Time to discuss the impact of meat-eating on climate change – Poorva Joshipura

Cow, Pig & Chicken

Poorva Joshipura“India’s vegetarian leader Narendra Modi has been vocal about protecting cows and, during the lead-up to his election, his opposition to what he called the “pink revolution” — subsidised meat production and promotion. We can only hope that he makes reducing meat and dairy production and consumption a key point in any plans that India and the United States propose for tackling greenhouse-gas emissions.” – Poorva Joshipura

Meat, Fish, EggsStudy after study has shown that there’s a strong correlation between climate change and the production of meat and other animal-based foods. And yet meat is regarded merely as a lunchtime entrée at the conference, not a serious topic for discussion.

This needs to change. A widely publicised report from the Worldwatch Institute, “Livestock and Climate Change” indicates that more than 51% of worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions are attributable to animal agriculture, specifically to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels and pigs that are raised and killed for food. Worldwatch Institute’s senior fellow, Robert Engelman has said that the “world’s supersized appetite for meat” is one of the main reasons why greenhouse-gas emissions are still rapidly increasing.

Animal agriculture is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide, which are, respectively, 25 and 300 times more potent as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. Just recently, Chatham House, an international think tank, called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change.

Researchers feel that the livestock sector has been “almost completely overlooked” when it comes to climate change and that the revenue from a meat tax should be used to subsidise healthy plant-based foods, which are less damaging to the environment.

Other climate experts agree that the livestock sector is too often overlooked when it comes to discussions about curbing climate change. Scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden calculated various ways to combat climate change and found that cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from transportation and energy use alone is not effective. Dr Fredrik Hedenus, the lead scientist of the study, concluded that “reducing meat and dairy consumption is crucial for bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels”.

Ilmi Granoff of the Overseas Development Institute in the United Kingdom has similarly noted that officials should, “Forget coal. Forget cars. The fastest way to address climate change would be to dramatically reduce the amount of meat [eaten by] people”.

An Oxford University study, “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, suggests that people who eat meat are responsible for almost twice as many dietary greenhouse-gas emissions per day as vegetarians and about two and a half times as many emissions as vegans, people who don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy foods.

Why wasn’t this one of the main topics of conversation at the climate summit?

The Oxford study shows that people who eat more than 3.5 ounces of meat per day—only about the size of a deck of playing cards—generate 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day, while vegetarians and vegans generate 8.4 and 6.4 pounds of CO2e, respectively. Ultimately, this means that the dietary emissions for meat-eaters are 50%-54% higher than they are for vegetarians and 99%-102% higher than for vegans.

PizzasIf we’re serious about saving the environment, we must eat plant-based foods rather than animal-based ones. The United Nations Environment Programme’s International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management has called for a global shift towards a vegan diet to protect the world from the worst impacts of climate change. A 2014 study published in New Scientist magazine, “Going vegetarian halves CO2 emissions from your food”, shows that each person can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that his or her diet contributes to climate change by up to 60% just by going vegan.

And yet every nation has failed to recognise in any meaningful way the contribution of meat and dairy production to climate change.

Australia, for example, is known to have a big appetite for meat. Each year, the average Australian eats approximately 205 pounds of beef and veal, poultry, pork and sheep flesh, the most of any of the 14 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of nations that works to improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

The United States is the second largest consumer of meat among OECD nations, and the average American has been reported to eat twice as much meat as the average person worldwide. Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Israel, New Zealand and the European Union nations are also known to be big per capita meat-eaters.

That’s not to say that India doesn’t share in the blame. India is the world’s largest beef exporter. The country is moving towards intensive factory-farming systems like those in the US, in which hundreds or even thousands of animals are packed together in a small space. India accounts for about 6% of the world’s carbon emissions. If India doesn’t take steps to combat climate change, we will all suffer the consequences: a warming climate, changing precipitation patterns, droughts, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and more. And if the meat and dairy industries’ contribution to environmental destruction is not addressed, we may well be heading for disaster. The British risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft indicates that India is an “extreme risk” country, which will experience the economic impacts of climate change most keenly by 2025.

The Sustainable Innovation Forum in Paris didn’t give people a whole lot of reasons to be optimistic. The politics editor at Huffington Post India, a vegetarian who was covering the conference, recently lamented the lack of vegetarian options in Paris. She spoke with a communications expert from Brazil who thought it was alarming that a UN Climate Change Conference was going against the recommendations of the UN’s own Food and Agriculture Organization, which has urged people to eat more vegan meals. “You would think,” she bemoaned, “that at a climate change conference there should be even more vegetarian options than non-vegetarian.”

I suppose it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, was doubtful that our world leaders would reach the 2-degree target.

