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Climate change expert: eat less meat to save the planet

News Section Icon Published 27/10/2009

Compassion in World Farming welcomes Lord Stern's call for a reduction in global meat consumption.

On 27 October Lord Stern, author of the influential Stern Review on global warming, told The Times that "Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better."

Successive governments and intergovernmental bodies have shied away from tackling the problem of meat consumption and climate change, perhaps fearing the outrage of those opposed to "the nanny state". Even the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, the FAO, which spelled out the dire impacts of livestock production so brilliantly in its "Livestock's Long Shadow" Report (2006), held back from drawing the obvious and necessary conclusion: we need to reduce overall meat and dairy intake if we are to save the planet.

Reducing meat consumption in affluent nations will release land for growing food for people rather than feed for factory farmed animals or fuel crops to power our vehicles and it will reduce the emissions of some of the most noxious greenhouse gases.

We need to find a level of consumption which will be sustainable in planetary terms and equitable in global terms, as those who currently rarely eat meat due to their poverty, can then be facilitated to increase their very low level of consumption. As several leading Public Health specialists have suggested, we should apply the theory of contraction and convergence, whereby we eat less, the impoverished in developing countries eat more and we converge at a level of consumption which is sustainable for both human health and planetary survival.

There is of course another powerful ethical reason for reducing meat consumption. With sixty billion farm animals slaughtered every year and that figure predicted to double by 2050 - if we do nothing - the future scenario for our farm animals is deeply worrying. Already most poultry and pigs are kept in the barren and foul conditions of the factory farm and we can see a similar trend with the global dairy herd.

By reducing meat consumption and supporting higher welfare farming, we can help to revive the planet, restore dignity to farmers' livelihoods and enable the animals themselves to lead lives of quality.

Governments must act, but we can all enrol ourselves in this campaign by reducing our consumption of meat and dairy and by purchasing only higher welfare products.

Compassion in World Farming lobbies governments and international bodies for policies to promote a reduction in meat consumption. Our 'Beyond Factory Farming' campaign is now bringing one of the most respected international experts on food, farming and environmental policy, Lester Brown, to the UK to give the 2009 Peter Roberts Memorial Lecture on 29 October 2009.

For more about Compassion's view on animal agriculture, climate change and sustainability, see: