Animal Production / Consumption / Environment / Livestock Systems

Is eating meat actually good for the planet?

ILRI Ethiopia

A young girl carries a slab of beef amongst traders in Goro town, Ethiopia, on market day. (Photo credit: ILRI/Mann)

‘The modest proposal may sound heretical to many eco-conscious eaters, but eating meat may actually be good for the planet after all.  In his new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie aims to debunk the increasingly popular theory that a omnivorous diet is environmentally unsound.  The British farmer and former editor of the Ecologist magazine even goes so far as to suggest that consuming meat in moderation is greener than eating a vegan diet. . . . His book has already convinced one writer to recant his previous conclusion that veganism is the only ethical choice.

‘Fairlie argues that all agricultural systems, including plant-based ones, create an excess of waste that’s difficult to dispose of, and that surplus biomass is best used to feed livestock, particularly pigs. Redirecting kitchen and restaurant waste to the trough could also potentially cut down on the massive amounts of methane gas created when food rots in landfills. Critics of meat-eating also point to reports that indicate the ratio of edible plants needed to produce meat is somewhere between 10:1 and 5:1. But if cattle are allowed to eat primarily grass — food people can’t eat — the ratio shrinks to around 1.4 to 1, according to Fairlie.

‘Fairlie’s book also targets a number of oft-quoted statistics when considering the impact of meat production on the planet. One of the biggies he addresses is the recent report from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that suggests livestock create about 18 percent of the globe’s greenhouse gas emissions. According to Fairlie, a large portion of the emissions actually come from logging and development, rather than ranching. Of course, the adjusted number is still roughly 10 percent, which clearly still needs to be brought down, an issue Fairlie acknowledges.

‘While I have yet to read Fairlie’s book (currently available only in the U.K.), I’m encouraged by his efforts to challenge preconceived notions about meat eating and advocate for sustainable solutions. Taken on the surface, Fairlie’s book is sure to deeply irk vegan advocates and equally thrill meat supporters, but ultimately his contribution is an important part of an ongoing dialogue. Just as the debate over eating locally is becoming more nuanced, the sustainable answers to the growing trend of meat consumption is going to require the input of many different perspectives.’

Read the whole article on the Change.org blog: Is eating meat actually goof for the planet? 14 October 2010.

2 thoughts on “Is eating meat actually good for the planet?

  1. The “living” earth is composed of plants and animals. There is a balance. Both mutualy feed/enrich themselves.

    It is therefore understandable that, as you mention in your article “consuming meat in moderation is greener than eating a vegan diet”.

    As this amazing movie http://www.solutionslocales-lefilm.com/ states, the mistake lies in separating both worlds (animals and plants) in order to produce massively and in virtual, often off-ground, environments. In one word: “industrializing”.

    The point of the “eat less meat” movement is to go against the trend to have a lot of people eat a lot of meat, not to eradicate animals!

  2. I prefer to eat vegetarian food. Occasionally I take a fish, but I cannot give up diary products. As we have started farming domestic animals, they don’t live in wild nature anymore; then we should keep the balance between production and consumption of meat. I believe that domestic animal cannot do such harm to the environment as it was said…

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