According to Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist, when you eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.
As world leaders meet in Cairo to try and stop a catastrophe that the human race faces, no one notices the vegan elephant in the room. The world leaders in Cairo will hardly mention meat as the single most cause of the dire state of our planet. Indeed, meat is on the menu for the delegates.
According to Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist, when you eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot. This is because rainforests are being decimated and converted to pasture and feed crops to meet the increasing demand for meat and dairy. Between 2001 and 2020, a total of 411 million hectares was lost globally. Livestock farming uses up 85% of the land. Biodiversity is essential for oxygen production, water filtration, nutrient recycling, soil generation, pollination and seed dispersal, without which we would not survive. The very foundations of economics, livelihood, food security, health and quality of life is dependent on that.
Earthworms and pollinating bees are crucial for human survival and both of them are dying. Bats, birds, butterflies, bees and other small insects are important pollinators. More than three quarters of global food crops, including fruits and vegetables, as well as coffee, coconut and almonds rely on animal pollination. The decline in pollinating insects is due mainly to intensively produced soya and other cereals which are drenched in pesticides and chemicals which kill all insects and even birds. Mother Earth is not getting its nutrients and there might only be a limited number of harvests left.
In Brazil, 175 thousand hectares of land are dedicated to raising cattle; this is an area of land equal to the entire agricultural area of the European Union. Deforestation in Brazilian Amazon during the first half of 2022 broke all records. It was 80% larger than the same period in 2018. The raising of beef cattle for the American market and the growing of soya and other cereals to feed the cattle drive this destruction of the rainforests.
The faeces of animals and blood seep into rivers and oceans and create dead zones where nothing survives. 20 livestock companies are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than Germany, Britain and France put together. The global livestock industry contributes 14.5% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions—more than all cars, planes and trains.
There are, at any time, four times more chickens than human beings on the planet. One billion chickens are eaten in the UK every year. Phosphates are found in chicken feed and they get released in chicken manure. It is a major killer of rivers.
Crowfoot, a plant that grows in rivers, anchors the entire ecosystem. They too are dying because of riverine pollution. Over 16 million animals are trapped in cages all over the UK at any one time.
What we have done to the land we are doing to rivers and oceans. Trillions of fish are killed and along with that the huge trawlers used for fishing are killing all marine life like whales and dolphins. Mangrove forests that act as a buffer in a tsunami are dying. Coral reefs are perishing too.
According to Philip Lymbrey, author of Farmageddon, meat needs around 10 times as much water per calorie to produce as vegetables and other plants. According to the UN, farming is already by far the dominant cause of water depletion. Up to two billion people suffer from water shortages. These numbers could rise to seven billion by 2050. Stripped of forests and fields and drained of natural springs and creeks the rain will not go into rivers and lakes but head out to sea, raising sea levels.
Cyclones, hurricanes, mass migration, entire countries disappearing under water, hunger and wars are a real possibility in the very near future, if human beings do not give up meat consumption.
According to Chatham House, UK, “we must shift to a plant-based food system”, because livestock has the greatest impact on environment. It gives an example that if a switch was made in the US from beef to beans, 42% of its cropland would be free for rewilding. It also points out that if all permanent pastures that were forest, were returned to forest, it would absorb seven billion tonnes of carbon, roughly equivalent to seven years of global emissions from fossil fuels. According to Professor David Pimentel from Cornell University in New York State, conventional crop production in America swallowed up the equivalent of 63 barrels of oil per hectre.
We are witnessing the sixth mass extinction of all mammals on earth. Billions of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have been lost all over the planet. A million more species are at risk of extinction. All because of human beings’ lust for meat.
According to Joseph Poore, climate researcher at University of Oxford, “Going Vegan” is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your impact on planet earth.
A UN report in 2020 found that nearly every major zoonotic disease outbreak in the last 120 years has been inextricably linked to animal exploitation including meat eating.
In the UK, every year, 26 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14 million sheep and lambs, 80 million birds and almost a billion fish are slaughtered for food. For a human population of around 8 billion, 80 billion animals are raised for meat. This number could rise to 120 billion. Our planet is simply not big enough to sustain these numbers. We need two planets to accommodate the human penchant for meat.
Another imminent danger faced by human beings is that they are becoming immune to antibiotics. Half of all antibiotics produced is fed to intensively raised chicken, cows, pigs and other farmed animals. Drug resistance is already causing a huge number of deaths. As drug resistance grows, transplant patients and childbirth could become more dangerous. TB, a big killer in the past, could make a comeback.
COP27 will be another failure if it fails to decree that human beings must abandon meat, fish, eggs and dairy to save the planet. Future generations will not forgive us if we do not.
Nitin Mehta is the founder of Indian Cultural Centre, London.