This is something everyone needs to worry about—now. The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that methane and nitrous oxide appear to be increasing rapidly and that average levels of carbon dioxide have risen 43% above pre-industrial levels. Researchers at Britain’s University of East Anglia warn that the Earth’s average temperature has exceeded historic norms by 1.02 degrees Celsius.

The world’s climate is warming faster than some experts feared, because previous predictions were too optimistic and overestimated the cooling impact of clouds. Scientists at Stanford University in the United States worry that climate change is on pace to occur at a rate that is 10 times faster than any climate shift recorded in the past 65 million years.

Narendra ModiThere is some hope, though. While some warming is unavoidable, because humans have already emitted billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the overall impact isn’t written in stone. Human variables can still slow the pace and magnitude of climate change — or accelerate them.

It’s no secret that PETA encourages people to go vegan for ethical reasons, but we also know that going vegan is the best way to avoid environmental catastrophe.

India’s vegetarian leader Narendra Modi has been vocal about protecting cows and, during the lead-up to his election, his opposition to what he called the “pink revolution”—subsidised meat production and promotion. We can only hope that he makes reducing meat and dairy production and consumption a key point in any plans that India and the United States propose for tackling greenhouse-gas emissions. [Unforunately the Modi Sarkar continues to subsidise meat production and export just like its Congress predecessor! — Ed]

But even though we could not force the delegates in Paris to promote vegan living, we can all take steps to slow climate change, conserve resources and reduce animal suffering, beginning with our next meal, simply by choosing plant-based foods. So the next time you sit down to eat, have a veggie burger instead of a hamburger or enjoy some soy-based chicken, aloo saag, curried vegetables or vegan chilli. You’ll be helping animals, your own health and the health of the planet. – Sunday Guardian, 13 December 2015

» Poorva Joshipura is the Chief Executive Officer of PETA India and Vice President of International Affairs for PETA Foundation UK.

India's Beef Exports India's Carabeef Exports 2015


5 Responses

  1. This Report is from Chatam House. the UK Royal Institute of International Affairs

    “Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius, the main goal of the climate negotiations in Paris”


  2. Buffalo slaughter in New Delhi

    BJP got Rs 2.50 cr in donations from firms exporting buffalo meat – Himanshi Dhawan – Times of India – TNN – New Delhi – Dec 16, 2015

    JP received Rs 2.50 crore in donations from companies exporting buffalo meat, according to contribution reports for financial years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 submitted to the Election Commission of India.

    In the run-up to Lok Sabha polls in 2014, three companies—Frigorifico Allana Ltd, Frigerio Converva Allana Ltd and Indagro Foods Ltd—contributed Rs 2 crore to the saffron party. All three companies are subsidiaries of Allanasons Ltd with their registered address at Allana House, Allana Road, Colaba, Mumbai. In 2014-2015, Frigorifico Allana Ltd contributed Rs 50 lakh to the party fund. All four transactions were made through Vijaya Bank.

    Allanasons Ltd is a leader in buffalo meat exports and describes itself as the “world’s largest producer and exporter of frozen halal boneless buffalo meat, dominating the buffalo meat exports market in India”. The company also deals in vegetable products, spices, cereals and coffee. The company is listed with the stock exchange with Sharjah-based Shiraz A R Allana as its promoter.

    The BJP listed the companies as donors in its contribution reports. Section 29C of the Representation of People Act, 1951, mandates that political parties must submit their contribution details in excess of Rs 20,000 received from any person or company to the EC annually, in order to enjoy 100% tax exemption. BJP submitted its donation list for 2014-2015 in November.

    Significantly, PM Narendra Modi had made beef exports an election issue. In a poll rally in Nawada, Bihar, in April 2014, he had referred to “pink revolution”. More recently, incidents like the Dadri lynching and the Kerala House raid had led to a debate on “intolerance” with several BJP members speaking against consumption of beef.

    BJP received the highest amount of donations among national parties in 2014-2015 and declared a total of Rs 437.35 crore as voluntary contributions from donors giving above Rs 20,000.
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  3. The economic cost of raising livestock for human consumption is also astronomical. Artificial feeds, disease and pest control measures, abattoir costs, transportation and refrigeration, all add up to a sizable sum (anywhere between 500 to 1000 US dollars per cow). The knock-on effect for the consumer means that meat produce takes a large chunk off his monthly grocery budget.

    The negatives of meat eating have been known to man fo centuries. Unfortunately old habits die hard.
    As Mark Twain once said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other peoples habits.”

  4. Nobody expects India to go vegan.

    But India has a very sophisticated vegetarian food culture that is unique in the world. It should be vigorously promoted here at home and also abroad (like Yoga was promoted).

    But the adharmic NDA government promotes beef exports instead!

    How much more hypocritical can the Modi Sarkar get?

    • Quite right ! India has a sophisticated (and may I add delicious!) vegetarian food culture that should be promoted in India and world wide !

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