart and even breathe methane – a gas with about 20 times the global warming power than carbon dioxide! Their manure is also heavy with nitrates, which pollute both water and air. What’s more, livestock are relatively inefficient at turning food into protein so feeding them involves clearing acres of land for crop production, leaving less room for climate friendly forests.
Fearing their carbon-heavy practices will be penalized; the meat industry has found low GHG solutions indoors. Once caged, the animals’ diets can be strictly controlled, they don’t ‘waste’ energy by running around and their manure can be burnt as fuel avoiding damaging evaporation and seepage into rivers.?
Peter Bradnock of the British Poultry Council says: “Organic poultry meat has about 45% more global warming potential than indoor-reared poultry meat.”
So, why not eat your pork pie and avoid global warming? All well and good for you, but what about the animals? In ‘What About China?’, The Soil Association’s Robin Maynard points out that the practice of battery farming leads to disease, mutilation, injury and even cannibalism amongst the cramped and frustrated animals.
If you’re still secretly swayed by the climate argument for battery farming, get this: because factory farmed animals are at higher risk of disease they are routinely fed growth-promoters and antibiotics, a practice which has been identified as promoting the development of MRSA and other super-bugs. Over 30 years ago the Swann Committee warned the meat industry about the consequences of feeding animals the same drugs used on humans but unfortunately, this didn’t persuade the meat industry to change their ways. The full consequences of this decision are still emerging; in 2007 a new strain of MRSA was found in intensively farmed pigs and super-bugs are increasingly found in hospitals across the UK.