Finding an environmentally friendly diet
An increasing number of ecologists promote vegetarian diets as being better for the environment. But with many meat substitutes travelling long distances and undergoing heavy processing, a new report sponsored by the WWF shows that a meat-free meal may not be the solution.
Animals transform energy from grain and vegetation but at inefficient rates. To produce one calorie worth of meat for example, a cow consumes 11 calories of vegetation. Thus eating meat means more land is used to produce animal feed and less land is given over to carbon capturing forests or shrubbery.
What's more, the global appetite for beef, pork and poultry is rising and industrialised farms are taking over. While having cattle concentrated together may save somewhat on the amount of land being used, due to the fact that their feed now needs to be imported, often from far way and their produce exported, industrialised farms mean lots more in terms of transport.
All in all, cattle are responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gases. Apart from the energy costs of their final product, as they graze they also emit a dangerous greenhouse gas called methane. It’s 23 times more powerful than CO2, but its lifespan is much less, so overall it is deemed to be less dangerous in terms of global warming. Decreasing it would nonetheless help the fight against climate change.
In Australia, researchers suggest feeding cattle algae, in Ireland fish oils are deemed to be the solution, while in France the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) has started to look at linen as a form of cattle feed that cuts down on greenhouse gas. "We know that linen grains can reduce the production of methane by 30 to 40% but of course we can't imagine that one day fields across France or indeed the world will grow lined just for that, so there are down sides to this idea," Philippe Chemineau of INRA notes.
And while scientists continue to study ways to reduce a cow's release of methane, some regions are trying to cut down on their carnivorous tastes...The city of Ghent in Belgium for example, joined vegetarian activists and introduced meat-free Thursdays.
But as Karine Le Loet from French Environment magazine ‘Terra Eco’ explains, adopting a meat-free diet isn’t necessarily the solution. Chickpeas and lentils for example can actually be more harmful to the environment as they go though heavy processing and often travel great distances, meaning a lot of energy consumption. The solution, Le Loet points out, is to eat local and in season.