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Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

Meet Daisy the cow – global climate’s enemy number one.

  • Newsnight
  • 2 Feb 07, 03:52 PM

justin_cow_203.jpgWhen I started to investigate the impact of food on the environment a month ago I thought I would find myself fretting over food miles. In fact transport is a tiny component of agriculture’s worldwide contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

No, the main culprit is out there in the fields, chewing her cud. It turns out that livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases - 18 per cent of the total, to be precise.

That’s right, almost a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth – planes, trains, cars, skidoos the lot.

You’ll be wondering how I reach that staggering conclusion. Indeed, regular readers of this blog may be worried that my decision forgo flesh and become a vegan during January has fostered an irrational hatred of animals.

Not so. The research implicating Daisy and her bovine brothers and sisters in global warming is very well sourced. A good start is “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, a report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation.

So why is the meat we eat so polluting?

Well, first of all we need to get a sense of scale. Seventy per cent of all agricultural land is used to raise animals – that’s a third of the land surface of the entire planet. What’s more, over a third of all cereal production goes to feed those animals.

The UN report estimates that 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide are associated with the fossil fuels emitted by this vast global industry – that’s roughly a third of the UK’s total CO2 emissions. The figure includes transporting meat and dairy products across the globe, as well as the carbon dioxide emitted on the farm, in processing and in manufacture of nitrogen fertiliser, which is used to raise crops for feed for animals.

Add in the carbon from deforestation and land degradation and the figure is far, far higher. Most deforested land is used for pasture and the UN reckons the carbon released in the process takes the carbon cost of livestock up to the equivalent of 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That’s around seven per cent of all the greenhouse gases emitted by man.

That is a lot of global warming gas but still way short of that eighteen per cent figure. That’s because carbon dioxide isn’t the only global warming gas that animals are responsible for – which is where Daisy comes in.

Ruminant animals like cows and sheep produce a lot of methane as they digest their food. And methane is a powerful greenhouse gas – twenty three times as powerful as carbon dioxide, in fact.

There are reckoned to be around one and a half billion head of cattle on the planet and one point seven billion sheep. They, together with the more modest emissions of other farm animals, produce 37 per cent of global methane emissions which adds up to the equivalent of another 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

justin_harvester_203.jpgWe’re still not at a fifth of global emissions though. To get there you have to factor in the effects of another global warming gas - nitrous oxide. It is way more potent than even methane with 296 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide. Sixty five per cent of human related emissions of nitrous oxide are from the nitrogen in animal manure. That accounts for the equivalent of another 2.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Add the effects of the three gases associated with farming animals and you get total emissions equivalent to 7.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. According to the UN report we humans are responsible for a total of the equivalent of 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. That’s where I got that incredible figure of 18 per cent of total emissions.

Which brings me back to my experiment in veganism. The reason I suppressed my carnal desires throughout January was to find out what difference cutting animal products from my diet would make to my so-called carbon footprint.

As usual, my carbon guru Professor Tim Jackson has been on the case. He calculates that eighteen per cent of the carbon emissions created by the average diet are from meat and a further ten per cent are from dairy products.

But, as should be apparent from this blog, only counting carbon dioxide would be a woeful underestimate. The problem is no-one has calculated the contribution methane and nitrous oxide emissions make to the climate cost of the food we eat. Professor Tim reckons it is safe to double the figure for carbon dioxide which means sixty per cent of the global warming potential of the average diet is from animal products.

Does that mean we should all be going vegan?

If animal products account almost two thirds of the greenhouse gasses associated with food are from animal husbandry that is surely a powerful argument for any aspiring ethical man or woman to go vegan. But does a vegan diet give you all the nutrients you need?

I felt great not eating meat and a Bupa health-check at the beginning and end of my experiment showed that I shed two kilos in thirty one days, cutting my body fat from 19 per cent of my weight to just 15 per cent.

I also saw my cholesterol level plummet from 5.6 mmol/L (rather high) to just 3.4 mmol/L (very low for a man of my age). The problem is that there are two types of cholesterol – a good one and a bad one – and in my case both fell. Not only that my haemoglobin levels fell to just above the acceptable level because, the doctor told me, I was almost certainly not getting enough vitamin B12 and iron.

justin_steak_203.jpgWhich is why, when I finally broke my vegan fast, I chose one of the finest steak restaurants in London. I judged that only a very large slice of Daisy could make up for my missing nutrients.

One feast of flesh aside, I’ve resolved to eat less meat but the rest of the world isn’t going to. As incomes rise meat is one of the first things people buy. Meat consumption is to double by 2050.

So if, like me, you are going to continue to eat animals you might consider another way of reducing the environmental impact of your food – actually eat the stuff you buy. A quarter of all the food that is produced goes uneaten - most of it growing mould at the bottom of a fridge.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 05:07 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Julian wrote:

Mr Rowlatt

Thank you - A fascinating and well researched article. However, I would point out that you appear to be defining being "ethical" as being "environmentally friendly". Therefore, in your consideration of whether to continue to eat meat or not, that is the only criterion that you use. However, I would urge you and readers to review the rich philosophical literature on this subject (N.B. particularly writers such as Tom Regan and Peter Singer). These two philosophers passionately argue to raise the moral standard of animals. The reason most people become vegans is because they believe that the moral status of animals is higher than that which society accords them. The environmental impact is a further compelling reason to becoming vegan as your article testifies to.

  • 2.
  • At 06:09 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Hughes wrote:

As an enthusiast for your ethical efforts, and inspired by your example, I now feel let down by your flesh-chomping triumphalism.

  • 3.
  • At 06:25 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Hughes wrote:

As an enthusiast for your ethical efforts, and inspired by your example, I now feel let down by your flesh-chomping triumphalism.

  • 4.
  • At 06:40 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Lee wrote:

What is the point of asking for comments, IF they MAY be published, IF/ONLY they fit in with your ideals?

  • 5.
  • At 06:55 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Congratulations on your month as a vegan.

Your doctor is not well informed, and has repeated the myth of the inadequate vegan diet. I cannot explain the drop in your blood count, but neither has your doctor.

A vegan diet, it is established, lacks vitamin B12. But the body has an enormous store of it. It takes years before you use it up, when deficiency can cause low haemoglobin or nerve damage. A month? No chance. Vegans should take a vitamin B12 supplement (derived from bacteria) but it is unlikely to matter for the first several years. And iron? There is plenty in a mixed vegan diet (you are not pregnant, I am guessing).

I eat vegetables, no dairy or flesh, but I do eat some eggs (and a B12 supplement). Saint or Sinner? Not important, since we are talking global impact not morals. Abandon the position that we "must" be purely one thing (vegan) or have failed. My diet is healthy, and has a very efficient carbon footprint. Anything each of us does to improve either score (health and footprint) helps us all.

  • 6.
  • At 07:00 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • lois.raynor wrote:

Meat eaters have lower levels of B12 than vegans. We eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables so iron is not a problem. I suspect that your usual diet was low in B12 and iron. Conventional medics know nothing about nutrition, just pills and procedures.
As to the steak......If you don't care about the suffering of Daisy, how about yourself? CJD, circulatory disease,cancer,osteoporosis and many more horrors caused by meat eating. Nature pays us back for imitating carnivores.

  • 7.
  • At 07:02 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Lee wrote:

What is the point of asking for comments, IF they MAY be published, IF it suit your ideals?

  • 8.
  • At 07:06 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • erika wrote:


it would be interesting to find out how often one should eat red meat for its sufficient nutrients: once a week? twice a month? that could be important information for people who decide they really want to cut down on beef after reading this article.

a lot of times, when an audience is learning about the reality of our environment, they wind up strongly craving directions. some of the media that's exploiting the globalwarming issue is failing to advise audience members on ways to change their current behavior. like in your article, for instance, you give advice about "actally eating all the food and meat you buy." this is something that i'll do my best to follow. but you also could have mentioned one bit of advice: the absolute minimum amount of red meat one needs for the purpose of nutrients.

al gore's docu did a similar thing. everyone was saying that while watching the movie, they were wishing that he would focus more on habit-changing advice. finally, in the end, during the credits, all of the advice was displayed, in words. everyone in the audience stayed to read it because it was like getting the last drop of water when youre really thirsty.

  • 9.
  • At 07:18 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • John Edwards wrote:

Blog is a great read and I can understand the arguments in regard to food production and its affects.

I do think that nothing is goint to help, nothing at all. It is pre ordained and the world will turn on until that which is ordained arrives.

This is not doom, it could be one of the miracles of the Universe, but as I get older I worry a lot less.

  • 10.
  • At 07:46 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • julian wrote:

why don't you eat grass then, for us, for a while?
I am just curious how your cholesterol and haemoglobine level will behave on that one

  • 11.
  • At 08:09 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Max Akroyd wrote:

Let's not let a BUPA doctor get in the way of the facts.

Iron deficiency in vegans is no more common than in the general population. Good plant sources of iron include dried fruits, whole grains, nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds and beans - all central to a normal vegan diet.

Sure, vegans should supplement their diet with vitamin B12. Those who do are far less likely to be deficient than meat-eaters who don't.

  • 12.
  • At 08:25 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

"The reason I suppressed my carnal desires throughout January was to find out what difference cutting animal products from my diet would make to my so-called carbon footprint."

Ooops! You mean carnivorous desires, if you are talking about not eating meat rather than leaving out sex.

  • 13.
  • At 08:45 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Carlos B wrote:

It's ok blaming the modern cow and meat eaters for 18% of global warming but does anybody remember the American bison?
Millions of them roamed the plains for centuries and being bovine , surely they passed the same gases as cows.
How come they didn't cause global warming when Custer & Sitting Bull were around?

  • 14.
  • At 08:53 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Richard J Deboo wrote:

Hi Mr Rowlatt

A fine article indeed with a great number of telling statistics. I have to worry though about your comment - "does a vegan diet give you all the nutrients you need?" You shouldn't even be asking the question because the answer is an obvious and resounding "yes", as the very many living, healthy vegans can testify (I'd be dead otherwise, but after many years as a vegan I'm one of the healthiest people I know!). The vegan diet is the most natural diet for homo sapiens based on our evolutionary heritage, biochemical systems and musculo-skeletel structure, and a vegan diet can therefore easily satisfy all of a human's dietary needs. Not only do we not need "meat" or dairy to survive, it's actually ruinous to our health to do so (and as your statistics demonstate, the health of the planet too). Being vegan means everyone wins - you, the animals that would otherwise suffer, and the planet we all rely on to survive at all.

  • 15.
  • At 08:55 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Erin wrote:

I agree completely with Julian. Being environmentally friendly is a great reason for going vegan but there are so many more facets than carbon emissions in the meat, dairy and egg industries. As Justin has found out veganism has positive impacts on your health and environmental footprint. Veganism also allows a person to take action on animal rights issues and the issues of agricultural workers. (Especially here in the United States where illegal immigrants are exposed to dangerous meatpacking and agricultural jobs.) It is so easy to follow a vegan diet and tremendously rewarding.

  • 16.
  • At 08:58 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Erin wrote:

Well said peter hughes.

  • 17.
  • At 09:08 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Lesley Wood wrote:

Since when has an iron level 'above' the acceptable level been a problem? The writer does not say whether he followed a particularly healthy vegan diet for a month. How typical that he would rush out and gorge on a steak as opposed to consulting a dietition to check that his 'vegan' diet was sufficient in nutrients? A weak and pathetic excuse to return to eating animals - one would think he would have preferred the lower cholesterol levels, accepted his lower iron level that was still in the healthy range and eventually supplemented with B12 which most vegans do.

