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…