Moo hoo

by | Aug 8, 2009

I’ve just been having another look at FAO’s seminal 2006 report about the environmental impact of meat consumption, Livestock’s Long Shadow. I figured I knew most of the stats about meat’s massive contribution to scarcity issues – but nope, I found myself astonished once again by the report’s headline stats.  Livestock:

  • Uses 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface for grazing, and 33% of the planet’s arable area for feedstock – in total, 70% of all agricultural land, and 30% of the land surface of the planet;
  • Accounts for 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon (and that’s just the pasture – feedcrops are another big chunk again);
  • Are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions in carbon dioxide equivalent – that’s larger than transport – and for 37% of methane emissions (23 times as potent as CO2 in its warming effect);
  • Uses 8% of global human water use, mostly in irrigation for feedcrops, and is probably the single largest sectoral source of water pollution;
  • Accounts for 20% of total terrestrial animal biomass – squeezing out space for other species and hence contributing massively to biodiversity loss, mainly through destroying habitats (30% of the land surface of the planet, remember)?

I love eating meat, but since I wrote The Feeding of the Nine Billion, I’ve been aiming to cut it out for 3 days a week.  Having re-read FAO’s report, I’m going to up that to four or five – as ways of reducing your carbon footprint and wider environmental impact go, this is a very low hassle,high impact option (especially if you have Sophie Grigson on your shelf).

Also, if you haven’t seen coverage of Tristram Stuart’s new book on food waste, then take a look


  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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