  • 18.
  • At 09:53 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Daryl wrote:

Ethical man wrote on Feb 2'nd

"The reason I suppressed my carnal desires throughout January was to find out what difference ...... would make to my so-called carbon footprint."

So he is saying that to save the planet "get thee to a nunnery/monastery"

  • 19.
  • At 10:06 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Albert wrote:

So folk the message is buy quality not quantity. Spend time over a quality burger than buy 24 economy variety throwing most in the bin.

  • 20.
  • At 10:13 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Preeti wrote:

Try eating more bananas and spinach. And also try vegetarian iron / b-complex supplements, so easily available in the Western world.
It's disappointing that you have used this excuse to go back to eating meat.

  • 21.
  • At 10:29 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • doc bob wrote:

Hey Justin, thanks for letting us know how you broke your meat-free fast( personally I'd 've had a fried breakfast first thing Thursday morning , but hey ..., and i have to say - "top article mate!". Despite all of this though I still feel meat an essential part of my diet. But,like you I have decided to eat a lot less of it than i did say 12 months ago. When all is said and done I still think that getting my dose of meat is more important to me than say air travel or having a car and so adjust my life accordingly. The point is we live in a society where everybody can have what they want 24\7,in fact they feel that it's their right to do so. It's only when that attitude changes that things will start to change in a way that's noticable and that won't happen,I believe,till something terrible happens, by which time I reckon it'll be too late.
This may be seen as a very negative view of the rest of humanity but it's a reflection of what i hear from the community i live in. My neighbours still complain about being "forced" to recycle, they moan about the extra air tariffs and the price of petrol but still go on their flights and drive their cars(of which most of them have more than one!). The point i think that i'm trying to make is that,like you, we can all change our lifestyles to help the situation but that society and big business wont stop until it does'nt turn a profit or seem so appealling. So what can we do about that?
That said, keep up the good work dude. ;o)

  • 22.
  • At 10:33 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Thomas wrote:

Thanks for the article, I'm glad to have found it. I'd write more about the subject, but you seem to have said everything there is to say. Keep on the path, I may end up looking for your work to support papers down the line.

Greetings from Berkeley,
Thomas Tan

  • 23.
  • At 10:34 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Ralph J. HOfmann wrote:


Dear Sir

The study you undertook is absolutely without real meaning. One need only take a bus in the city of Joinville - Santa Catarina State - Brazil, in high summer (about 36 - 39 degrees centigrade) towards late afternoon, to realizes that the population consisting to a large extent of the descendants of German immgrants, who eat sauerkraut and cole-slaw as a staple emit far more greenhouse gases than their neighbors, 600 kilometers south, in the gaucho state of Rio Grande do Sul where a reasonable meal is half a kilo of underdone meat, some cassava flour and a couple of tomatos and lettuce, possibly one potato.

The gauchos emit far less greenhouse gases.

But possibly you did not see fit to collect your flatuses (flatii?) and compare them with the equivalent (all right farts) of the cows you pint a deadly finger at.

Then please carry on northward where brazilians (when tehy eat) eat rice, black beans and cassava flour eclusively). Very little meat. Try to share atent with one of THEM!

Regards

Ralph J. Hofmann

  • 24.
  • At 10:42 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Mike D wrote:

An interesting anecdote backed up by facts and figures, but it leaves me with even more questions. In particular, I agree that 18% is a significant portion of greenhouse gas contribution, but what about the other 82% of the pie? If we were to prioritize the contributing problems starting with the worst, which would you recommend addressing first?

  • 25.
  • At 10:48 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Larry Chartier wrote:

So, let me see. If I quit eating cows they will quit farting or grazing. If there are over a billion head of cattle wordwide, what will you do to reduce their emmissions after you quit eating them? Cattle-litic converters?

  • 26.
  • At 10:49 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • QPR4Me wrote:

Great article! Can someone please show this to the the environment minister, Pearson, so that he can shut-up and stop embarrassing his staff (me included) in the same way that John Gummer did when he was feeding burgers to his daughter (yes, I was working for MAFF then)!!!

  • 27.
  • At 10:50 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Phillip Barker wrote:

Your findings and calculations cause me to wonder if human contributions to global warming gases are a wash considering the billions of wild bison, water buffalo, rhinos and elephants no longer producing these dangerous gases due to our eliminating them from the planet.

  • 28.
  • At 10:50 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • joru wrote:

Why waste cow flatulence? Surely some clever person could devise a method of capturing the gas and using it to inflate green friendly blimps, thus, further reducing the emissions due to transport. Daisy may balk at first but in time she would learn to live with a hose sticking out her arse.

  • 29.
  • At 10:51 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Bart wrote:

I would just like to affirm Julian's post. The word "ethical" means much more than "environmentally friendly". The factory farm and the slaughterhouse are the sites of many many unethical actions to which humans contribute by eating meat.

  • 30.
  • At 10:53 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Whittle wrote:

Having experienced the benefits of abstention from a carnivorous diet, why on earth do you go back to eating meat at all? At least you could become a vegetarian and cover those dietary deficiencies perfectly well.
It's as much beyond my comprehension how an ethical, rational human being can be a meat-eater as how a person with any capacity to think can be a smoker.

  • 31.
  • At 10:57 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • H. Diaz wrote:

I say those who think this human caused global warming issue is a bunch of hog wash should get together and lay a big nice fart at once in front of the UN headquarters and see what happens!!!!

  • 32.
  • At 11:00 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Charley wrote:

Well done for carrying out your vegan experiment and research and thank you for your thoughtful articles. Could I please reassure anyone reading this article who thinks "aha, vegans don't get enough iron and vitamin B12, therefore no-one should bother thinking about being a vegan" etc., that it is perfectly possible to obtain adequate amounts of iron and B12 and all other nutrients from a vegan diet, and many of us do! The example of one 'new' vegan who may not have had time to do a lot of nutrition research and get into the habit of adapting their diet to fully meet their nutritional needs does not prove that 'all vegans are unhealthy' and provide an excuse for not cutting down on meat consumption. So anyone considering eating less meat - don't be deterred! Incidentally, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the western world, and there is no evidence to suggest that a higher proportion of vegetarians and vegans suffer from it than meat-eaters.

  • 33.
  • At 11:02 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Rhys Owen wrote:


I feel the same as Lee on this. Meat causing global warming!!! What about all commuters in their cars every day? Agriculture is being blamed again. I wonder who will grow crops for bio-fuels when the time comes? Us farmers. Many farmers are now producing their own electicity using methane from their cows.

  • 34.
  • At 11:03 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Markus F. Meyenhofer wrote:

Blame it on the cows!
What a crap! Check the micro organisms generating greenhous gases!
Micro organisms EVERYWHERE! In the soil, swamps = gases, etc. Of cours we contribute to global warming because we live! and maybe squander some resources.
But look at the bright side:
I'd rather pick bananas in central park (New York) than watching polar bears on the frozen Hudson!
Just think about the wars for scarce fuels, decreasing crops with hunger and deaths due to cooling of the earth (happend in the 17 hundreds in Europe). Plus a few Volcanic eruptions and we all would freeze our asses off!!!
Remember Greenland was inhabited by the Vikings from the 9th to the 11th Century, then abandoned becaus of climate change!
So STOP going bananas! Develop some clean energy, enjoy to live in a warmer climate and hope we never get decades of winter!

  • 35.
  • At 11:09 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Matt Vukin wrote:

The last few lines of your article are tremendously misleading. You can certainly reduce your footprint on this world through food choices - even if you choose to eat meat. Look into locally grown foods/meats as well as grass fed beef, cageless chickens, etc. Additionally, organic meat is fed with grains from pesticide free fields. That's just a sample of the tremendous difference food (even meat) choices can make on our world. Part of the problem we are in relates to our view that we can parcel out problems in our world, when in fact they are ALL related - like one big ecosystem, imagine that!

  • 36.
  • At 11:12 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Bryan Garcia wrote:

Mr. Rowlatt,

I find this article to be quite troubling. You make a strong case for going vegan for environmental reasons throughout the whole thing and then at the end say you're going to continue eating meat and dairy anyways. I have been vegan for about three-and-a-half years now, and whenever I've had lab tests done, none of my nutrients were low. I'm not saying that yours weren't, I'm simply pointing out that if you eat a well-balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients you need. The one exception to this would be vitamin B12, which can be somewhat hard to obtain enough of from plant-based sources at times. For this, I would just advise taking a good multi-vitamin. I also know that sometimes new vegans do not maintain the healthiest diets, because the whole thing is very new and, at times, challenging to them. I know this was certainly the case for me, and perhaps you weren't eating a healthy enough diet either. Anyhow, I would like to remind you that Donald Watson, inventor of the word vegan and founder of the Vegan Society, was vegan since the 1940s and only recently died in late 2005 at the age of 95.

  • 37.
  • At 11:15 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Emma wrote:

I've just watched newsnight, and very interesting it was too. I'd just like to draw some attention to some new ideas with regard the waste products from cattle and other farm animals. These wastes can be (and are, in certain places) captured, treated and used to improve efficiency on farms. The methane evolving from dung can be used to power vehicles as a replacement to fossil fuels, with CO2 as the only biproduct - and as you stated in your report this is many times less damaging than CH4. Just imagine a farm where the cattle dung powers the tractors, heats the animal sheds and so much more, but also massively reduces the methane emmissions you talked about.

You can read more about this on the Institute of Science in Society website http://www.i-sis.org.uk/DreamFarm2.php and other places online too

Its a great idea, and i'm sure human waste could be treated in the same way - perhaps powering local buses etc.

If we are going to eat meat, ideas like this need to be explored!

  • 38.
  • At 11:15 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Gregg Barkley wrote:

Good glory, don't let Red Ken read that methane is worse than the stuff produced by cars. He's liable to put congestion charging zones the the bathrooms now!

  • 39.
  • At 11:26 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Melissa wrote:

I was born and raised Mormon. Mormons have a dietary code which I feel has many merits. Most people know Mormons don't smkoke or drink, but there is much more to their health code including eating meat sparingly, only in times of cold or famine. I think we naturally crave meat more in the winter and less in the summer. Plant a vegetable garden and you may see yourself eating more fresh produce and less meat. Moderation in all things. Melissa

Great to see BBC posting thoughtful insight like this. There is a HUGE lack of moral standard for animals on this planet - its something that does keep me up at night.

I recognize that meat eaters are too selfish and weak to care about the suffering of animals and make changes, so they should at least realize that vegan and even vegetarian diets do wonders for health and the environment, and could cut starvation in the world many times over.

Kudos to you for doing something to educate others.

  • 41.
  • At 11:27 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Jackie Wright wrote:

While I appreciate the honesty in your article and your decision to continue eating animals, I am disappointd in your lack of confidence and knowledge about becoming vegan. Every negative result of becoming vegan that you experienced can be easily prevented and/or reversed. Your good (HDL) cholesterol can be raised with exercise; your B12 blood levels can increase with consumption of fortified cereal, soy/rice/almond milk; and your iron blood levels can increase with consumption of whole grains and legumes. These three dietary changes are easily accomplished, and if they would result in less animal consumption and therefore decreased global warming effects, aren't they worth the LITTLE bit of extra effort?

  • 42.
  • At 11:43 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Richard B. Spurgeon wrote:

A human is not a carnivore, we have a long complex digestive system for braking down plants. Plants and fish will supply a very healthy diet. We are the only animals who think we need dairy produces all our lives.

