Forum home The potting shed

Environmental impact of the meat industry

Did anyone else watch last night's BBC documentary?  I thought it was very well done.  It scrupulously avoided emotional arguments, and showed us the many ways industrial-scale meat production is damaging the planet.  Loss of wilderness, especially rainforest; pollution of earth, inland waterways and seas by livestock faeces and urine; increased greenhouse effect from methane emitted by livestock; loss of insect diversity due to monocultures; loss of marine life by overfishing to provide protein concentrates for cattle feed, and world hunger due to feeding crops to livestock instead of growing crops we can eat ourselves.

It was a bit thin on solutions, but that would have made a longer programme.  Pity they didn't make a second programme to look into that.

What did the rest of you think of it?  Or about the issues generally, if you didn't see the programme?


  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,220
    Didn't watch it so don't know whether the programme pointed out that in Europe, the clearing of forests to make pasture and arable land was done millenia ago so is not a current carbon cost and there's plenty of research to show that diet can make the bovine digestive system far more efficient and also more comfortable for the critters themselves - certain seaweed additives, length of the fibrous stems in their food mix and biochar additives.

    A lot of the land where sheep, deer and reindeer roam in the UK and upland Europe is not arable so lose the animals and lose the habitat.  Studies show that free range pigs emit half as much carbon as intensively reared pigs and I expect the same is true of poultry.

    I don't want to see a world with all the livestock, rare breed or common, either gone or restricted to a tiny genetic pool in zoo farms.  Nor do I want to see all land turned over to monocropping.  I enjoy eating meat and poultry and eggs and cheese along with plenty of fruit and veg and occasional cereals.   

    As with any other aspect of life, reason rather than excess should be the rule and we should be prepared to pay a reasonable price for farm produce and foods and also use it better with less waste.  It's the constant drive to lower prices which does a great deal of harm.

    It is also a well documented fact that there is more global food supply wasted in bad harvesting, bad storage, bad transport and bad distribution caused by poverty, bad management, bad governance and war and that fixing those would fix a lot of the world food shortage problem faster than waiting for solutions to global warming and would reduce pressure on rainforests.     
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • chickychicky SurreyPosts: 10,233
    I didn't see the programme, but am aware that lots of things are going to have to change, and fast.  If it managed to convey that without emotional arguments then it is a rare, and enviable thing.

    In my understanding, lots of these problems have solutions...… its just implementing them that's the problem.  People don't like to change their ways.

    Puts tin hat on and ducks ……..
  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 12,240
    I didn't see the program, and I come from a committed carnivore background, but it is becoming clearer to me, that we cannot continue as we are, if we want the planet to remain habitable.
    If land is only able to be used to grow grass, then rearing animals is fine, if land is suitable for arable, then more arable needs to be grown.
    I don't think it is acceptable any more, to say I like beef and I will eat it every day.
    The small changes I have made personally: 1 vege meal a week, 2 fish meals a week and only 1 red meat meal a week, are I am sure not enough, but they are a start.
    Consequences, altered cases
    Broken noses, altered faces
    My ego altered, altered egos
    Wherever I go, so does me go
  • B3B3 South East LondonPosts: 22,951
    I eat meat. I agree we eat too much meat for our own health and the health of the planet. Meat should be a treat, not a part of every meal. Says she who's just put a beef casserole in the oven.
    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • Like Lizzie27 says, it's not just the animals, there are a lot of us as well actively polluting the planet. But you cannot tell people to procreate at a tamer pace, that's for sure, everyone has the right to as many children as they want. However, better education would be a start. And when it comes to animals, there are solutions, implementing them is the issue here as people are indeed stuck in their ways, especially in poor countries.
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,220
    NO!  People have the right to the number of children they can afford and accommodate and bring up responsibly!
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 80,514
    edited November 2019
    I didn’t watch the programme but I am well aware of the issues. As you say, intensive mass production of grain fed meat is bad for the planet (and I would also argue, bad for our individual health). 

    However I am convinced of the argument that non intensive rearing of grass-fed beef and lamb is one of the most carbon-efficient ways in which we can produce food from some areas of land. 

    I am also convinced that wastage in the food industry has to be radically addressed ... it is appalling that many people, whilst perfectly happy to eat prime cuts of meat turn up their noses at lesser cuts and offal.  

    While I accept most meat eaters would do well to reduce their meat intake I am convinced that nose to tail eating of locally produced grass-fed beef and lamb/mutton can be part of an ecologically sustainable system in the UK. 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,220
    Well, the bits of nose to tail I don't want to eat end up as "gourmet" dishes at silly prices in fancy restaurants or go into pet foods and fertilisers but I suppose we'll next be told we can't have pets either.   
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • pr1mr0sepr1mr0se Posts: 1,173
    I watched the programme, and it was fascinating, and a well-balanced, nuanced look at the world-wide implications of meat production, especially the exponential rise over the past couple of decades.  
    I had thought that the Brazilian rainforest was mainly destroyed for the timber it yielded.  It transpires that huge swathes of the forest (going on memory, I think about 20% reduction) are turned into ranch areas for cattle.
    To feed the cattle and other animals around the world, large areas of savannah (never mentioned when referring to Amazonian deforestation) are cleared to grow soy and maize as animal feed.  So we clear a habitat, use it for a monoculture to grow specific plants (and the diversity of insects is immediately compromised) which are then fed to animals for humans to eat the meat.  Perhaps there is something to be said for using land to grow plants for humans to eat rather than extending the process.
    It is true that increasing wealth in developing countries creates further demand for meat.  However, it was shocking to see the huge (72 oz steak in one sitting, anyone?) quantities of meat consumed through nothing but gluttony.  In this respect, I'm afraid it is the American market that stands guilty in so many ways.
    Intensively reared animals with no pasture and a depressing environment did nothing to assure me that most of these practises are acceptable.
    I am lucky to live in Devon.  There are many farms in the area that produce beef to a high standard (grass fed, low concentrations per acre), upland areas that produce lamb, utilising land that is not fit for arable, pigs from relatively nearby Wiltshire, where many are reared in the open in sustainable and humane ways (as opposed to crated and confined barns).
    There isn't a perfect answer, but we can be more careful about the meat we choose to eat and the balance of meat protein to plant protein, for example, that collectively could make a difference.
    If you didn't see the programme, it is well worth watching on catch-up imo.

Sign In or Register to comment.