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Meat-eating? Opt out!


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Ask someone how they can help combat climate change, and they might talk about recycling or turning off the lights. If they are a bit more knowledgeable, they might mention divestment or the environmental damage done by the extractive industries. Less likely is that they will refer to the meat industry and how much meat we eat.

Environmental abuse and meat eating are directly linked. Eating meat might not be as bad for the environment as the pollution caused by gas-guzzling 4x4s, but being an ardent meat-eater still has a significant impact. So those of us who promote and preach sustainability must re-assess our personal relationship with meat.

Part of the problem is that when we eat meat, we often detach what is on our plate from the processes of its production. We should ask ourselves: where has the meat came from? What is its carbon footprint? Has it been locally sourced? Instead, we simply eat first and ask questions later (if at all).

The meat industry is booming. In 2012 alone, the United States exported 1.5 billion metric tonnes of beef, to the tune of $631 billion. There are people getting very rich off our meat-eating habits.

In 2012, around 70 billion animals were raised as livestock for 7.1 billion people. That amounts to 10 animals per person, an astounding figure. As a result, livestock production is playing a key role in driving climate change, with studies estimating that it contributes more than 18 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions.

Raising animals for consumption produces more greenhouse gases than all of the carbon dioxide resulting from planes, trains, cars and boats combined. Animal production is also the cause of 75 per cent of deforestation.

Though becoming a vegetarian is the obvious way to improve our own contribution to the environment, for some, giving up meat completely may be too big a step. Part-time vegetarianism – eating meat just two or three days a week, for example – has become a popular and useful compromise. Personal carbon footprints are reduced, and if enough people were to do this, it would drastically reduce the need for unsustainable farming practices.

We should also reconsider the way we purchase our meat. Big meat-producing corporations are profiteering off of our meat addiction while destroying the planet. Intensive farming industries have commoditized food and animals and are driving down prices at the expense of animal welfare, sustainability and healthy produce.

Rather than serving a local community, large-scale farms serve an international market. Rainforests are chopped down, cheap, poor-quality food becomes omnipresent, and levels of obesity rise. We need to support small, organic farming, and be willing to pay more for quality, sustainable food.

While the health benefits of going vegetarian have long been documented, the ethical reasons for this lifestyle choice are also increasingly evident. With part-time vegetarianism, flexitarianism and pescatarianism also on offer, we can all reduce our meat consumption, and do our bit towards saving the planet.

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