  • 43.
  • At 11:43 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Shang wrote:

After reading your passages I feel ashame about what I did before,maybe there is no need for me to eat flesh anymore.Talking about the nutrients,i have the ideas that eating chicken is enough.

  • 44.
  • At 11:46 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Dale Jacques wrote:

The article is a worthy attention-getter, but good science demands that you determine the DIFFERENCE between producing livestock and vegetable proteins. For instance the clear-cutting, fertilization, and transportation necessary for increased farming to replace the proteins that would be lost if we all became vegans would probably be about the same as that produced by ranching. So the only greenhouse gas savings achieved if we all became vegans woud be the methane produced by those all those cows... of course a vegan diet just might give me more gas so...

  • 45.
  • At 11:47 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Ben Smith wrote:

A critical point that is being missed is where this carbon comes from.

Cars, ships, etc.:
This carbon comes from carbon that has been buried deep underground. It is unearthed, burned, and then released into the atmosphere. Therefore, any carbon released is added to carbon already present in the atmosphere = global warming.

Cows, agriculture:
This carbon comes from the atmosphere. The plants take up the carbon dioxide. Livestock then eat the plants and release the carbon back into the atmosphere. Therefore, any carbon released by the cows was already in the atmospher to begin with (carbon neutral) = no global warming.

The problem isn't the re-releasing of carbon that was already in the atmosphere (livestock, agriculture), but the unearthing of new carbon sources (gas and coal) and then adding these to the atmosphere.

OK, so not everybody stays vegan, as a matter of fact, a lot of people end up in the hospital for failing to succeed in their "ethical" ways by almost killing themselves from nutrient deprivation. This is popular here in America in order to look as thin and malnourished as possible, which I think equals popularity and success from what I am told, however, it seems like here in Oregon, it is just another hippie fad. If you are that worried about how much bad emmissions you are producing and how modern agricultural practices are wrong, kill yourself.
Considering the output of harmful emissions compared to it's overall effect, just dying is more effective than going vegan. Humans are omnivores, so we need meat. If it weren't for medical technology, we couldn't live as vegans in the first place, but then again, without the plastics industry which produces a lot more emmissions problems than human bodies, we wouldn't have that technology. Stop demonizing people for their dietary habits-now that IS something that you can do for the planet.

  • 47.
  • At 11:52 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Brad Harris wrote:

Personally I recently invested in an oil co. for the first time and to my astonishment quickly found my strong ideals of wanting people to use less fossil fuels under pressure from my new found desire for the co. to make hit it big.
One can only hope when energy storage capacity and pricing of advanced batteries becomes sufficient to supply a good part of our energy needs, we will have investors tripping over themselves as they do with oil to get rich off mans insatiable desire for low cost energy.

  • 48.
  • At 11:53 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Edward wrote:

As noted in the (very well-written) story, there are some nutrients you might find lacking from a vegan diet. Besides, I would personally not even consider going vegan until the stuff tastes better.

Am I being selfish? I don't think so. I don't eat seafood at all because I don't like its taste, not because I don't fancy the thought of innocent cute dolphins getting trapped in fishing nets. So that leaves me with a selection of veggies, pork, chicken, beef, and venison, give or take some deviances from the norm considering the content of spam.

And if this stuff I eat contributes bad gas that busts up the ozone layer, then I guess I've just gotta pray a little harder before each meal to God so he'll fix up that great big hole above us. Amen.

  • 49.
  • At 11:55 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Geof wrote:

I enjoyed the article, but I do think that it was unnecessary of you to mention the actual restaurant where you ate.

It might also have been better if you had bought a steak from your local butchers, and grilled it yourself.

But no, Justin Rowlatt, BBC reporter, has to eat in the finest steak restaurant in the country to get his iron and B12

It is also a very bold claim. The finest steak restaurant in the country.

So anyway Justin, either we are paying the BBC reporters too much money so that they can eat in the finest steak restaurants in the UK, or their expense accounts are too generous, or finally, the restaurant offered the meal for free, and in return were given a mention.

All good stories for the viewing public, and maybe even an interesting breach of code of practice.

  • 50.
  • At 11:56 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Jean Vignes wrote:

I appreciate the information, but I’m puzzled by your conclusions.

While it is true that ignorant people eat as much meat and dairy as they can afford to buy, better-informed, more ethical people are working hard to lessen their negative impact on the planet--and saving their own lives in the process.

A few simple adjustments to your diet would have kept your B12 in the healthy range. Also, your 'bad' cholesterol number doesn't matter if your total cholesterol is low enough. When humans follow a vegan diet our total cholesterol drops so low that there is no way it can cause heart disease or strokes--the 'good' and 'bad' numbers become meaningless.

Finally, meat and dairy are so destructive to the environment--and to our health--that we will be forced to give them up eventually. Why not start now, instead of waiting until after our planet has sustained hideous damage?

Throwing up our hands and doing nothing is surely not how our ancestors faced the great health challenges of their day. If they had, we'd still be dying in droves before our 15th birthdays from infected wounds, small pox, rubella, water-bourn illnesses, etc.

  • 51.
  • At 11:57 PM on 02 Feb 2007,
  • Stuart Meighan wrote:

Blaming cattle for passing gas that adds to global warming is probably fallacious thinking. These cattle displaced other large grazing ungulates (bison for example) as the agricultural age came into being. Were we to all become Vegan and declare "Death to the Tyrannical Cows," would the cattle not soon be replaced by some other (gas-passing) grazing ungulate? Does not Mother Nature herself dictate that no ecological niche be left empty? (A tenant will move in, after you move up.)

  • 52.
  • At 12:00 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • stan wrote:

Hi,

And so we come to the real cause of human induced warming (if it exists).

Human beings. If there were only 2 billion of us instead of the 6 billion on its way to 9-12 billion, there would be no global warming problem. And many of the other environmental problems would be minimal as well; the oceans wouldn't be depleted, the ozone layer wouldn't be trashed, the Amazon wouldn't be under threat, the Sahara wouldn't be expanding, China and India wouldn't be environmental disasters, and on and on.

Finally, while there might be evidence for global warming, I find it hard to believe that 20 to 30 years of evidence is being used to judge the direction of the climate. Take five minutes of a major stock index and without looking at the rest of it, predict the whole day. That is what it seems we are doing with the weather. Way too short a sample time period. The earth is 4 billion years old, the climate moves in cycles of thousands of years and we are saying the evidence of a short time predicts for a thousand years.

It doesn't really matter, as John Edwards wrote above nothing is going to change. Too much momentum. We won't even talk about limiting population growth, how are we going to talk about radically redefining global human culture?

  • 53.
  • At 12:01 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • cliff wrote:

As I see it, The main problem is HUMANS. Why do we have to keep breeding. There should be a WORLD ban on more than one child per couple,until the the population is stable. All religions should advocate the use of contraception,& those that do not should be outlawed.
Those country's that fear a falling population should adopt an "open adoption plan" to take all the unwanted orphans,& disafected(who want to work) poulations into there country's,to fill the gaps. instead of encorageing the existing poulation to produce more children.France,Japan,Italy, etc,etc. Thus we may see a more balanced approach, taking out that which is surplus population, in some place's to fill in the gaps where required.
Also wars, Oh, I could go on but just how much polution does the never ending cycle of war's creat, mainly on religios & ethnic belief???

  • 54.
  • At 12:03 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Gabrielle Hastings wrote:

As an American, I live in a culture of dietary bipolarity. We idolize the anorexically thin and gorge ourselves on double thickburgers at Hardee's. We abandoned sensible moderation so long ago that most people think the happy medium is a reality show about a glass-half-full psychic.

We're omnivores. We're designed to need a diet that includes a certain amount of meat. We can eliminate meat and still be healthy, but it requires a lot of creativity and more tofu than most people are comfortable with. However, Dr. Atkins' views to the contrary notwithstanding, we don't need nearly as much meat as we think we do. More and more studies show that the steak diet, the carrot diet, the split pea soup diet, etc., are not, in fact, as healthy as the balanced diet. If we as a species embraced moderation as a general rule, I think it would have a tremendous impact not only on our environment but also on our health care system.

  • 55.
  • At 12:04 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Dean Lehrke wrote:

Methane from ruminant livestock manure does not have to escape into the atmosphere. It can be sequestered at/near the source through improved methods of animal management. For example I know a lady nearby who has trained her goats to defecate in one location in her barn. If manure is confined without O2 it does not produce CH4. Feces can be dewatered via a centrifuge and processed into producer gas, for industrial use or sequestered after combustion as carbonate solids (i e limestone). For example, CO2 is easily sequestered as a carbonate solid by passing it through lime water. Ruminant gut methane can also be captured and sequestered through novel animal building containment methods.

  • 56.
  • At 12:05 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Ricky W. wrote:

More like, are humans (again) enemy number one for continuing to violently extinguishing billions upon billions of lives a year (bovine and other)?

Nice article. It shows how people can recognize very clearly that they are a huge part of the problem, yet in the end, decide to do little, if anything, about it.

  • 57.
  • At 12:06 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Bubba wrote:

I knew it!!! Most of the Global Warming comes from bull shit.

  • 58.
  • At 12:07 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

Surely cows etc. have been farting for tens of thousands of years ; why should it suddenly be having such a detrimental effect?

Well done Justin.

Thank you for helping to get the truth out there about the benefits of a vegan diet.

Thanks for also highlighting the mammoth task we face.....

Nihilism

Even faced with hard facts in front of you - a solution to save the planet, a solution to protect your health, and a solution that avoids killing for fun, for pleasure - you not only choose, but revel in the choice of destruction.

On the face of it one would assume it would take either a very selfish or very stupid person not to make changes.

Your words over the last month would suggest you are niether - you appear to be the oxy-moron that will be the death of us all - an unethical ethical man.

I can only hope, for the viability of the NHS ,and the future of the planet, that many of the 20,000 people expected to visit the Vegan Festival in Bristol this summer will be more forward thinking and more motivated by the solutions offered.

  • 60.
  • At 12:08 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • vikki wrote:

Being vegan is not only the best choice for your health, for the environment, for ourselves and the world we leave for our children ,it is the way to boycot cruelty and make a moral choice . The Vitamin B and iron are sold and could be taken as vitamins as well as many other vegitables and substances. The animals, who are killed brutally every day after a life in hell are killed and treated unhumanly because we demand their flesh so much. The fear, stress and psychotics they suffer from all have an impact on their living organizm, which has an impact on us after we consume it. As humans we should take good care of all our animal brothers and sisters, who share the Earth with us, not torture them and abuse them . They are sentient beings just like your dog and cat , they experience pain and suffer tremendously every day of their life ,just so you could have a "feast" at a fency restaurant. How wrong is that? One cannot be happy if ones happiness is build on the suffernig of other creatures. This is a natural law.
Being vegan is the most simple and reasonable desicion you could make in order to try to lessen the pain, suffering and crazyness we are creating mindlessly.

  • 61.
  • At 12:09 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Peter wrote:

Thank you for an excellent article.

I'll be using it to start debates in the classroom (I am a high school science teacher).

BUT

Your comment about not getting enough vitamins etc on a vegetarian diet are totally wrong. I, and a whole lot of other people in the world, never eat meat and never suffer from any deficiencies. You just need to balance your diet.

