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Debate: should we stop eating meat to help the planet?

The environmental impact of the livestock industry is huge. Now, people, animals and cars are competing for scarcer and costlier grain supplies. Maryann Bird asks if it’s time for the planet to “go veggie”.

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The global food crisis has put a new focus on the debate over the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Apart from the usual arguments about animal rights, healthy eating, chemical residues, food-borne illnesses, pollution and waste, dwindling fish populations and more, there is the question of feeding the livestock raised for slaughter.

Cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and other animals destined for our dinner tables need to be fed – indeed, fattened up – before they are killed. As more countries around the world develop their economies and their people become wealthier -- especially in Asia and Latin America -- the demand for meat is booming. At a time when a steadily climbing global human population needs food, more grain is being used as animal feed.

Additionally, more and more forested land (even in unique places such as the Amazon rainforest) is being cleared for pasture and plantation. And while humans and animals both now require more grain – wheat, corn and rice -- and soybeans for food and food products, there is now a further hungry mouth demanding grain supplies: the biofuels industry. All of this has driven grain prices up in places where hungry people can least afford it, and provoked protests – some violent -- in countries across the global south.

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that high food prices are creating the biggest challenge that the United Nations agency has faced in its 45-year history, a silent tsunami threatening to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger. "This is the new face of hunger – the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” the agency’s executive director, Josette Sheeran, said in April 2008.

The prices of grain and dairy products -- including bread, pasta, tortillas, flour, milk and eggs -- are on the rise everywhere, in addition to the direct cost of meat itself.

As Lester R Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington has written: “The stage is now set for direct competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world’s 2 billion poorest people. The risk is that millions of those on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder will start falling off as higher food prices drop their consumption below the survival level.”

As well as the grain-price and grain-competition aspects of the meat-producing industry, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported in 2006 that: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

In a report entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, researchers concluded that the impact of the sector – while socially and politically very significant – was so environmentally massive that its impact needed to be urgently reduced. According to the report, livestock – while providing a third of humanity’s protein intake and creating livelihoods for one billion of the world’s poor -- also:

-- has degraded about 20% of the world’s pastures and rangeland (and 73% of rangelands in dry areas);

-- is responsible for 18% of greenhouse-gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent – more than transport’s share;

-- accounts for more than 8% of the world’s human water use;

-- contributes to eutophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas and degradation of coral reefs;

-- adds to health-harming pollution in water, through animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilisers and pesticides;

-- affects the replenishment of freshwater by compacting soil, reducing infiltration, degrading the banks of watercourses, drying up floodplains and lowering water tables;

-- pre-empts land that once was habitat for wildlife, thereby reducing biodiversity.

Chiefly among wealthy nations, “high intakes of animal-source foods, in particular, animal fats and red meat”, are linked to cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

In addition, vast amounts of energy are expended in transporting animals to slaughterhouses, killing them, refrigerating their carcasses and distributing their flesh. Producing one calorie of meat protein, according to research at the University of Chicago, means burning far more fossil fuel and outputting far more CO2 than does a calorie of plant protein.

Musician Paul McCartney, a longtime vegetarian, recently urged the world to turn vegetarian in the fight against global warming. “The biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle would be to become vegetarian,” the former Beatle said in April. “I would urge everyone to think about taking this simple step to help our precious environment and save it for the children of the future.”

Heard enough argument? Should we all be reducing, or entirely eliminating, animal flesh from our diets? Is it time to become vegetarian? Or would you find it too difficult to reduce or give up some foods you enjoy (and other animal products)?

Let us know on the forum what you think.

Maryann Bird is associate editor of chinadialogue.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不赞成素食主义

算了吧,我喜欢吃肉而且还会继续吃。我认为人类对我们的这个星球做了更具破坏性的事(开大车,坐飞机飞来飞去,买一些没用的产品然后没过几个星期就把它们扔掉)。如果有人想要放弃吃肉我很高兴,但是我会坚持吃。谢谢

No to vegetarianism

give me a break! I like eating meat and I plan to go on doing it. I think there are far more damaging things that people do to the planet (driving big cars, flying around, buying useless consumer goods that they throw away a few weeks later). I am happy for others to give up meat if they want to but I am sticking to it, thank you.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不可行

牛需要人类的饲养才可以生存,小牛更是要经常性人工喂奶要不是就有死的可能。吃肉是我们的天性,类似放弃食肉的所以这些极端的方法都不应该用来预制全球变暖或是它的自然伙伴—全球变冷。全球变冷就要发生了!

Fail

Cows now need humans to survive and heifers must be milked regularly or die. We were created to eat meat, and none of these extremes should be done to stop global warming or its other natural partner, global cooling. It is coming!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

吃素就能拯救地球吗?

让所有人吃素即不现实也不可能。很多企图彻底改变现状和违背人性的做法不可能是最终的解决方法。适度才是真理。我们需要适度地发展,适度的人口增长,适度的消费,以及适度控制我们的欲望。否则,所以其它的做法只是治表不治根。

Becoming vegetarians will help save the Earth?

