What’s your beef?

April 14th, 2012 atam Posted in Animal welfare, Climate change, Earth, Food, General | No Comments »

Do you eat meat? Which one of the following reasons persuaded/would persuade you to give it up?

  1. Climate change. Methane and nitrous oxide produced by livestock are far more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide.
  2. Animal welfare. Factory-farmed animals are kept and slaughtered in inhumane ways.
  3. Health. Excessive meat consumption has been associated with a variety of diseases, including heart disease and cancer, and that’s not taking into account the effects of the steroids and antibiotics farmers use to make the animals grow bigger faster.
  4. Price.

The news that a group of scientists have concluded that the developed world needs to cut its meat consumption by 50% per person by 2050 if we are to limit the effects of climate change made me laugh, not because it’s implausible, but because this stance just doesn’t push the right buttons with people.

Some animal lovers will give up meat because they can’t stand the cruelty perpetrated by the meat industry, but somehow even with this group framing the issue in terms of planetary rather than animal welfare would lessen its impact.

As for those who don’t even care enough about their health to cut back on their meat consumption, there is little to be done – unless governments wake up to the healthcare cost of excessive meat intake.

Which leaves price. Suppliers have just raised the price of beef in Hong Kong and restaurants are complaining about the risk of losing customers if they pass on the increase. From the other three perspectives though, that would be just what we need. In fact, the increase hardly reflects all the costs involved in meat production but which has been externalised – loss of farmland to the production of feed rather than crops for human consumption; loss of forest cover to make way for more farms to grow feed; increasing bacterial immunity to antibiotics because of their abuse by the industry, etc etc.

How expensive does meat have to get for consumers to be put off though? The problem is, meat consumption typically rises with rising affluence, so while low-income groups in developed countries may cut back as prices increase, the better-off will most likely carry on chomping down the steaks unless gout strikes or an angioplasty finally wakes them up.

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