Regards,
Peter

I'm going on 5 years as a vegan, and I have friends who are currently celebrating 14 and 20 years as vegans. It's really not that hard. Do I take a B12 supplement, just in case? Sure. Is my cholesterol great? Damn straight. While my first cholesterol test, about six months in, showed a remarkably low number of both HDL and LDL, two years later the levels had balanced out to a very ideal ratio, levelling off at 138 milligrams per deciliter. In other words, as the Framingham Heart Study has demonstrated over 50 years, my risk of coronary disease is ZERO. Chewing a tasty B12 gumlet once a week is hardly a penance for a healthy heart, and these days delicious vegan food abounds. For those that like to cook at home, I highly recommend Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz for recipes that are easy to make and taste like you went to culinary school.

  • 63.
  • At 12:17 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Paul Aparycki wrote:

Whenever I see an article supposedly giving "facts" and always re-directing the blame (like this infantile article) I have to laugh and cry at the same time. Large tracts of rain forest, our number one supplier of clean air, are being ripped down so "savages? indians?, etc" can be civilized and raise cattle . . . the single most wasteful farming practice on the planet. Cattle/cows fart greenhouse gases? yes, they do, BUT, when "civilization" (pathetic joke) came to the new world and elsewhere, did they discover field after field of holsteins??? NO! the "civilizing" church/nations brought them and raised them and forced the virus on the new world. Cows are not the problem, weak-knee-ed liars from the "civilized" world are the problem.

  • 64.
  • At 12:18 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Scott wrote:

It is clear, after reading this blog, that cannibalism is the ethical answer: We can continue to eat meat, we get all the iron and B12 we need, we eliminate our dependency upon animal farming, we reduce the number of greenhouse gas producers, and unused farmland can be reforested. If we start by eating our neighbours then we won't need to transport our food for some time.

(It would give "Chinese take-away" and "Polish sausages" whole new meanings.)

  • 65.
  • At 12:20 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Raja21 wrote:

If human body can digest and assimilate meat and meat products then it is simple to say that human should eat meat..... I have yet to see a lion eating grass and live or a goat survivng by being carnivorous..... moreover the pathetic logic given by all vegan to support their stupid philo's is that flesh eaters are cruel and they kill animals to eat them..... in that case what about vegans..... don't they too kill all the plants in order to eat them..... how dumb...!!!!!!! I think they are more horrific killer than meat etares as they kill plants!!!!!!!, which can not even run away at the time of killing or even scream for help...!!!!!! And I am sure green plants are much higher producer of green house gases than animals....... trust me, anybody can imagine when these guys are not photosynthesizing all night... every where from ocean to amzon jungles....!!!!!!

  • 66.
  • At 12:22 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Peter T wrote:

So after all that you quit, eh? The b12 is hardly an excuse- there are lots of vegan supplments you could have used. Ah, well, you gave it a go. Who cares about the planet anyway?

  • 67.
  • At 12:27 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • semose wrote:

In response to the first poster talking about assigning a higher moral status to animals, and this being his justification for being a vegan, I would first point him to the circle of like and his canine teeth. Next, I would ask what is worse? dieing to feed a higher being, or non-existence? Because if we all followed his example and stopped eating meat, billions of farm animals would never have been birthed in the first place.

"It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all" pails in comparison to "It it better to have lived and died, than never to have lived at all."

  • 68.
  • At 12:27 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Jeremy wrote:

So what are you going to do with your $10,000? Does this 18% take into account that this 1/3 of the landmass dedicated to feeding this cows is 1/3 of the landmass dedicated to plant life that converts that CO2 back into O?

  • 69.
  • At 12:28 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Simon Lewis wrote:

I think the message is clear - we must eat more of these polluting ungulates! I have never heard a sound philosphical argument as to why it is morally superior to eat plant life as opposed to mammalian species. They are equally living beings, but convert CO2 into breathable diatomic oxygen; whereas your precious, cuddly Daisy does precisely the opposite.

  • 70.
  • At 12:28 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Marilyn Head wrote:

Just like to point out that there is a lot research going on to work out pastures which limit methane production and that any effluent (from any animal) will gas off nitrogen and sulphur etc when wet. Again there are a lot of ideas/systems for minimising the production of greenhouse gases and some countries produce meat a lot more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way than others. NZ which produces half the exported sheep meat in the world and about 10% of beef contributes only 0.2% of the world's greenhouse gases. Re meat/vegetarian diets "....animal farming may be the only way that the world’s projected population of six billion can be fed. “Contrary to public perception, the most important contributions from plants are fibre and a clean, carbohydrate energy source. Foods of animal origin contribute every other basic nutrient,” says Professor Pickard, Director-General of the British Nutrition Foundation. Lentilburgers and multi-vitamins may be a viable choice in the first the first world but they’re no solution to the nutritional needs of the third world." from my article Home on the Range, NZ Listener january 20 2007

  • 71.
  • At 12:30 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • tim franklin wrote:

Forget Veganism, Vegetarianism and such like. What the Planet needs today is Cannibalism. Ecologically friendly and (as long as it's only the long-term unemployed who get eaten), fiscally prudent

  • 72.
  • At 12:38 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Russell wrote:

Yep, we have created an issue with ruminants, but surely the displaced animals and forest floors rich with decaying vegitation that existed pre agriculture would have gave off methane and carbon gases as well.

The point is there has always been gases been emmitted by the animals and naturally decaying vegetation. We may well be adding to it, but the amount is questionable.The amount of gas WE have created and emmitted since industrialisation is unquestionable.

  • 73.
  • At 12:43 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • lora stillwell wrote:

I've read similar conclusions elsewhere and I've always wondered if its possible to figure out if it's more environmentally friendly to be a carnivore or drive an SUV? Assuming one had to choose!

  • 74.
  • At 12:48 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • April wrote:

Justin and comment contributors,

Thank you all for sharing your research and input. I am grateful for all the new information and ideas gained from it all. It is certainly "food" for thought, continued research and experimenting!

  • 75.
  • At 12:49 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Tony Morgan wrote:

The majority of the worlds animals are raised on land that is unsuitable for the production of cereal or leaf crops,so couldn't easily be replaced with vegan food equivalents. It is of course stupid to use grain as cattle feed, just as it would be to use it (or sugar etc) for the production of biofuels.

  • 76.
  • At 12:54 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Chris Riel wrote:

Well, I am vegan and have been for quite a long time. I will say from experience that doctors know nothing about nutrition. I was told that being vegan was dangerous because of the potential for iron deficiency and B-12 deficiency. There is plenty of iron in leafy green vegetables, as was said before, and it turns out that my iron has actually gone up since being vegan (without supplements) and is higher than that of a relative who eats red meat at at least one meal a day. Also, for B-12, yeasts and bacterias are great sources of B-12 and the other B-complex vitamins. Such things exist in the spectrum of fermented foods. Sauerkraut is loaded with B-12, as are many canned vegetables, but that seems to be the best one, beer isn't too shabby on it either. Cholesterol: you need more good cholesterol when you have more bad cholesterol so that the good can help your body deal with the bad. When your cholesterol intake disappears (you eat no cholesterol as a vegan) your bad cholesterol will plummet and your good cholesterol will drop in turn for the simple reason that you need less of it. Nothing bad, actually a good thing, but doctors will hoot and hollar over it.

  • 77.
  • At 01:01 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • LaughingCoyote wrote:

Most meat animals in fossil fuel-based cultures (aka developed countries) nowadays are fed grain and silage requiring ten Kcal fossil fuel energy (fertilizers, pesticides, power for machine and transportation, etc.) for every 1 Kcal food energy. These obviously represent not just significant greenhouse gases in addition to the ones you already calculated, but more pollution and drawing down of petroleum reserves. Additionally, production of each 1 kg of industrially produced meat requires some 10,000 gallons water. This raises the point that veganism and even organic agriculture are not enough; we need to rebuild local food production systems, farmers' markets, community and urban gardens, and so forth. As petroleum production peaks and begins to decline, possibly within the next five years, we will have no other choice, and thus it is best to build upon and expand the many local initiatives already underway while we are still in the position to do so relatively painlessly.

  • 78.
  • At 01:31 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Radioactiveray wrote:

Although most of the world has grown up eating meat, vegetarianism (not vegan) is not new to humanity. Atleast 30% of South Asians if not more are pure vegetarians by choice, not because there is not enough to eat. And I don't see any difference between them and those that eat meat.
A vegetarian diet is easily digeted and has several subtle healthy effects on the human body and mind. Besides, meat takes a longer time to digest and lingers in the human digestive system for a longer time (over 2 days). You can make an educated guess what that might do inside you, with no refrigeration!
The choice is yours: eat consciously, conserve, and don't exploit Mother Nature for your instant gratification needs.

Hi, nica site!
[url=So many spammers here :(
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  • 80.
  • At 01:37 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Fabio Celli wrote:

If land will not be used to feed cattle, it will be used to feed humans. It means that co2 emissions due to the needs of the machinery for the harvest and to delivery the vegetable products to our tables will be about the same. Going vegans will only eliminate the last step, the ch4-metane emissions directly produced from cattle. So it is wrong to say that cattle industry produces one third of greenhouse gas. We should say that if you switch from cattle to vegetables you will go from 1/3 to 1/4 of total greenhouse emissions.
Talking about if vegan diet is better or not is unuseful, but remember that nations that are meat(/fish) eaters live longer ( Japanese, Italians ).

  • 81.
  • At 01:40 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Fabio Celli wrote:

If land will not be used to feed cattle, it will be used to feed humans. It means that co2 emissions due to the needs of the machinery for the harvest and to delivery the vegetable products to our tables will be about the same. Going vegans will only eliminate the last step, the ch4-metane emissions directly produced from cattle. So it is wrong to say that cattle industry produces one third of greenhouse gas. We should say that if you switch from cattle to vegetables you will go from 1/3 to 1/4 of total greenhouse emissions.
Talking about if vegan diet is better or not is unuseful, but remember that nations that are meat(/fish) eaters live longer ( Japanese, Italians ).

  • 82.
  • At 01:42 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Mel wrote:

An interesting and thought-provoking article.

I have heard that rice crops are one of the main producers of methane due to improved irrigation methods and therefore increased number of crops per year.

Do you know anything about this, if it's true or not?

  • 83.
  • At 01:42 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • brian wrote:

Question:

Does the north american bison produce similar amounts of methane as cattle?

  • 84.
  • At 01:43 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • graham reinders wrote:

Hello,

I believe that termites put out more methane and CO2 than cows.

Graham

  • 85.
  • At 01:45 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Thanks Justin, interesting stuff. However, I have one quibble.

You say that 28% of your dietary carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy products - I'm happy to accept that.

Including methane and nitrous oxide doubles this contribution - it sounds like a pretty rough estimate, but I'll accept that too.

Therefore 60% of your dietary carbon footprint comes from meat and dairy products.

Wrong.

Firstly, let's look at the numbers. Let's say your dietary carbon footprint ignoring methane & N2O was 100g, 28g of which was from meat and dairy. Add another 28g and your dietary footprint is now 128g, of which 56/128 = 44% is from meat and dairy - well below 60%.

Secondly, you've ignored the methane and N2O contribution from the rest of your diet. I wouldn't like to guess what this would come to, but as you pointed out on the programme, fertilizing crops produces N2O as well. The effect will be to dilute the relative contribution of meat and dairy even more, probably to below 40%.

I don't want to distract from your main point, which is that farm animals make a significant contribution to global warming. However, if you're going to make a quantitative argument, I think it's important to get the numbers right.

