Why I am not a vegetarian!

People often ask whether I am a vegetarian or not.  There is not a simple yes or no answer to this question.  Below is a briefing I wrote during my time at QCEA on the issue.  Hopefully, it provides a little overview of why I try to reduce the amount of meat and dairy I consume. For more information check out the full length briefing paper available at: http://qcea.quaker.org/energysecurity/fact_sheet.htm.  Please note that this articel does not look at issues around animal welfare or human health concerns. Both of which can be used to make convincing arguements around meat and dairy consumption. All of the arguements below require a significant shift and reduction in our consumer patters.  It does not require us to boycot all meat products.

Livestock production and the environment 

Choices we make around meat consumption go far beyond the common misconception that it is simply an ethical decision about killing an animal. Livestock production has severe repercussions in terms of climate change, oil use, water use and deforestation. 

Climate Change 

Livestock production contributes as much as 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That is 64% of all nitrous oxide, 37% of all methane and 9% of all carbon dioxide. To put this into context, the production of a kg of beef generates approximately the same GHG emissions as driving 250 km. There are also a number of hidden GHG emissions in meat production:

  •  Fertilizer and grain production
  • Forest clearing for cattle ranching
  • Extensive use of machinery 

Although a small amount of meat consumption could be justified and might even be beneficial for climate change, the current volume and methods that are used are far from sustainable.

A significant reduction in the industrialized world’s meat and dairy consumption is desperately needed. 

Resource Depletion

 Livestock production is an energy-intensive process that is eating into our natural resources.

 Deforestation: 

In the last ten years an area the size of Greece has been cleared in the Amazon due to cattle ranching and feed crop production. That’s 19,368 km² per year. Brazil has recently stated it hopes to double the size of its cattle industry. The Brazilian government does not see this as contradictory to their commitments to tackle climate change. 

Oil: 

Modern agriculture is dependent on oil to feed our crop production, through fertilizers and machinery, transport of goods and packaging. Without the intensive production of grain, our current farming methods would cease to exist. The future of intensive meat production is linked inextricably to an intensive mode of agriculture based on cheap oil. In an age of peak oil, how much longer can we justify using cheap oil to produce vast quantities of grain and meat? 

Water: 

Livestock production consumes large quantities of water. For every litre of milk produced, we use 990 litres of water in the production process. This rises to over 15,000 litres for a kg of beef. Intensive farming methods are also responsible for pollution of water sources. Animal waste, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizer and pesticide use and sediment from eroded pastures all find their way into rivers and streams. Both nitrogen and phosphorus excreted by animals increase the chance of there being too many nutrients in water (eutrophication) which can lead to algal blooms. This problem can be exacerbated by the use of nitrogen fertilizers. 

Three things you can do: 

  • Eat less meat and dairy- This one is simple. Unless you’re meat and dairy free already, it wouldn’t hurt to eat a little less.
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables – Good for your health and the environment
  • Eat local and organic produce – Whether you’re a vegetarian, a dedicated carnivore, or somewhere in between, you can help by purchasing local produce in season. 

Three steps for policy makers: 

Individuals need to act to tackle this problem but we also need to see leadership from governments. Leaders should:

  • Commit to a reduction of meat and dairy products in line with GHG emission reductions.
  • Provide a fund for developing countries such as Brazil to ensure that zero deforestation is reached by 2015.
  • Produce a clear education campaign highlighting the full impact of livestock production to enable consumers to make informed decisions.

 All references can be found in the QCEA briefing paper

available at http://www.quaker.org/qcea/

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8 Comments

Filed under Climate Change

8 responses to “Why I am not a vegetarian!

  1. Pingback: Dale Vince has scored an own goal at Forest Green Rovers « Hynd's Blog

  2. British beef is often fed on cattle feed. A lot of which is grown in the Amazon. For more info, have a look at the Greenpeace report on it…very interesting

    Water is a major issue, as part of the life-cycle assessment of livestock’s long shadow you need to include the water for intensive irrigation of feed crops (of which you need more than if you were growing just to feed a human directly).

    My reason for not being an absolute vegetarian is because I do not think there is anything inherent about meat eating that is unethical…there is something inherently unethical about the way we currently consume meat. As you say…there is nothing wrong with keeping pigs and feeding them scraps..or having chickens in your back garden etc…!

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  3. Fat Hen

    You can keep chickens, quails or rabbit in your back yard, and if you live rurally, geese and pigs. Beef is not the only meat there is!

    Also, I don’t see what British beef has to do with deforestation by Argentinians or any other nation for that matter (since it’s their land and their choice, unless you want to invade and stop ’em) — but I agree, having a local beef industry is much better than importing from where ever.

    About water — the UK has way too much of the stuff, so that is not something you need to worry about. So enjoy your milk 🙂

    Now, what was your reason not to be a vegetarian btw?

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  4. Sorry but you haven’t answered the question. You have given no reasons as to why you are not vegetarian. A more appropriate title would have been “Why I try to eat less meat.” “Why I am not a vegetarian” necessitates that you address the issues raised by vegetarians and vegans and then counter them.

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    • Hi Berger,
      See my response to an earlier comment! I think one of the biggest problems that any debate around the ethical considerations of meat and dairy consumption has is that people necessitate dividing the arguments into the polar opposites of carnivore or vegetarian. This article makes the point that I am not a vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I mindlessly consume meat.

      I am being a little naughty with the title.
      s

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  5. Alan-a-dale

    This seems to give lots of reasons why you should be a vegetarian and to not answer the question at the top of the page…

    Perhaps I need to read the full paper…

    Having said that, it’s a clear and concise summary of the impact of meat production… one of the reasons I am a vegetarian.

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    • All of these arguments can be applied to the idea of significantly reducing the amount of meat and dairy you consume. It does not; in my opinion necessitate a complete abolition of meat and dairy products (although of course there is nothing wrong with vegetarian and vegan diets). It is clear to me that current volumes and practices are unsustainable and need to be transformed beyond recognition.

      From a pragmatic point of view however, I have found people to be a lot more susceptible to what I have to say if I advocate a reduction in meat consumption rather than giving up meat altogether.

      In the past I have tried to explain it to people as a scale with mass over-consumption on one end and the perfect vegan diet at the other. Compare this then with driving: With driving a 4X4 everywhere for fun on one end and never getting into a car at the other.

      I know lots of people who will try to reduce the amount they drive, not take unnecessary journeys and drive a smaller car and such forth. The idea for many of giving up driving altogether is a lot less appealing. Equally, with meat and dairy people are a lot happier with the idea of reducing the amount they consume rather than pledging to give it up altogether (there is always that lingering thought…what do I do when I am hung over?)

      On a positive note, this helps people take the first steps (to see that meat consumption is having a big impact on climate change and that it is possible to envision a meal without meat).
      On a negative note, it could be (quite rightly) considered to be pandering to unsustainable habits and blurring the severity of the issues we face!

      Finally, I should be clear, that I think eating a vegetarian diet, or vegan, if you want to is a cracking idea!

      What do you think about the best way to highlight this connection between meat and climate change without putting people off?

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      • Alan-a-dale

        I think your approach is very sensible and probably likely to be effective. The problem I have is that I gave up meat 20 years ago for reasons of animal welfare and, since then, have also realised that there are environmental, health, spiritual and even political reasons for not consuming meat. I therefore tend to be a bit extreme in my opposition and probably not likely to convert many ‘non-believers’.

        Perhaps the reduction argument is worth a try…

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