It is unrealistic and impossible for all people to become vegetarians.

Many approaches that intend to totally change the current situation and others that are against human nature cannot be the final solutions.

To exercise moderation is the only way. As such, the world needs to develop at a moderate speed, the population needs to grow at a moderate rate, we need to moderate our consumption and control our desires. Otherwise, all other options will only serve as temporary cures to superficial problems, rather than remedies that will eradicate the deeper and real problems from the root.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复:不可行

没有冒犯或是降低这场辩论的意思,我可以说2号评论员很明显没有去过任何农场?牛需要人类的协助才可以生存--小牛更是要经常性人工喂奶要不是就有死的可能—从这些荒谬的观点中就很明显地看出。

re: Fail

Without sounding rude or lowering the tone of debate, can I note that the person who posted comment number 2 has obviously never actually been to a farm of any description. The implication that cows evolved only with human assistance - 'heifers need to be milked regularly or die' - is clearly nonsensical.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

定量供应?

也许定量供应肉食可解决问题。每个食肉者每周获得一定的量少的肉类供应。同时,素食者可获得减税待遇。

rationing?

perhaps meat rationing is the answer. every meat-eater gets a small allowance each week; vegetarians get tax breaks

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

避免简单化的看问题

我总是为这里这一类看似简单的问题或答案而迷惑。如果说是因为对环境和资源的影响而要求人们改变饮食习惯吃素的话,那么人类本身作为对环境和资源的最大消耗者,是否世界也应该像中国一样严格控制人口呢,这是不是又会引发人权方面的争议呢?从畜牧业来说,放养比集中圈养需要更多的能源消耗和占用更多的资源和土地,但是从动物权益,甚至从对消费者健康的角度,放养又比集中圈养更优。如何能够在不同的原则和权益中权衡取舍,似乎不是一个简单的问题或简单的答案能解决的。如果是由于生产过程的粗放,不科学或者其他原因导致畜牧业对环境的巨大影响就要求人们放弃肉食进而摈弃畜牧业,而不去考虑如何在可能的条件下改进和减小畜牧业对环境和能源的影响,那么如果有一天当素食也不能再满足日益增多的人口日渐膨胀的胃口时,我们又该吃什么呢?这绝不是杞人忧天!

王韬

It is not that simple!

I am always confused by these kinds of simple questions or answers. If we ask people to change their eating habits to be vegetarian because of its impact on the environment and resources, then considering the human itself is the biggest consumer and destructor of the environment and resources, shouldn't we also strictly control the population in the world just like how China did? Wouldn't this cause debate on human rights issues?

Concerning animal husbandry, comparing fenced-in pastures or cage breeding, free-range farming needs more energy, resources and land use, but would be more preferable for animal rights and even the health of consumers. How to strike the balance and make decisions among different principles and rights? This is not a simple question that can be solved though a simple answer. If were are to ask people to simply give up meat or even abandon the animal husbandry industry just because it causes more impacts to the environment due to the crude exercise and unscientific process of production rather than animal husbandry industry itself, without considering possible improvements to reduce the impacts on environmental and enenrgy, then what if one day, when even vegetarian food is not able to meet the needs of growing population and the expansion of appetites, what should we eat then? This is not an unfounded worry!

Tao Wang

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

回复: 对素食主义说“不”

几百万的素食者比普通人生活得更健康,寿命更长。我认为素食主义并不适合于每一个人,但是了解素食者的日常饮食可以让你对健康饮食有更进一步的了解,这不仅有利于自己也有利于环境。你若想了解更多的相关信息,可以看看John Robbins的书或者《中国研究》("China Study"),两者都介绍了长寿和少吃或不吃肉类之间的关系。也有研究说明严格素食主义者驾驶的休闲越野车如何能比非严格素食主义者驾驶的普通车辆排放出较少的二氧化碳。一夜之间成为素食者并不容易。我建议先一周尝试两次的素食食谱,或者慢慢少吃猪肉及牛肉。Michael

此评论由Chong Huang翻译

Re: No to vegetarianism

There are millions of people who are vegetarians and living healthier and longer lives as a result. I do not believe vegetarianism is for everyone, but with a little dedication, knowledge of vegetarian recipes, you can make a step towards a diet that is better for you and for the environment.

For more information, read a book by John Robbins, or read about the "China Study", which shows the link between longevity and a diet with little or no meat.

There are also studies showing how vegans who drive SUVs (sport utility vehicles) have a smaller carbon footprint than a non-vegan who drives a regular car.

I know it's not easy being a vegetarian overnight. I recommend trying a vegetarian recipe twice a week to begin. Or try to gradually stop eating pork or beef.

Michael

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

素食的确是当今挽救地球的最便捷且最可行的方法!