  • 86.
  • At 01:45 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Randall wrote:

Thank you for a fascinating article. My meat consumption is way down, and I'm healthier for it; yet, we are omnivores. Rising human populations, along with consumer awareness, want, and purchasing power of new populations (as in China) mean Mother Earth will continue to display the effects of all the byproducts we're responsible for. I don't see how humanity can avoid this, except that when we can put aside warfare we ought to direct our resources to off-Earth colonisation. We've begun this, and over the many years ahead the adjustments may at times seem severe, but the human race and Mother Earth will both survive better -- a better quality of existence -- because of it. (One humble opinion).

  • 87.
  • At 01:45 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • graham reinders wrote:

Hello,

I believe that termites put out more methane and CO2 than cows.

Graham

  • 88.
  • At 01:49 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Peter Wood wrote:

A well written article, the "Livestock's Long Shadow" report is definately worth checking out. One impact that cows also have is that if marginal lands are overgrazed, carbon dioxide can be released from soil and biomass.

I hope that machanisms are developed for farmers to access carbon markets. This could provide incentives to farm less cattle and regenerate deforested lands.

A healthy alternative to eating beef in Australia is kangaroo. It is low in fat, high in iron, and tastes great - especially when marinated in a mixture of red wine and olive oil. As well as having much less greenhouse gas emissions, they are much better for the land that is grazed (in Australia). There is also less suffering involved - kangaroos are generally hunted and a bullet to their chest kills them pretty quickly.

Hello, do not click there.
[url=So many spammers here :(
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  • 90.
  • At 02:01 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • sophie wrote:

An interesting article indeed.
However, by going vegan, you removed the total cost of bringing a piece of meat right into your stomach, but I did't see on the other side of the scale the total cost of growing and bringing vegetables right to you (cost of planting, fertilizing, transporting all that is necessary)
Did you consider that eating vegetables may have increased your own personal methane emissions ?
After all, couldn't cows be more suited to transforming vegetables into meat than we are?
My moral could be: whatever you eat, eat local, eat fresh, eat bio, eat it all, and respect the poor cow that gave up her miserable life to feed you (well, she might not be aware of it, but we do, don't we ?)
Seems ethical to me.

  • 91.
  • At 02:01 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • ali wrote:

So if we all stop eating meat and be vegans, does it mean farm animals would be extinct, sometime in distant future?

not sure about others but I wouldnt wanna do that. so while ppl should follow your advice I am ready to make this huge sacrifice and eat meat!

and one another thing, if we eat vegan exclusively, does it mean we would produce same amount of greenhouse gasses as cows?

now this could be catastrophic while there are only about 3 billion cows+sheep in the world but more than 6 billion of us?

and if it is so, then it would be safe to say that vegans are causing global warming.

  • 92.
  • At 02:07 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • James Willis wrote:

This thoughtful essay only encourages me to redouble my efforts to evolve into a cannibal! That ought to ease the global warming a bit, eh?

  • 93.
  • At 02:11 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • truth here wrote:

Well yes all human activity causes greenhouse gases. But a few facts which country has the largest cow herd in the world and does not eat meat. Nor would any government be allowed to cull the herd. That’s right India. Also which 2 countries with the worlds highest populations nearly 1/2 the worlds total population do not waste a 1/4 of their food in the fridge. That’s right add china to the list. About 80% of the world does not waste food

Do trees absorb more co2 than grass or cereals that is then used on that land? No as they are not as efficient in tons per hectare per year of vegetative mass produced than farmed vegetation why? Water, nutrients and sunlight are the major constraints to growth. Agriculture tries to maximise the use of those inputs and there is some four thousand years of genetic and cross breeding selection for the fastest growing vegetation in grasses, About 20 years in trees. 20 to 4000. Ratio of vegan IQ (2)to Einstein's (400)?

If cows or sheep (more sheep in world than cows but lets say same amount of grass used) did not eat the grass what would 6 billion lawnmowers co2 produce? And rotting vegetation would release the same co2 the co2 is there. If wild or domestic animals or insects eat the vegetation the same carbon is in the cycle. In fact CSIRO in Australia concluded an old growth forest was carbon neutral the decaying and animal insects released carbon, equalled the vegetations absorption in new growth. The only carbon sink was a new growth forest where the trees were cut before maturity and the vegetation stored to slow rotting. OR the material stored in other ways like house timber or furniture. Yes it rots but in 100s of years not 10 in the rain and open and insect/bacteria and fungal attack.


The biggest co2 trapper is the plankton in the ocean it has 70% of the world’s sunlight, all the water it wants, and it is all eaten or dies and falls to ocean floor.

And what is the biggest methane polluter. Petro chemicals and tips with the worst problem waste packaging.

Some Truth might get verbose, fraudulent, vegan, snake oil claims taken seriously.

  • 94.
  • At 02:12 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Beryl Shannon wrote:

Ok, so I'll eat no beef. I'll stick with chicken, I don't think they emit so much methane.
I think you are so right and have mentioned it several times in discussions with friends. It's time we all thought this through and try to convince cattle ranches in the west to reduce their cow herds. After all they can grow grains instead.
This article of yours should be a wake up call for us all.

  • 95.
  • At 02:19 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Andrea wrote:

It would be nice if people thought before they wrote- just because we "can" do something doesn't mean we "should." Meaning, yes we can eat meat, and perhaps it isn't wrong in a religious/moral sense depending on what you believe, but since we have the capacity to understand that it may be bad for the ecosystem to eat quite so much of it, that means we do have an ethical obligation to act in a better manner for ourselves (incorporating more plants into our diets instead of so much meat) and for the planet (each cow for instance requires up to 100 times more land, water, and fuels to grow and process it than the equivalent amount of vegetable matter to feed the same amount of people a cow would- think of how much land and water for corn/feed is used for one cow in just one day! could feed a town...). Moderation in all things.

  • 96.
  • At 02:21 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • thadhog wrote:

If the point is that cattle produce abundant greenhouse gas, then the solution is to eat MORE cattle. I imagine that a largely vegan society such as India would be a large producer of greenhouse gas, as cattle roam free and reproduce without limits. Better then to eat veal and in large quantities and nip the the whole process in the bud. In addition, rather than recycling paper and plastics, bury the buggers and sink that carbon back into the ground from whence it came!!! In addition, the more energy it takes to make our food the less there is to warm the planet. we need energy inefficient food. Grow th e corn, feed the cattle and feed the cattle to the chickens and fertilize the wheat with chickens, We humans will only eat wheat and the energy comes out of the global temperature. I am cooler already.

  • 97.
  • At 02:41 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Tanya Hannington wrote:

Having read several of the comments posted, and the article in question, it seems a shame that so many are diverted from the point in question... cows being such a big cause of so many problems... to an issue of diet... Clearly a carefully monitored diet will not produce any difficiencies or health problems.... meat or no meat....
But the fact still remains that Cows do have a very negative effect on the planet. I was dissapointed that the article only focused on one aspect of the cow.
What about the fences that were put up on the migratory tails in Africa, to protect domestic cows? Wilderbeast couldn't get to the water and thousands of them died. Along with their deaths, came the reduced numbers of lions due to reduced food supplies. Hyeinas also diminished in numbers, not to mention, the poor cheater that ran into the chain link fences at over 70miles an hour.
And where is the mention of top soil errosion, caused by over grazing? The top soil is blown into the ocean along the coast line of Africa and is suffercating the coral reef?
And what about Florida? The water table being high, is know to be so polluted by the toxins in cow dung, that the oyster farms have to throw out their crops due to the dangers of high levels of ecoli.
Maybe a little more research on the facts and a little less mention of personal diet would have made more of an impact.

  • 98.
  • At 02:48 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • karl wrote:

A fascinating read with well-formed arguments. Wish some of the militant vegans of this world would show a similarly open mind (I have respect for individual choices but will not accept being bullied).

Has anyone made serious calculations regarding the environmental cost of arable land used for growing crops versus used for pasture for lifestock? Taking into account irrigation, the use of pest control (biological of course) and the impact of harvesting methods and transportation of produce.

Veg(etari)anism in the Western world often seems to me another luxury option for the privileged few who have a realistic choice of subsisting without animal proteins. And I have often been told by acquaintances in other parts of the world that they are rather amused if not irritated by the fact that we can afford to make such a choice.

Since our Western societies are dominated by cost calculations I really wonder how sustainable veg(etari)anism is as a choice for the wider population?

  • 99.
  • At 03:39 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Maurice wrote:

Stop blaming the cows.

  • 100.
  • At 03:40 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Christian Carey wrote:

In response to erika (comment #8), I recall reading some years ago that one's daily requirements for several amino acids could be met by eating 4 g of meat* daily per 5 kg of body mass (about 1 oz of meat daily per 80 lb of body mass). I believe that a sufficient daily intake of certain amino acids was thought to be one of the challenges of a strictly vegetarian diet - I don't know if this remains an area of concern.

As many commenters noted, meat need not be eaten to ensure a sufficient daily intake of iron and vitamin B12.

* - not necessarily red meat

I did a detailed interview below on the same subject:

http://www.thewatt.com/article-1284-nested-1-0.html

Conversation about the energy requirements of the food we eat with Nigel Winter from the Vegan Society (UK).

Please post, as would be great to get extra listners.

  • 102.
  • At 03:57 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Thomas Moore wrote:

WTF? Have you all gone completely of your rockers?

To claim that eating meat is the cause of global warming is myopic. How many of the "vegans" out there, who pay for "organic" food, which, per pound at times surpasses the cost of meat, really ever think about their role?

Demanding only produce/vegetables, and specifically "organic" is a luxury only whiners from the developed world can afford! I see most vegans as a pathetic pandering group, who have too much time and choice to make consumption decisions. I would love to ship the majority of Vegans to Afghanistan, or maybe Iraq, or Darfur. See how long those skinny little sensitive vegetarians would last before they ate what was around (INCLUDING MEAT).

I knew a couple, she a German Vegan Princess whiner, who forced (their) her young children and her husband into that diet. Rest assured, her husband bought meat when he could get away with it. And what do you think the kids ate when presented a charcoal grilled turkey, some hot dogs, or a hamburger when I came to their house to cook? Certainly not soybean curd, soybean hot dogs, or Boca Burgers (even though they were simultaneously served)! BTW, the children were NOT OF AVERAGE HEIGHT, WEIGHT, AND STRENGTH for their ages (4 and 6). And you know another thing? The kids actually looked forward to the quarterly event (as did her husband who encouraged me to "suprise" them.

Veganism is nothing but the last step to a matriarchy of spoiled, self-centered, whining humans who cannot stand the fact that others may not be interested in their nonsensical luxuriant approach to nutrition!It is usually the female, hell bent on socializing any and all "bad habits" (primarily of meat eating men)into clean, controllable,morally and socially righteous fantasies.

Everytime I see the whiny Vegan "on vacation" female in developing countries inquire wether the food that is being prepared for their consumption is adherent to "non-animal" standards, I shake my head.

Oh, and gues what--I bicycle, walk, recycle, grow my own organic vegetables, use every plastic disposable container at least twice. When I drive, I do it in a 4 cylinder 38mpg car! I don't use air conditiong. So stick the categorizing where it belongs--as manure for your Vegan garden.

  • 103.
  • At 05:56 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • veggiebimmer wrote:

Well said, Laughing Coyote! Yes, a cow's methane is carbon-neutral, however, we need to remember how much petroleum and water is wasted in the production and transportation of meat and dairy.

Ideally, our food needs to come from places that are as near to us as possible. I am waiting for a library hold on a new book that's out, "The Omnivore's Dilemma." From what I hear, this is a thoughtful exploration into food production, energy and environmental costs, and nutrition.

