Tag Archives: environmental impact

Guy’s Newsletter: ruminating on protein

“Dad, how can you call yourself an environmentalist, and still sell meat?”. First one daughter, then the other, then even my previously carnivorous sons joined in. Their epiphany was brought on by the documentary Cowspiracy; it is smug, irritating and outrageously one-sided in its selection of evidence and ends with an unjustified and ill-considered swipe at Greenpeace. However, despite my irritation, I would agree (uncomfortably for someone selling meat) that no thinking person can reasonably claim to be an environmentalist, or even a humanist, while continuing to eat more than very small amounts of animal protein; most forms of animal agriculture are simply wrecking our planet.

Climate change-wise the arguments are complex, involving ruminant methane emissions, deforestation for grazing and soya production, methane and nitrous oxide emitting manure heaps and soil, intensive versus extensive farming methods and more. As our planet is so diverse in soils, topography, ecology, diet and agricultural methods, it’s unwise to be dogmatic anyway. However, after weeks scouring scientific papers, we have reached the following initial conclusions:

  • Livestock agriculture contributes 10-12% of manmade climate change; arguably as much as every car, plane, truck and ship on the planet.
  • Livestock agriculture is grossly inefficient and requires 5-10 times more land to feed ourselves than a vegan diet; there just isn’t enough land to go round. OK it’s not that simple; there may well be a credible argument for animals grazing permanent pastures on land unsuited for growing crops for humans, to produce high quality, high welfare meat and dairy, as with most organic farming, but we will have to eat much less of it.

Alongside this are all the health, animal welfare, pollution and antibiotic resistance arguments against eating meat; hard to quantify, but very real. There will be exceptions, but the general conclusion is inescapable; for the good of us and our planet, we must collectively eat much less animal protein. Over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring the issue and suggesting ways to nudge any committed carnivores away from some of their meat. I hope you’ll feel compelled to join us.

Guy Watson

Visit www.riverford.co.uk/how-much-meat to join the debate, take our ‘drop a day’ pledge, browse meat-minimising recipes and do our survey.

guy’s newsletter: kebabs, cars & agricultural shame

In the fields, it is half a million down and half a million to go; leeks that is. It’s very muddy but not much else to say there, so here are some other thoughts.

My very foodie, and previously highly carnivorous, eldest son returned from Berlin for Christmas and announced that he was becoming a vegetarian; “If I can’t afford good meat, I would rather not eat it at all”. I glowed with pride before he went on to say that after a heavy night out he always ended up eating a kebab, and didn’t think his guts could take any more. Nice. Meanwhile, my gas guzzling old banger finally died and I took the plunge and bought an electric car, but then promptly flew to Sicily for New Year to look at vegetables that we intermittently truck 2000 miles to supplement the homegrown crops in your vegboxes. Before I left, my vegetarian father-in-law (possibly the most reasonable and thoughtful person on the planet) pointed out that, according to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, livestock production contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than every single car, train, and plane on the planet.

All this serves to illustrate that managing our environmental impact is a minefield of personal and collective culpability; sadly I have almost no hope for leadership from the Government, so it lies with individuals and businesses. Comparing cars and farming I find myself hugely impressed with how, within one generation, the automotive industry has embraced technology to produce cars which are massively cleaner and more efficient. I wish the same could be said for farming; in an industry that should essentially be about capturing and harnessing sunlight, environmental impact has spiralled out of control. It is thought that we consume ten calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of food produced, while mercilessly raping the planet’s soil and wildlife. Don’t blame population increase; modern agriculture should hang its head in shame. This month’s Oxford Farming Conference, the industry’s annual right-wing, land owners’ bonanza, should have been a two day plea for forgiveness. Meanwhile, I had intended to suggest what individuals can do to reduce the environmental impact of their food but having rambled, this will follow next week.

Guy Watson