This is my last Vegan MoFo Soapbox, and I have yet to broach the topic of meat-eating! We have previously discussed my own journey and reasons for following a plant-based diet here, here, and here. Though on the whole I don't dwell excessively on the lack of meat in my diet, and more on the other components, since we are drawing towards the end of the month, I thought we could devote today to exploring the issue.
According to a study last year, livestock occupies a quarter of the Earth's surface and one third of the arable land grows animal feed. The team of researchers from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Swiss College of Agriculture, World Bank, Stanford University, and the International Livestock Research Institute predicted a possible double of production by 2050. If we think about the current far-reaching impacts from animal waste, deforestation and land degradation, methane and nitrous oxide emissions, etc. all associated with livestock production, it is hard to imagine a world with even more!
A World Watch Institute report released in 2005, Happier Meals, documented the impacts of factory farming, and touts organic and local animal agriculture, and increasing the number of vegetarian meals eaten in a week! Most distinctly, the report discusses the inefficiencies of converting feed, water, and fossil energy into edible calories. A more recent publication by the Institute echos the message of this earlier work. A Vital Signs (based on FAO data) on the increase in meat production describes the serious environmental impacts - deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions - associated with the twenty percent increase in the last decade.
But at the same time, the report also notes that 70 percent of the 800 million in abject poverty (living on less than $1/day) rely on livestock for their livelihoods. In Zimbabwe, cattle's role in turning the soil has reversed the path of desertification that was threatening crops and food security. Manure is an important nutrient provider; chickens serve as pest control by eating bugs off crops; and goats, well, can clear weeds...
Ok, so perhaps you thought when I started this blog entry about the eating of animals, that it would be vegan-centric, touting the benefits of an herbivorous lifestyle. I have to say that for my part, I believe in the benefits of such a diet for health and the environment. But I think the issue of livestock-raising and meat-eating merit more critical scrutiny and informed discussion. This is particularly true in cases outside of industrialized countries, where animal protein is a luxury not a norm (or an excess!), and where that may be the difference between starving and feeding a family.
I welcome and encourage comments, in hopes of inciting perhaps a little more discussion than usual on the benefits and shortcomings of a diet inclusive of meat, dairy, and eggs.