On a side note, I also wonder if cows who are fed corn and other grains (that they are not biologically fit to eat) possibly produce more methane (due to their inability to properly digest their food) than grass-fed cows?

  • 104.
  • At 06:08 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Vijaya Gopal wrote:

While the effects of global warming are cumulative, we certainly can make our conscious contribution by cutting down our consumption and wastage of anything that we can think of. Added to this, we have a choice of nutritional supplements or fortified foods that would make up for the deficiency!
One feasible way to get to the next generation is to not raise children with meat and bone! A healthy diet coupled with good activity early on in life should go a long way to mental and physical health.

  • 105.
  • At 06:12 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Vijaya Gopal wrote:

While the effects of global warming are cumulative, we certainly can make our conscious contribution by cutting down our consumption and wastage of anything that we can think of. Added to this, we have a choice of nutritional supplements or fortified foods that would make up for the deficiency!
One feasible way to get to the next generation is to not raise children with meat and bone! A healthy diet coupled with good activity early on in life should go a long way to mental and physical health.

  • 106.
  • At 08:10 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Chandra wrote:

I just wanted to post that I've not eaten meat for over eighteen years, and am fit, slim, energetic and not keeling over from iron deficiency - despite being a woman of childbearing age.

People talk a lot of nonsense about vegetarianism but the myth that we "need" meat is not borne out by the experience of people like myself, nor by the far longer-term meat-free diets of generations of Buddhists and Hindus.

  • 107.
  • At 10:04 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • jose wrote:

This research should have been done 100 years ago. Apparently is too late.

The truth of the matter is that we evolved to be omnivores, one can live healthily on a vegetarian diet, but veganism is a luxury afforded to members of the developed world who can afford synthetic vitamins to attempt to replace the vital nutrients missing from such a diet (flown in from California)
I'm a libertarian - if you want to starve yourself of nutrients, that's up to you - but there is a large body of evidence showing that children suffer severe developmental problems if breast fed by a strict vegan - which rather underlines the fact that a diet totally bereft of animal products is deeply unnatural, unhealthy, and in the long term, downright dangerous!

  • 109.
  • At 10:42 AM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Bob Cardrick wrote:

I must reply to the comment made by Karl and others that eating plants rather than animals would result in more land being given over to arable agriculture. This is not the case at all, about 90% of arable produce goes to feed livestock which we then consume. If we all went vegan then there would be about an 80% drop in land needed for arable farming.

The end result of us all going vegan would mean a massive drop in global warming, less animal cruelty and healthier humans (lower NHS bills as well). It seems a no brainer to me, all we have to do is get over the misinformed "I need my meat" attitude and we will have a much better world for all to live in.

Some questions need to be asked. How much of the land producing animals could be used for cereals? Sheep hill farms? Not likely.

Are there more emitting animals now under our domestication than there would be wild if man had not existed? Think the vast herds of buffalo once in the USA.

I just wonder if these are natural environmental actions, only blamed on man as we are 'controlling' these particular animals. It may well be we have made an incremental increase, but not the whole of the numbers provided.

Certainly not unreasonable to reduce the amount of meat in most people's diet, perhaps a 100% meat tax is a good idea. A way to reduce the volume.

  • 111.
  • At 01:19 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Bob Cardrick wrote:

Land used for things like hill farming are not that useful for arable farming but the point is if we all ate a vegan diet then they wouldn't need to be. There's more than enough fertile arable land to produce food for us. Even with hill farming the sheep still get a large percentage of their food from crops that could be fed to people.

  • 112.
  • At 02:21 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • PJ wrote:

There is a huge amount of info out there about meat consumption and its link to destruction of the environment.

http://www.goveg.com/environment.asp

One of the best things to do to help the planet is to go vegetarian.

  • 113.
  • At 02:46 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Kate Vegan wrote:

I just wanted to add that the spurious nutrition claims by the author of this blog has been picked up by the not so subtle segment of the the vegan community. Enjoy: http://www.veganporn.com/1052281495.html

  • 114.
  • At 03:07 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Jack Eastaugh wrote:

Cows (and other ruminant animals) do not flatulate as do carnivores and omnivores such as humans. They do not expel gases from their anuses, because, having the several stomachs as necessary for the digestion of their vegetative food, they emit methane from their mouths. Try standing in front of one, but not with a lighted cigarette.

  • 115.
  • At 04:05 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Ever the pedant ...

"Seventy per cent of all agricultural land is used to raise animals – that’s a third of the land surface of the entire planet."

That 1/3 figure looked rather big to me, so I checked the FAO website:
http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/a0050e/a0050e10e.htm

- Total land area (excluding inland water): 13.0 billion hectares.
- Agricultural land area: 5.00 billion hectares.
- Land under pasture: 69.2% * 5.00 = 3.46 billion hectares.
- 3.46/13.0 = 26.6% of the Earth's land surface.

The LEAD report Justin refers to uses the same FAO figures and comes to the same conclusion - see table 2.1 on page 26.
http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.pdf

If you add in the proportion of arable land used to feed animals (estimated at 33% or 0.5 billion ha in the LEAD report) then that brings it up to 30% of total land area - see the first paragraph under "2.6 Conclusions" on page 74.

So the 70% figure Justin uses refers to pasture, which covers 27% of the Earth's land surface. Including the land used to feed the animals brings this up to 30%, which is closer to Justin's "one-third" estimate.

That's close enough for me; I was actually expecting the numbers to be much smaller. I'm posting this because several commenters have been curious about Justin's environmental argument - the numbers are all there in the LEAD report if you want to go and look for them.

  • 116.
  • At 04:29 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Julian wrote:

All

Veganism and ethics is not about being sanctimonious or climbing the social ladder; rather, it is about doing what is right and just. We humans look for rank and social standing in everything, including ethics. Nothing seems to give us more pleasure than in proving that someone who thought he was doing the right thing is in actual fact doing the wrong thing. We then merrily condemn said person and congratulate ourselves on our correct ethical standing and intelligence for knowing this. Vegans and omnivores are both guilty of this; and some of the comments on this blog appear to fall into that category. The arguments both for and against are subtle and many facts are also still in dispute.

Let's take the ego out of the debtate.

  • 117.
  • At 04:29 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • cac wrote:

An interesting, but misleading article. While it points to cattle as a dangerous possible cause for greehouse gasses, it does nothing to suggest how to replace them. A steak is not equal to a veggie burger.

The USDA’s nutrient database shows that eating just six ounces of beef provides the 50-gram daily requirement for protein, making it an excellent source of protein. According to the USDA data, to get that amount of protein from non-meat sources would require consuming: 1.38 pounds of white bread; 1.14 pounds of wheat bread; 1.6 pounds of tofu; 1.25 pounds of black beans; or 3.36 pounds of corn.

Replacing the protein we get from beef would require much more farming, use of oil products, breaking up of fragile land.

And that doesn't even begin to address the other nutrients in that beef: zinc, B12, iron....

Until the anti-meat people come up with some method of replacing meat without causing more damage to the environment, it's just hot air and fodder for discussion boards.

  • 118.
  • At 07:24 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Following my own advice in post 115 and reading the report (table 3.12), I see that Justin is right: CO2 accounts for just 2.7 (38%) of the 7.1 billion tonnes of livestock emissions. That means methane and N2O account for 62%, or 1.6 times the contribution of CO2.

So if meat and dairy account for 28g out of every 100g of CO2 associated with Justin's diet, then including methane and N2O from livestock would add another 28*1.6 = 45g, bringing the total contribution from meat and dairy up to (28+45)/(100+45) = 50%.

That's still not the 60% claimed by Justin, but it's more than the 44% figure I came up with in post 85. Including the methane and N2O emissions associated with the rest of his diet will dilute this figure somewhat, but probably not down as far as 40%, as I claimed previously.

Spartacus#85: "If you're going to make a quantitative argument, I think it's important to get the numbers right."

Hoist by my own petard.

  • 119.
  • At 07:48 PM on 03 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Cac#117: I'm no vegan, but I don't think you present a fair and balanced argument, since the foods you choose to mention are not particularly protein-rich. The website below gives a couple of examples showing how vegans can meet their protein needs - I'm not an expert, but these numbers look OK to me.
http://www.vrg.org/nutrition/protein.htm

As regards other nutrients, I'm sure that vegans have to be careful about what they eat, but I know plenty of healthy vegetarians and vegans of all ages who are as fit as ... well, butcher's dogs (for want of a better metaphor).

My family are cattle farmers, and I like nothing better than a good steak. But it's obvious to me that veggies and vegans can have a perfectly healthy diet.

As for your claim that replacing meat will cause more damage to the environment, I'm skeptical about that too. I'm sure there will be some ill effects, but whether the net result will be more or less damaging is the kind of thing that can only be proven with numbers.

If you know of any objective analysis showing that reducing meat consumption will have a net environmental cost, then I'd like to see it. Otherwise, I'll have to categorize your post as "interesting, but misleading".

  • 120.
  • At 01:09 AM on 04 Feb 2007,
  • Bob C wrote:

Cac, you really ought to learn the facts before you write. It actually requires far less land and resources to produce protein using plants rather than animals. As an example a given piece of land growing broccoli will produce 10 times as much protein as if it was being used for cattle, the cows get their protein from the plants and it is a very inneficient process.

For a human to get sufficient protein on a vegan diet is very easy, there are very many vegan body builders and most take no supplements.

To the person who gets this far to read this (if it is not moderated)... good Sunday morning! It's glorious here in Ross. Let's enjoy such weather while we can.

The ICCP report came out 2 days ago. I have just conducted an interesting (well, to me), analysis of coverage since:

http://junkk.blogspot.com/2007/02/10-years-and-human-race-is-screwed-but.html

On the day in question, Newsnight devoted itself to the issue. There was Ms. Watts' (great name, all things considered) slot, with Mr. Milliband 'talking' about the need for 'action'. No change there, then.

And then, to round up on the day we are told we are 10 years from catastrophe, we have a slot on... cow farts (tee -hee). And the conclusion is, well, 'it's not really for me so back to the burgers.'

What next? 'Actually those low energy bulbs are expensive, don't last as long and are dimmer, so bring back the 100W pearlies!!' (Justin - Where did you get the low-energy LED halogen-effect spotlights in your kitchen, by the by?).

Anyway as we're on meat, and turkey (looks like Dan was spared a fate worse than sneezing to death) is off the menu (if not all the front pages) for a while I guess, let's get onto what apparently really matters at this juncture in our planet's survival.

A lot of folk seem to think man is at odds with nature, in the same way as a lion defending his territory to the death is ok, but my owning property 'is theft'.

Well, without getting too theological, we kinda stemmed from the same design-shop, and it's looking like we're pretty flawed.

We've done what (forgive the pun) comes naturally for a while now, and there's quite a lot of us. No more space to stand on and grow stuff, but we're still populating away, whilst merrily turning the growing bits into sources of fuel for our dear leader to gad about on the lecture circuit.

Speaking of what's not practical, Justin's reversion is not so surprising, because another aspect to the design flaw is that 'we' (even those who don't by choice) are omnivores. Not a mandatory by diet, but certainly a powerful force by programming (as is making things, trading them, boldly going... etc).

Trouble is, in addition to being told by 2500 of the world's finest (and the media, if only until yesterday), that we're screwed in 10 years if we go on as we are, I'm not seeing any great sense of cutting back on the LCD purchases, Vista upgrades, trips to study the impact of GW on whales (what used to be called a 'holiday' for the public, or a 'jolly' for the green elite).. or the filet mignon.