关于素食主义,在全球除了中国以外的广大地区并不陌生,但刚刚生活得到改善的中国民众对此还很懵懂。
素食主义是个相对专业的话题,需要参与讨论者具备一定的基础(至少了解素食起码的营养理论、素食与全球经济和环境之间链条关系的科学常识,以及相关的人道精神),否则便有浪费文字之嫌!
在中国,素食主义牵扯到其他方面的话题,甚至经常显得比较敏感!要在中国接触、和解和研究素食主义,真需要具备一定的勇气和远见!

放眼全球,越来越多的科学家、团体、个人甚至政界要人重视到素食对挽救地球命运的关键性,并积极推广茹素!这大概主要缘于现今越来越多的关于素食与环境之间关系的权威科学报告出台,其中,包括:
联合国粮农组织关于动物养殖业与二氧化碳排放之间的研究报告。该报告指出:动物产业造成全球近二成的温室气体排放,超过所有交通工具的总排放!

联合国政府间气候变化委员会(IPCC)领导人帕卓里表示:不吃肉、骑自行车、少消费,就可以协助遏止全球暖化。

如今,素食主义已不仅仅是事关人类自身健康、对动物人道的问题,而是上升为与资源消耗、温室气体排放紧密相关的地球命运问题了!希望越来越多的有识之士开始认真、专业地关注或研究这个话题!也许,你将获得前所未有的认知和震撼!

The vegetarian diet is currently the most convenient and feasible way to save the Earth!

Vegetarianism is widespread across the world, except in China; the Chinese people who have recently achieved so much improvement in their standard of life are still ignorant of the concept. As vegetarianism is a relatively specialist topic, any debater must have certain foundations (at the very least an understanding of vegetarian minimal nutrition theory, scientific knowledge relating to the link between vegetarian diets and global economics and the environment, as well as a humanitarian spirit) in order to avoid the suspicions over irrelevant commenting.

In China there are other aspects to the vegetarianism debate, some of which frequently appear to be fairly sensitive! In order to come into contact, make peace with and research vegetarianism in China, one certainly must have both courage and foresight. In taking a broader view of the world as whole, more and more scientists, organisations and important figures in political circles are taking vegetarianism seriously and promoting it as a means of saving the planet.

The main reason behind this is probably the increasing number of authoritative scientific reports being released concerning the link between vegetarian diets and the environment, including: The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's report on research carried out between the breeding of animals, fish and poultry and Carbon Dioxide emissions. This report pointed out that the livestock industry generates 20% of global total Carbon Dioxide emissions, surpassing the total emissions of the transportation and vehicular industries! Pa Zhuoli, the leader of the UN Intergovernmental Climate Change Committee (IPCC) stated: not eating meat, riding bicycles and having fewer expenses can all help suppress global warming.

Vegetarianism is not only an issue concerned with human health and humaneness to animals, but is also, due to the rise of resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, now closely related to the fate of the world! I hope that more and more authority figures will start taking an interest in or researching this topic in a serious and specialised way. You will perhaps obtain an unprecedented level of awareness and shock!

(Comment translated by Chris Humphrey.)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

肉食者应该全面了解素食的利益和肉食的弊病

推荐一个网站,比较系统地讲述素食主义的利益:
http://www.ivu.org/ivcb/gb/why/index.html
http://www.ivu.org/ivcb/gb/index.html
为了您的健康,为了挽救地球,为了免除动物的痛苦,请选择素食!

Meat-eaters should have a thorough understanding of the interests of vegetarian food and the shortcoming of meat.

I would like to recommend a site, that systematically discourses the interests of vegetarian:
http://www.ivu.org/ivcb/gb/why/index.html
http://www.ivu.org/ivcb/gb/index.html
In order to keep fit, in order to save the Earth, in order to remove the suffering of animals, please choose vegetarian!

Comment translated by Yuexia Guo.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

杜绝粮食补助

如果我们想要对世界的粮食供应有所帮助的话,就应当禁止对第三世界国家的粮食补贴。这些粮食补助的作用是,由于人们可以从政府那里获得免费的粮食,农民种的粮食就不可能卖钱。解决世界粮食短缺问题的第一步就是不用联合国的“帮助”。其次,联合国要做的就是不再通过粮食来帮助第三世界国家的统治者,因为这样会使他们的作用发挥不出来,从而像个傀儡。联合国应该使执政者面对他们自己国家的公民和一系列问题,通过财政方面的帮助来加强他们的统治,同时建立新的联合政府,对财产权做出明确的规定。如此一来他们就没有问题来解决本国粮食的问题了。

该评论由 Stacy Xu 翻译。

No food subsidies

If we wanted to help the food supply in the world, we should bar countries from sending food subsidies to third world countries. Those subsidies make it impossible for a farmer to make any money producing food in those countries when people can get free food from governments. Getting rid of the United Nations would be the first step to solving the world food shortage issues. Second, the United States needs to quit sending subsidies to third world puppet dictators, keeping those dictators in power. By making those dictators face their own citizens and having to directly tax them to maintain their power, they would overthrow them and set up a new republic government that would function to allow property rights. Then they would have no problem producing the food needed for their own country.