Eating Meat

In our discussions on water and food, the production and eating of meat has come in for some blame. Indeed, many activists against global warming, our next topic, would also cite the growing consumption of meat as a problem. In this New York Times essay, California lawyer and livestock rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman looks at the issue. She writes:

“It’s true that food production is an important contributor to climate change. And the claim that meat (especially beef) is closely linked to global warming has received some credible backing, including by the United Nations and University of Chicago. Both institutions have issued reports that have been widely summarized as condemning meat-eating.

But that’s an overly simplistic conclusion to draw from the research. To a rancher like me, who raises cattle, goats and turkeys the traditional way (on grass), the studies show only that the prevailing methods of producing meat — that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in giant lagoons and cutting down forests to grow crops to feed them — cause substantial greenhouse gases. It could be, in fact, that a conscientious meat eater may have a more environmentally friendly diet than your average vegetarian.”

She concludes:

“None of us, whether we are vegan or omnivore, can entirely avoid foods that play a role in global warming. Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods…Still, there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices. Because it takes more resources to produce meat and dairy than, say, fresh locally grown carrots, it’s sensible to cut back on consumption of animal-based foods. More important, all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.”

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7 Responses to “Eating Meat”


  1. 1 Chan Pui Ki, Kiki 01/11/2009 at 12:04 am

    I agree with the author of the essay on how farmers and eaters can lower their global warming contribution.

    At this stage, “Give Up Meat to Save the Planet” is unlikely to be extensively practised. In emerging countries such as China, people who have worked their way out of poverty and become better off for the first time in their lives are less willing to follow suit. Much resistance will come from conglomerates as well as small businesses, with the former having strong political influence. Half of food’s total greenhouse impact comes from processing, transportation, storage, retailing and food preparation. A considerable number of stakeholders and jobs are involved in these processes, making any change subject to potentially fierce opposition.

    However, not giving up meat now does not mean that the status quo should be maintained. As the author suggests, global agricultural emission of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide originates mainly from deforestation, poor quality forages and manmade fertilizers respectively. This reflects the unsustainability of the too industrialized farming system. Sustainable farming methods which conserve the environment should be further explored and adopted. Though only in a subsistence scale, the practice of Heifer yet again shows that livestock can be grazed sustainably (http://www.heiferhk.org/index.php/usa/our-work/explore-the-world-of-heifer/environment-and-sustainable-development/).

    As for individuals, I believe moderation is the key. Instead of having meat-dominant meals, we can reduce taking animal-based food and may gradually lead a vegetarian diet. Cutting food waste can be another step. We may have the experience of leaving our meals finished but seemingly untouched, especially when having buffets. Though having food waste processed into compost in treatment plants sounds environmentally friendly, the friendliest act is to stop producing such waste in the first place.

  2. 2 Liu Ka Yu, Athena 03/11/2009 at 10:25 pm

    I am also agree with what the authur said. “Singling out meat is misleading and unhelpful, especially since few people are likely to entirely abandon animal-based foods…”

    Same here, it would be hard for me to stop eating meat when meats are essential to human living. Though we see there are connections between meats and global warming, the problem rests on our excessive food wastes.

    Why am I saying so? If we produce food at the appropriate level which what we produce equals to what we eat, it would be perfect. But we all know, it is quite impossible.

    Therefore, what we have to do is buy the amount that you want to buy instead of asking for more than you can eat. In Hong Kong, there are many food wastes each year where they are from household and restaurants. What I am thinking is can Hong Kong learn lesson from the west.

    As in America, some restaurants allow customers to order pounds of food they want instead of setting the size of each dish. The price of the dish can be proportionate to the pounds that the customers want. Finally, customers would get the amound of food and the price that they want and there will be lesser food waste produced finally.

    How would you see this proposal? Though I know there are many flaws in this idea, I want to see if this can raise the awareness of food waste in Hong Kong.

  3. 3 Amy Lam Ka Man 04/11/2009 at 12:17 am

    It is true that livestock raising, especially cattle ranching, contribute to global warming. According to a Time article(http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1839995,00.html),animal manure nitrous oxide, greenhouse gas that has 296 times the warming effect of CO2, and cow flatulence methane , another greenhouse gas has 23 times the warming impact of CO2.

    However, I don’t think it is feasible to persuade people to become vegetarian.Meat can provide us proteins and energy to our body. And, strong supporter of the “Give Up Meat to Save the Planet” notion are mostly vegetarian societies and animal rights group. It does raise concern whether there are conflict of interests, whether these societies over-emphasize the warming effect caused by eating meat. According to this ABC News article(http://i.abcnews.com/Technology/story?id=1856817&page=1),the researchers of the University of Chicago report, which alarmed the world that eating meat is bad to the planet, are vegetarians.
    So these reports don’t seem very fair and credible.