Which may be a bit of a problem soon, as the guys with the cows fight it out for space with the guys growing biofuels. I'm guessing bread will be history by then.

So, to this carnivore at least, as we're not doing anything yet about population, and the lobbyist power plus short-term political survival instincts (at least until the gold-plated, index-linked retirement is over) has meant that the commercial/governmental fudge on all things manufacturing and travel will continue, we better sort those dastardly bovines out right now. At least to buy some more time to fudge a bit longer.

As an ex-scientist, the numbers seem clear. If we are talking about nutritional ROI on our available land, we should all go veggie (I'm never to clear on the 'arian/egan' thing - one seems doable, the other a good way to fit into those size 0's) asap. It's just what is eventually all that will be sustainable. And even then it is just another delaying measure if other issues are not addressed. Though Avian flu may end up as a nifty, natural, Malthusian correction. Temporarily.

But as we'll doubtless conquer that (assuming it hasn't been created to sort out a few of the other problems by guys like Hugo Drax - have fun googling that. If it's true can I have the antivirus for sussing it out, please?), I have only two words for you, and as a guy who just turned 50 my hand shakes as I write them: Solyent Green.

"To the person who gets this far to read this (if it is not moderated)... good Sunday morning! It's glorious here in Ross. Let's enjoy such weather while we can.

The ICCP report came out 2 days ago. I have just conducted an interesting (well, to me), analysis of coverage since:

http://junkk.blogspot.com/2007/02/10-years-and-human-race-is-screwed-but.html

On the day in question, Newsnight devoted itself to the issue. There was Ms. Watts' (great name, all things considered) slot, with Mr. Milliband 'talking' about the need for 'action'. No change there, then.

And then, to round up on the day we are told we are 10 years from catastrophe, we have a slot on... cow farts (tee -hee). And the conclusion is, well, 'it's not really for me so back to the burgers.'

What next? 'Actually those low energy bulbs are expensive, don't last as long and are dimmer, so bring back the 100W pearlies!!' (Justin - Where did you get the low-energy LED halogen-effect spotlights in your kitchen, by the by?).

Anyway as we're on meat, and turkey (looks like Dan was spared a fate worse than sneezing to death) is off the menu (if not all the front pages) for a while I guess, let's get onto what apparently really matters at this juncture in our planet's survival.

A lot of folk seem to think man is at odds with nature, in the same way as a lion defending his territory to the death is ok, but my owning property 'is theft'.

Well, without getting too theological, we kinda stemmed from the same design-shop, and it's looking like we're pretty flawed.

We've done what (forgive the pun) comes naturally for a while now, and there's quite a lot of us. No more space to stand on and grow stuff, but we're still populating away, whilst merrily turning the growing bits into sources of fuel for our dear leader to gad about on the lecture circuit.

Speaking of what's not practical, Justin's reversion is not so surprising, because another aspect to the design flaw is that 'we' (even those who don't by choice) are omnivores. Not a mandatory by diet, but certainly a powerful force by programming (as is making things, trading them, boldly going... etc).

Trouble is, in addition to being told by 2500 of the world's finest (and the media, if only until yesterday), that we're screwed in 10 years if we go on as we are, I'm not seeing any great sense of cutting back on the LCD purchases, Vista upgrades, trips to study the impact of GW on whales (what used to be called a 'holiday' for the public, or a 'jolly' for the green elite).. or the filet mignon.

Which may be a bit of a problem soon, as the guys with the cows fight it out for space with the guys growing biofuels. I'm guessing bread will be history by then.

So, to this carnivore at least, as we're not doing anything yet about population, and the lobbyist power plus short-term political survival instincts (at least until the gold-plated, index-linked retirement is over) has meant that the commercial/governmental fudge on all things manufacturing and travel will continue, we better sort those dastardly bovines out right now. At least to buy some more time to fudge a bit longer.

As an ex-scientist, the numbers seem clear. If we are talking about nutritional ROI on our available land, we should all go veggie (I'm never to clear on the 'arian/egan' thing - one seems doable, the other a good way to fit into those size 0's) asap. It's just what is eventually all that will be sustainable. And even then it is just another delaying measure if other issues are not addressed. Though Avian flu may end up as a nifty, natural, Malthusian correction. Temporarily.

But as we'll doubtless conquer that (assuming it hasn't been created to sort out a few of the other problems by guys like Hugo Drax - have fun googling that. If it's true can I have the antivirus for sussing it out, please?), I have only two words for you, and as a guy who just turned 50 my hand shakes as I write them: Solyent Green."

  • 123.
  • At 03:46 PM on 04 Feb 2007,
  • CAC wrote:

I never suggested vegetarians couldn't get a healthy diet. It's obvious they can. But these sorts of "studies" are one sided.

Meat is much more nutrient dense than any vegetable.

In the US beef is raised on land not suitable for farming. You can't raise carrots or potatoes in most of New Mexico, but cattle do well.

Feedlot cattle do more than eat and poop. They also take left overs from everyone's diet and turn it into healthy nutritional food. What do you think happens to the corn cobs all that canned and frozen corn was grown on? The soybeans after tofu was made and after the oil is removed? Potato peels from all those potato chips. Those are just a few examples, but I'll tell you where most of that "trash" goes: into the animal feeding industry. This study and the comments on this page make no mention of those.

Plus they make tons of organic fertilizers for those who choose to eat organic.

Don't let someone tell you that you're destroying the earth because you eat meat. Feedlots help keep tons and tons of material out of your landfills, materials that would produce methane gas while they were breaking up in your local landfill.

  • 124.
  • At 10:20 PM on 04 Feb 2007,
  • Bob C wrote:

Sorry Cac, most beef eaten by the western world is not fed primarily on grass from land unsuitable for arable, some is (the sort you see when cattle farming is mentioned on the news) but most is fed grain, soya etc that could feed people instead.

The simple fact is that converting protein from plants into meat is a very inefficient process. Being nutrient dense is not a positive in the modern world where most eat far too much.

If the world was vegan then the waste vegetables could be composted and returned to the soil, this is a far more efficient process than feeding to animals for us to eat later on. They can also be burnt in incinerators as an almost carbon neutral fuel if that is preferred.

  • 125.
  • At 12:48 AM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Cac, Bob C:

You might be interested in section 2.3.2 of the LEAN report, which looks at feedcrops and crop residues.
http://www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/a0701e/A0701E02.pdf

thanks for the very informative article.
There are simply too many people live on this small planet, that's the main problem. Our materialist way of living is obviously not sustainable if current trend continues.

  • 127.
  • At 04:26 PM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • Pam Radford-Lamb wrote:

If you or your medical advisor think you cannot be healthily sustained on a vegan diet, why not consult Carl Lewis, 9 Olympic Gold medals, 8 World Championship Gold medals, voted by the International Olympic Committee as Athlete of the Century, and by the American magazine Sports Illustrated as Olympian of the Century.

He said "My best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet" (6 gold medals, I believe)

Before that he was vegetarian.

PS I'm a vegan and I've had my blood tested by my GP and she said my levels of everything (including iron, B6 and B12) were, in her words "excellent".

It's a shame that you've gone back to meat-eating. I had hoped that you would have really felt the benefits from your month of vegan eating - the animals certainly did!

  • 128.
  • At 09:58 PM on 05 Feb 2007,
  • lisa Richards wrote:

Thanks Justin, another very interesting report. I have been mulling it over and also reading the responses to this blog.

In reply to CAC (bad choice of blog name, btw), I'm afraid your comments on raising beef in New Mexico got my back up somewhat. Having spent a fair bit of time there I know that the southern part of the state is given over to intensive beef farming. It is a flat, dry, high altitude geography, covered in gigantic paddocks full of cows all generating enormous piles of cowcack that in those conditions does not break down easily. It stinks, it is polluting and if it is that unpleasant for humans imagine how bad it is for the cows. I won't go into the fact that they are not grass fed (there's no grass there - the paddocks are full of muddy cow shit) and therefore having ruminating problems and need gallons of antibiotics. Let's face it, America consumes far more beef than it needs to and uses extremely unethical and polluting methods to do so. And yes, carrots need a moister atmosphere than is available in NM, but didn't the native Americans grow corn and squash in that part of the country for centuries before the white man came along? Give me a break...

OK, now that's off my chest, I would just like to add that it would have been nice to bring the question of ethics and morality into the equation. Peter Singer's book The Ethics of What We Eat is a good starting point, and there are many ethical issues to be resolved when choosing an omnivore diet beyond the issue of global warming and methane release.

In our era of overblown capitalism and mass consumption I believe we in the west are in danger of losing our moral and ethical way. It is hard to live a truly ethical life, and this is where we really need some guidance.

  • 129.
  • At 01:09 PM on 08 Feb 2007,
  • Ntenga Moses wrote:

Thank you for your research and article.

I feel blaming the Cows is not enough,instead we should blame the process and the people who use that practices that lead to Global warming.
If many people think Global warming is greatly caused by industrialised countries and yet according to your research Developing countries could also be contributing because they rear cows.

Then, what can developing world do to control global warming they join hands with their colleagues in the developed countries?

Hi, I don't think meat eaters have to completely give up eating meat in order to live sustainably and in an environmentally friendly manner (tho if some of us do decide to and are able to remove all meat from our diets, that's great and I commend those who do so).
However, it is the method of intensive meat production and the amount that we eat that is at fault.
If we ate less meat and only ate organic, locally sourced, free range meat from animals that are all well looked after, have natural food to eat, are not forced to eat waste products (sometimes cannibalistic waste - bleugh!), have appropriate space to roam, are not pumped full of growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, we would not only demonstrate some much needed common sense but become healthier and cause less destruction to the planet.
If/when a Carbon/Green/Eco Credit system comes into force I think it is only fair that those of us who choose to eat organic, local meat receive less credit than vegetarians and vegans who do not. And the day that local organic meat is less expensive than the contaminated, non-organic, cheap, processed meat products will be a happy day for me!!
Finally, anyone who thinks that Justin Rowlatt's article proclaimed that because livestock is responsible for 18% of global warming gases, it is okay to continue driving unnecessarily is seriously deluded!

  • 131.
  • At 09:00 PM on 19 Feb 2007,
  • Harbhajan Singh Grewal wrote:

Loved your article.I used to enjoy butcher cut thick steaks all the time.When I'd visit my parents and be "forced" to eat a vegetarian diet, I'd feel weak and lacking energy till I'd had a Big Mac.
Then we visited my enlightened cousin in Kenya and he explained how brainwashed we are about the virtues of meat.My wife and I went vegetarian cold turkey 25 years ago and have been feeling excellent since.In fact, in my meat eating days, I used to get the meat out of the way so I could enjoy the veggies and lentils.I remember having to keep on chewing the sometimes stringy meat and the heavy feeling after a burger.
Not to mention the cruelty inflicted for veal or even raising beef cattle.I think world health would go up many notches if we gradually shift towards vegetarianism.
Cheers
Harbhajan.

