ANIMAL AGRICULTURE - the most destructive industry facing the planet today. This is the message of 'Cowspiracy', a hard-hitting indie documentary released in 2014 exclusively on Netflix and now on the web at various sites. YouTube has a (poor audio) video interview with the filmmakers.
There was a spat with Greenpeace USA who declined to take part and felt that they were misrepresented by implication in the film. See: 'Cows, conspiracies and Greenpeace' blogpost by Robin Oakley (19th October 2015).
'There’s a population crisis all right. But probably not the one you think' by Guardian environmental journalist George Monbiot (19th November 2015) asks the question:
'So why is hardly anyone talking about the cow, pig, sheep and chicken in the room? Why are there no government campaigns to reduce the consumption of animal products, just as they sometimes discourage our excessive use of electricity?'
Here are some extracts and condensed facts
Human numbers are rising at roughly 1.2% a year, while livestock numbers are rising at around 2.4% a year.
By 2050 the world’s living systems will have to support about 120m tonnes of extra humans, and 400m tonnes of extra farm animals.
Raising these animals already uses three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land. A third of our cereal crops are used to feed livestock: this may rise to roughly half by 2050. More people will starve as a result, because the poor rely mainly on grain for their subsistence, and diverting it to livestock raises the price.
A recent paper in the journal 'Science of the Total Environment' suggests that our consumption of meat is likely to be “the leading cause of modern species extinctions”.
Not only is livestock farming the major reason for habitat destruction and the killing of predators, but its waste products are overwhelming the world’s capacity to absorb them.
Freshwater life is being wiped out across the world by farm manure. Dead zones now extend from many coasts, as farm sewage erases ocean life across thousands of square kilometres.
Factory farms in the US generate 13 times as much sewage as the human population does. The dairy farms in Tulare County, California, produce five times as much as New York City. In England the system designed to protect us from the tide of slurry has comprehensively broken down.
Livestock farming creates around 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions: slightly more than the output of the world’s cars, lorries, buses, trains, ships and planes.
British people eat, on average, slightly more than their bodyweight in meat every year, while Americans consume another 50%:
If you eat soya, your emissions per unit of protein are 20 times lower than eating pork or chicken, and 150 times lower than eating beef.
'It's important to remember that what we put on our plates has political consequences'
Barbara Unmuessig, President of the Heinrich Boell Foundation
This is a yearly publication by the Heinrich Boell Foundation - a German environmental NGO - and Friends of the Earth. The first English version for the international market was published in 2014.
The aim is to inform consumers about the dangers of increasingly industrialised meat production, says Barbara Unmuessig, the foundation's president, herself a self-confessed enjoyer of the occasional organic steak.
"In the rich North we already have high meat consumption. Now the poor South is catching up," she said. "Catering for this growing demand means industrialised farming methods: animals are pumped full of growth hormones. This has terrible consequences on how animals are treated and on the health of consumers."
In the United States more than 75kg (165lbs) of meat is consumed per person each year. In Germany that figure is around 60kg. Huge amounts compared to per capita meat consumption rates of 38kg in China, and less than 20kg in Africa.
But whereas in the developed world meat consumption has stabilised - or in some countries such as Germany, is even falling - in other parts of the world, particularly in India and China, consumers are taking enthusiastically to a meat-heavy Western diet.
As a result increasing amounts of agricultural land are being given over to grow animal feed, such as soya. Globally 70% of arable land is now being used to grow food for animals, rather than food for people, says the Heinrich Boell Foundation.
This is undermining the fight against starvation and poverty, says Barbara Unmuessig, as individual farmers are pushed off their land by huge competitive corporations. And industrialised methods have led to an overuse of damaging chemicals, she believes.
BBC News, Berlin (9 January 2014)
Lucy Siegel in 'The eco guide to eating meat' [The Guardian/14 Feb 2016]
By 2050, experts predict, the demand for meat will have doubled, and meat-related emissions will boom at 12bn tonnes of carbon to feed a population of 9 billion. Our consumption has to tail off if we are to achieve Paris emissions goals.
In 2013 researchers found the carbon footprint of a vegetarian to be half that of a meat eater. Comfortingly, they also found that a flexitarian approach is a close second. By replacing three-quarters of our ruminant budget with other forms of protein, we could reduce livestock emissions to 3.1bn tonnes by 2050. Chicken could play a part, but some non-meat proteins should be included, too.