    I think a bigger problem of meat consumption, is that animal ranching consumes vast amount of land.In a article from Cornell University(http://devsoc.cals.cornell.edu/cals/devsoc/outreach/cardi/publications/upload/07-2008-RNYM.pdf), “A person following a low-fat vegetarian diet requires less than half an acre per year to produce the food required for their meals while a person consuming a low-fat diet with a lot of meat requires over 2 acres.” While crop planting is intensive in scale, animal rearing is extensive in scale and therefore required much more land. Although not all the land currently rearing animals can be transformed to produce crops, quite a lot of land could be free to produce more food, and solve food shortage problem in some countries.
    And animal ranching does contribute to environmental destruction. In Brazil,large parts of rainforests are burnt to free land for cattle ranching.The beef produced are mainly exported to Europe, the Middle East and Russia. Ecology are sacrificed for economic gain.

    Therefore, I believe we should eat less meat, have a balanced diet for our own good and for our planet. But I don’t support the idea that we should become vegetarians.

  4. 4 Kei Kit Lung 04/11/2009 at 10:09 am

    The relationship between meat production and global warming is intertwined. Lots of greenhouse gases are released throughout the meat production cycle, which includes clearing covered forest, burning fossil fuels in the farmland, transporting animals, storing meat, possessing meat etc. Huge amount of energy is wasted in the process and a lot of environmental damage is done. Animals, which are at the end of food chain, also consume the agricultural produce that can equally be consumed by human beings. There are also some side-effects of meat production, e.g. overgrazing, production of methane and manure by cows and sheep.

    However, I agree with the above comments that though meat
    consumption has a role to play in contributing to global warming, it is hard to convince people to stop having meat. After all, we get part of our essential nutrients from meat.

    What we can do is to consume meat wisely. I propose the following methods:

    Only order or cook the amount of meat that we are able to consume. Don’t take more than we need and generate food waste. Athena actually mentioned a very good method. I think that the economic incentive would induce people to consume less meat.

    Eat locally reared animals, so as to reduce the pollution associated with transportation.

    Or ultimately, simply have a balanced diet. Put also crops, grains and vegetables at your plate. Remember meat is not at the bottom of the food pyramid!

  5. 5 Lau Chi Ling, Stef 17/11/2009 at 9:46 pm

    The previous comments have illustrated very clearly on how meat production is a direct cause of greenhouse gases emission and consequently global warming. Apart from this fact, it is also worth noting that meat production in fact can be a waste of energy. In fact within the food web, transfer of energy is involved when the organisms of higher order consumes the ones from the lower order. Within the meat production cycle, there will be energy loss as the cattles have to consume plants. However, such energy loss is unneccessary as human can directly consume plants. Therefore it is true that meat consumption is an un eco-friendly act. Of course, it is hard to stop meat consumption at once but at the same time, it should be limited for the sake of protecting our environment. A reduction in consuming meat products will be the way out, and it’ll surely be a trend in the coming future as more and more people are aware of the above problems and disadvantages of consuming meat excessively.

  6. 6 Senia Ng 18/11/2009 at 3:23 pm

    Of course I think at the current moment people are really reluctant to stop eating meat. But it’s all about awareness. Were you talking about environmental changes 10 years ago? No! It’s all about spreading the word. Everyone knows how serious environmental problems is now. And with this as the basis, together with the increase in severity of the problem, it’s a time where people are open to new ways for changes. As long as someone takes action to spread the word, it will become a trend, a trend which people will be willing to take, a trend which can change the world.
    All in all, it’s not the problem with meat. It’s the thing that meat is usually more tasty than veges. If more people are willing to create inventive tasty dishes of vegetarian food, more people will be willing to consume it. This is exactly what’s happening in HK now…more and more vegetarian restaurants are in place and running greatly.
    We have to BELIEVE it can be done. And not just accept that people behave this way and live with it.

  7. 7 Anna 20/11/2009 at 3:30 pm

    Two year ago, I came across a publication urging people to abandon meat eating for the environment whilst my first reaction at that time was this was ridiculous. Today, I found the same suggestion while my stance is it is logical, yet, the source of problem should not be directed to the meat-eating rather it should be directed to the food processing and ranching process.

    Most of us find that an outright abandonment of eating meat is impossible to us and most can cite reasons like the nutrients of meat to human being and the energy we derive from it. I agree with these ideas, but I will see the problem in a bigger picture that is meat production or cattle ranching is the backbone of many countries’ economy, an easy example is Brazil. When we are asking people to be vegetarian, we have to think of the impacts on those who live on livestock raising. Definitely, livstock raising has brought lots of envirnomental drawbacks. However, simply laying the burden on meat eating and asking people not to eat meat in order to solve the problems brought by livestock raising bears no difference to asking us to discard all means of transports for the better air quality.

    Thus, it is not hard to see the fallacy of such argument. It precludes us from analysing the problem comprehensively and as a result, from finding better alternatives to deal with the problem. In fact, FAO pointed out that the greenhouse gas emissions by meat production is generated by production of animals feed. This echoes with the article ‘only half of food’s total greenhouse impact has any connection to farms. The rest comes from processing, transportation, storage, retailing and food preparation.’ The underlying problem, accordingly, is not whether we eat meat or not but it is how to make the food/meat production and processing more efficient.

    We can do nothing to alter the ways they produce and process meat but we can start consuming less meat and buying less processed meat as articulated in the article or why not adopting the idea suggested by Dr Rajendra Pachauri (Chair of IPCC) not to eat meat one day a week?


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