  • 132.
  • At 12:16 AM on 03 Mar 2007,
  • carol b wrote:

I am a doctor of medicine and have been vegetarian for 18 years and vegan for 6 years.Homosapiens have a dentition and digestive tract designed to process a plant-based diet.With regard to the vast body of undeniable evidence of the detrimental health effects of consuming animal products, the devastating effect animal farming has on the environment, and the senseless, unecessary, barbaric treatment of innocent animals, along with the obvious health benefits of a plant-based diet, I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to eat animals. I can only liken the desire to eat meat with smoking. Several decades ago smoking was the norm, and people who did not partake were considered wierd. Nobody would have believed that inhaling smoke could possibly be good for your health,but even after the dangerous effects were proven people continue to smoke even though they are well aware of the risks - a combination of addiction, social pressure, advertising.Hopefully eating meat is far less addictive han smoking, but it seems that social pressure largely induced by advertising fuelled by the vast meat and dairy industries, is resulting in most westerners "following the herd" There are many mixed messages - so many TV programmes promoting "healthy eating" and "tackling obesity", countered by a barrage of "Masterchef", "I'm a celebrity, I can saute" programmes promoting cholesterol oozing, maximum cruelty dishes.
I can only hope that individuals will take heed of the warnings, take more regard of their own health, and show compassion to living creatures and our planet; and not be afraid to seem a bit wierd, rather than copying the Jones'.


I

  • 133.
  • At 10:36 AM on 05 Mar 2007,
  • TOURNEBOEUF wrote:

From France
As many other peolple I have just been learning these astonishing figures about grenn gas emissions from the cattle.

You should have written what are the figures concerning pigs and chickens.

In my opinion, the good way of eating is to reduce by 50 % ( in France) our consumption of meat.

  • 134.
  • At 11:43 AM on 05 Mar 2007,
  • Sam Tana wrote:

Just want to say that Stan (comment 52) has it spot on. We can try to tinker with this emmission, or that carbon footprint but it's all for nothing unless we do something to tackle the human birthrate worldwide.

  • 135.
  • At 04:23 PM on 05 Mar 2007,
  • Marcos wrote:

How come no one mentions kids? The more children one has the greater the environmental damage. Right here on the BBC, not a year ago, an article was published by a scientist pointing out the fact that we are 2 billion too many for our fragile planet to sustain. You want to help save the planet? Don't reproduce!

  • 136.
  • At 09:00 PM on 10 Mar 2007,
  • Dean Parker wrote:

So you stop eating meat and find your general state of health improves, you loose weight your cholesterol levels reduce, you feel great, you know your reducing your carbon footprint significantly and on top of that your stopping animals being exploited and murdered......so after all this good stuff what do you do? you have a steak and go back to eating meat and dairy? I am amazed at your lack of common sense.
Sadly you seem to have learned very little and demonstrated the sad symptoms that the vast majority of society show, you don't actually give a toss about anything other than pleasing yourself and your taste buds.

Most experts recommend combining methods of contraception. The women's pill + a condom + spermicide, for example. Imagine the effectiveness of the women's pill + the men's pill! WBR LeoP

  • 138.
  • At 05:27 PM on 11 Mar 2007,
  • james turner wrote:

Lets just hurry up and destroy the world. the faster we do that the sooner animals stop suffering. HUMANS are the most vile, greedy, shameful living creatures to ever exist. the death Humans cause and the lack of any remorse shows them for what they are. i hope it all ends soon.......but long live the vegans (if only it was possible)

I wanted to tell you that I've been eating primarily a vegan diet for the last seven months, with a lot of it being raw fruits and veggies. And its great! WBR LeoP

  • 140.
  • At 09:28 AM on 27 Mar 2007,
  • blake masters wrote:

I found ur experiment interesting

  • 141.
  • At 10:26 PM on 27 Mar 2007,
  • Lionel Tiger wrote:

This puts a much better perspective on climate change than the misguided apocalyptic Carbon Dioxide model we have recently been presented. This approach is much more holistic, however I cannot see vast swathes of the British public and more significantly the beef hungry Americans turning vegetarian and vegan. This would also be rather draconian, and there are measures that should be taken to manage the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture before taking such drastic measures as to eliminate elements of our diet. This does identify another highly significant impact on the environment from an aspect of our lifestyles. We are omnivores, otherwise we wouldn't crave meat. We probably eat too much of it, and that can be bad for your health. However, meat is a good source of protein and certain minerals that are difficult to obtain from a solely vegan diet. We are concerned about the impact an industrialising China could have on the environment, the most uncertain of which is the climate change induced by increased CO2 greenhouse gases. However, a large portion of the land mass of China, and for that matter South East Asia and India are covered with paddy fields of rice, which contribute a significant emission of methane into the global atmosphere. If this sort of emission can be turned into a useful resource, this would be an ideal win-win solution. After all, growing plants remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and the concerns we have over the mercy the Russians have with their natural gas (ie. Methane) supplies means and alternative would be beneficial for energy security. This source of energy could supply us with a useful biofuel. Alcohol and methane can be generated biologically from organic waste from agriculture, sewage and industry. British agriculture, as with most European and American agriculture relies on significant quantities of chemical fertilisers, which themselves have resulted in greenhouse gas emissions to create them from their energy consuming industrial process. Better use of cattle manure as a fertiliser could reduce unnecessary waste of a useful resource. The methane could be extracted as a fuel. Growing leguminous crops with wheat and corn should also reduce the requirement to apply copious quantities of chemical fertiliser. Such outdated agricultural practices have been supported for decades as part of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, even leading to an overproduction of food. However, things are changing. The EU's CAP system is undergoing dramatic reform. Environmental Stewardship is the name of the game now, instead of energy hungry yield subsidies. In addition to this, agriculture, particularly intensive livestock farming is now becoming part of the EU's IPPC (That's Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, not to be confused with the UN's IPCC) system. Britain is a world leader in this area, partly as a result of environmental impacts from industries. The whole agricultural system is developing an agricultural economy that no longer has public funds supporting an inefficient system. The era of Multinational conglomerates that have for decades cultivated monocultures of chemically fertilized crops at the expense of environmental diversity is hopefully reaching a well needed revolution.

  • 142.
  • At 11:50 PM on 27 Mar 2007,
  • Lionel Tiger wrote:

A highly significant contributor of the ecological contributors of climatic homeostatic atmospheric agents is the activities of insects. We often forget insectoids, because most of us don't eat them and we associate them with pests and disease. There are many times more ants than humans, in terms of biomass, I do not know how the two species compare. This does not include termites, worms, moths, flies, wasps, bees etc. Let's not forget that we aren't the only species on this planet. Don't forget the phytoplankton of the oceans, feeding the fish. And of course you can't forget the birds. Maybe we could even use some of these species for our benefit. Worms are useful in breaking down waste vegetation into compost. Maybe we can take advantage of an anaerobic insect to aid the methanogenesis process for use as biofuels. What the world needs is some proper research into the better use of biofuels from our waste. Less of the ethical sacrifices that resort our existance to a seriously primitive life. Who's going to buy that ?

  • 143.
  • At 11:35 PM on 28 Mar 2007,
  • Lionel Tiger wrote:

I don't know whether this would be a feasible option, but one problem that is encountered when trying to produce methane using biological methanogenesis bacteria is that Lignin from woody fibres prevents the bacteria from breaking down the organic material. Maybe if cows ate a diet with more lignin in it, their digestive systems would produce less methane. Would this work as a solution to ruminant cattle by adding lignin to their feed ? If we could somehow extract it afterwards, then we could turn that organic matter in the manure into methane for use as a biofuel. Maybe another natural methanogenesis inhibitor could be sought here if Lignin isn't up to the task. I suggest some research is done into making such a biological process feasible if it is not already.

hi

  • 145.
  • At 03:09 AM on 15 Apr 2007,
  • Pam and Ray Holland wrote:

We are both pharmacists in the U.S. We can't claim to be nutrition experts but we do have a copy of Goodman and Gilman on the shelf. Nutrients are included in this worthy tome of drug therapy.

Iron absorption is fun for philosophical debate. Often, something like 20 mg of iron gets into the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract but 18 mg of iron fails to get into the blood stream. Since the GI tract is a corrosive environment and cells are constantly sloughed off and replaced, should the iron that never made it across the mucosal lining be considered absorbed, or is it never really "in" the body?

On a more practical level most vegetable sources of iron are very poorly absorbed. Coabsorption with vitamin C helps. So does cooking or grinding of vegetables that have a sturdy cellular structure and can pass through the gastrointestinal system partly unabsorbed.

I will yield to a nutrition expert on techniques for cooking enough to ease extraction of minerals without denaturing or losing vitamins. Capturing lost water-soluble vitamins in soups and stews is my favorite.

Unfortunately, by far the richest and best absorbed sources of iron are eggs and liver. Both good sources of saturated fat and very rich in cholesterol---especially if you cook them in bacon grease as many of our parents did.

If you go with an iron supplement, plain old ferrous sulfate is cheap. Unfortunately it is rarely found in the U.S. except as 5 grain (325 mg) tablets. This is enough to cause nausea in most anemic pregnant women and in even in some of the stoutest blood donors. A simple and cheap solution is to take a 3 grain tablet (maybe a 200 mg tablet in Britain and the rest of the civilized world) or take a hammer and chisel and split a 325 mg tablet in half. Half a tablet, two or three times a day, with orange juice and meal is often well tolerated---and cheap.

  • 146.
  • At 10:48 AM on 30 May 2007,
  • andy wrote:

Meat and Dairy are worse for the environment than CARS and PLANES?

I'm suprised Gordon Brown doesn't Tax us all to starvation then!

Why not?

Let's face it Green Taxes are really just taxes, if something is that bad for us then they'd ban it outright, not try to profit from it.

Truth is, if we get rid of the cows, the wild roaming livestock that would fill the void left would probably fart as much and create as much GHG.

  • 147.
  • At 10:27 AM on 14 Jul 2007,
  • justmeblueberry wrote:

in the light of the findings that cows and their bovine brothers and sisters contribute more harmfull green house gases than all the worlds transport , all cars , planes , trains , scedoos the lot rolled into one .....

then why wasnt this mentioned in the final episode / roundup of "ethical man" when there was a discussion with party representatives

  • 148.
  • At 08:24 PM on 11 Oct 2007,
  • Simon wrote:

Hi there I just want to say that people claiming to be vegeterian and say they dont eat animals, kill amimals etc, etc is a total load of crap! How do you make iron pills and vitamin B12? You have to kill animals. Pregnant woman need twice as much iron as men, they need iron pills! In order to plant crops you have to take over wild animals homes, which is essentialy killing them. We all contruibte to killing animlas. How is milk produced?, it is produced by a cow giving birth to a calf. What do you propose we do with all of those millions of calfs around the world? We cant store them there is simply not enough room, we eat them and/or breed them to produce more milk and thus more calfs! It is all part of the cycle. Veges get over your selfs!

  • 149.
  • At 07:36 PM on 12 Oct 2007,
  • JON CROSS wrote:

It doesn't matter whether or not you are vegan. The fact is that 90% of animals bred for the food chain very rarely see daylight. It is called "intensive farming" and is the only way the industry can supply demand, like battery hens. We all dislike the idea of them, but turn a blind eye to it for cheap eggs. Animals have been around for many millions of years longer than we have (or even will be)and their numbers over time have been astronomical, and in all that time, the earth was cooling! The fact that the earth is warming up is not in dispute. The point that seems to be missing, and I have not heard it said by anyone, is the speed with which it is happening. The kind of warming we are seeing should take several thousands of years to come about. All activity creates heat of some sort or another and the greatest changes to the earth have taken place since the industrial revolution. We are seeing those changes take place over the last 50-100 yrs! I think I know who is to blame. BUT, are we going to do anything about it? I think not. How many of you are prepared to give up your cars, turn down your central heating, turn lights off when not needed, only fill the kettle with as much water as you need each time, don't charge your mobile phones overnight, etc. etc. There are so many things we could do, but DON'T. It's not going to happen! That's why global warming will go on and on until it's too late to do anything about it.

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