This week is the Vegetarian Society's annual Vegetarian Week.
Whether or not you're taking the challenge of giving up meat for a week, the meat vs veggie debate is a hotter topic than ever, with more awareness about the negative impact the meat and dairy industries have on the planet. But does that mean we should cut them out altogether?
It's now clear that the meat industry is bad for the environment due to the greenhouse gas emissions from farmed animals, but there are other ways that meat is causing harm to us and our planet.
Intensive cattle farming has caused a huge amount of deforestation in the Amazon Basin, particularly in Brazil. Ranchers burn down large areas of the rainforest to make pastures for grazing cattle. Once the rainforest has been grazed the soil becomes compacted by the cattle’s weight and loses its nutrients, causing irreversible damage to the land. This leaves scarred muddy pockets of barren land where lush green forest once was.
It is not only the deterioration of the soil that is the problem, it's also the space required to graze cattle versus the space needed for growing vegetables.
A field growing vegetables can feed 100 times the amount of people that can be fed by the same field which would only be large enough for 2 cows. Since a human can't be sustained by eating only beef, they would also require additional land to produce the ingredients for a balanced diet.
Soy is not the bad guy
Soy tends to have a bad rep, and is often cited as the reason a vegetarian world is not sustainable. But soy is a great source of protein. It is found in many vegetarian staples, including soy milk and tofu, and is the basis for soy sauce which has been used in cooking for over 1,000 years.
There is no denying a lot of soy is grown each year - around 352.6 million tonnes of it (that’s a larger land mass than South Africa), but only about 25-30% of this is for human consumption. The other 70-75% is grown and processed to become protein rich animal feed to grow the meat we find in our supermarkets. Find out more about the truth about soy and the environment.
Although there are many farmers out there who raise cattle, harvest eggs and milk cows with the highest standards of animal welfare, these standards mean the produce is expensive. The demand from supermarkets for huge volumes of cheap meat and dairy means animal welfare is often sacrificed.
Around 2 in every 3 farm animals are factory farmed, and these intensive systems treat animals as commodities, raising them in confinement and often ending their lives in distress. The farm animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming campaigns to end the intensive factory farming of animals.
Intensive factory farming requires large quantities of grain-based feed, water, energy and medication. Although it is seen as a cheap solution to feeding the planet, CiWF claim that for every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock we get back only 17 calories in the form of meat and dairy.
To Eat Meat Or Not To Eat Meat?
For many of us the idea of cutting out meat or dairy altogether is difficult to contemplate. However simply reducing your consumption can be good for your health as well as the environment. Purchasing it from a local butcher or farm shop will not only support the local economy, but also lower your carbon footprint, creating a better world for everyone.