World Watch Magazine Links Human Diet and Greenhouse Gases

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World Watch Magazine Links Human Diet and Greenhouse Gases

Summary by Karen Davis, Ph.D., United Poultry Concerns (UPC)

The November/December issue of World Watch magazine, pp. 10-19, presents a powerful challenge to previous estimates of the effect of raising animals for food, while setting forth “the best strategy for reversing climate change.”

Read the complete World Watch report here.

THE PROBLEM (summary)

In “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are . . . cows, pigs, and chickens?” environmentalists Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang offer compelling evidence that animal agriculture, already well-known to contribute heavily to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), actually accounts for “at least half” of all human-caused greenhouse gases. They build on the widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Livestock’s Long Shadow.

The FAO report estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalents, or 18 percent of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. The Goodland and Anhang analysis shows that “livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions” (p. 11).

As part of their calculation model for greenhouse gases attributable to livestock products, the authors observe that a full accounting “would cover portions of the construction and operation of pharmaceutical and medical industries” used to treat the millions of cases of worldwide illnesses linked to the consumption of animal products (p. 15).

THE SOLUTION (summary)

Goodland and Anhang observe that the human population is projected to grow by about 35 percent between 2006 and 2050, and that the number of animals raised for food worldwide is projected to double during this same time period. If these projections come true, livestock-related GHG emissions “would also approximately double,” significantly increasing the amount of livestock-related greenhouse gases imperiling life on earth (p. 15).

With these grave risks confronting us, the authors argue that “an effective strategy must involve replacing livestock products with better alternatives, rather than substituting one meat product with another that has a somewhat lower carbon footprint” (p. 15).

Replacing animal products with soy-based and other plant-based alternatives, according to this study, can “reverse the ongoing world food and water crises.” It can also reduce future greenhouse gas emissions “because meat and dairy analogs are produced without the GHG-intensive processes used in raising livestock.” In addition, a significant amount of tropical land now being used to graze animals and grow grains to feed them would be left alone and allowed to regenerate as forest to absorb carbon already in the atmosphere (pp. 15, 17).

Pay particular attention to this observation about marketing strategies and promotional actions recommended in the article:

“To achieve the growth discussed above will require a significant investment in marketing, especially since meat and dairy analogs will be new to many consumers. A successful campaign would avoid negative themes and stress positive ones. For instance, recommending that meat not be eaten one day per week suggests deprivation. Instead, the campaign should pitch the theme of eating all week long a line of food products that is tasty, easy to prepare, and includes a ‘superfood,’ such as soy, that will enrich their lives. When people hear appealing messages about food, they are listening particularly for words that evoke comfort, familiarity, happiness, ease, speed, low price, and popularity. Consequently, several other themes should be tapped to build an effective marketing campaign” (p. 17).

To learn which “several other themes” the authors recommend tapping in order to build an effective marketing campaign, go to pages 17-19 of this World Watch article, which concludes that the case for change “is no longer only a public policy or an ethical case, but is now also a business case.”


Addendum to the above article from Karen Davis, 11/2/09:

Clarification: World Watch Report on “Livestock and Climate Change”

While this report contains vital, usable information about the contribution of animal farming to greenhouse gas emissions and argues strongly for a plant-based diet free of meat and dairy ingredients, it isn’t clear whether the authors are including eggs in their use of the term “dairy.”

In addition, four of the five meatless products highlighted on page 16 of the report contain animal ingredients and therefore are not vegan. The only vegan product pictured on p. 16 is the Organic SUNSHINE Burgers. As for the other products pictured on p. 16:

1. Gardenburger - The Original Veggie Burgers contains dairy milk: MOZZARELLA CHEESE, CHEDDAR CHEESE, NATURAL BUTTER FLAVOR, AND WHEY.

2. MorningStar Farms Bacon Strips contains eggs and dairy milk: EGG WHITES and NONFAT DRY MILK.

3. Boca Meatless Breakfast Links contains dairy milk: CULTURED WHEY (FROM DAIRY MILK).

4. Quorn Naked Chik’n Cutlets contains eggs and milk: REHYDRATED EGG WHITE AND WHEY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE.

While egg and dairy ingredients in processed foods, like the ones shown above, might seem negligible compared with cartons of eggs and quarts of milk, in reality the volume of eggs and dairy milk in non-vegan processed foods is enormous. Processed foods ranging from “vegetarian” burgers to cake mixes that contain egg and dairy milk ingredients are dumping grounds for huge egg and dairy surpluses, involving millions of cows, calves, hens, roosters and chicks on industrialized farms.

So ubiquitous are processed eggs (liquid, dehydrated, and frozen) in the food industry that some egg farms devote 100 percent of their business to preparing eggs strictly for the processed food market using equipment with a capacity for handling 90,000 eggs per hour, according to Commercial Chicken Meat and Egg Production, 5th edition, p. 977.