Friday, 30 May 2008

Why is being Vegetarian and Vegan good for you and good for the planet?

There is a growing awareness that following a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle is better:
a) for the planet;
b) for people; and
c) for animals.
Here are some facts and figures as to why this is so.

A) Good for the planet

Climate Change: The UN's Report: 'Livestock: the long shadow' stated that the world's livestock industry "are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport." Also, the world’s livestock "generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2." See also this news item.

Carbon Footprint: A meat and dairy diet leads to a higher carbon footprint than a vegan diet. For example: "Eating a lot of meat, especially beef, results in a higher carbon footprint than eating non meat products. To reduce you carbon footprint, try to cut down on your meat consumption.” See this site or this one.

University of Chicago research found that it would be more environmentally effective to go vegan than to switch to a petrol electric hybrid car. (Quoted in the Vegan Society's Eating the Earth pamphlet).

A typical US meat diet generates the equivalent of nearly 1.5 tonnes more Carbon Dioxide per person than a vegan diet. (University of Chicago research quoted in the Vegan Society's Eating the Earth pamphlet.

For the London 2012 Olympics to be sustainable, 65% of the food sold will need to be vegetarian or vegan. See Footnote 3 here.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP, said at the Campaign against Climate Change rally in London in December 2007 that “A vegan driving a 4x4 generates fewer climate-changing gases than a meat-eater on a bicycle.”

Fluffy white clouds

This post on another blog about 'Climate Change, carbon footprints and meat consumption' is worth reading too.

Land degradation: Overgrazing by livestock causes 35% of the world’s soil degradation; agriculture in general contributes to 27% of soil degradation. (United Nations Environment Programme).

Occasionally you hear people who should know better saying that some environments are only suitable for animal exploitation, such as hill farming. However there are options. You can grow things in those environments (once you stop using them for sheep farming) - just not intensively. And environmentalists should be against intensive farming anyway. Or you can just can stop covering the hills in sheep, and regrow groundcover, to protect bushes, eventually re-foresting, creating a wildlife haven and carbon lock. By using land for sheep then we prevent plant regrowth.

Water: It takes 5 times the amount of water to feed a meat eater compared with that to feed a vegan. (Journal of Animal Science).

Pollution from meat and dairy industries is polluting the world’s water – slurry is high in nitrogen and phosphorous and kills off living things in water sources.

Energy intensive methods: Livestock farming is energy and resource intensive, and, inefficient. For every 16lb of high-protein food fed to cattle only 1lb of meat results. (From 'Planet on a Plate' by Viva!).

The amount of feed consumed by the US beef herd alone is enough to feed the entire population of India and China. (From 'Planet on a Plate' by Viva!).

See also this Vegan Society page.

Land use: A vegetarian diet uses about half the amount of land needed to support a meat diet, and a vegan diet uses a fifth of the land needed to support a meat diet. (Vegan Society).

About 90% of soya protein is fed to animals. ('Eating the Planet' pamphlet by the Vegan Society)

Deforestation is directly linked to increased demand for animal products. A World Bank report concluded that “livestock induced ranching in rainforest has led to significant loss in plant and animal biodiversity”. ('Eating the Planet' pamphlet by the Vegan Society)

Oceans: Over-fishing is leading to collapsing of fish populations; 300,000 whales and dolphins are killed by fishing nets every year. (From 'Planet on a Plate' by Viva!).

Finally, this Vegan Society page covers many of those subjects - there are links for water, energy, land-use etc.

From 'Outrage' #148, Autumn 2007 editorial. Click to enlarge.

B) Good for People

Health: Vegetarian & Vegan diets have lower incidences of: diabetes, many cancers, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, bowel disorders, and lower cholesterol levels. The UK Health Education Authority says diet may contribute to 1/3 of all cancers in UK.

“The risk of certain cancers is higher in people who eat large amounts of red and processed meats, drink excess alcohol or who become overweight or obese.” (National Institute for Clinical Excellence).

High animal protein diets leach calcium out of bones – in countries where they consume little red meat osteoporosis is almost unheard of e.g. Japan, China. See this Harvard School of Public Health page.

The NHS guidelines for a healthy diet are: eat more unrefined starchy foods; eat more fruit & vegetables; reduce fat intake, especially saturated and hydrogenated. All of this is achieved on a vegetarian and vegan diet

Dairy products and health problems: Harvard School of Public Health research found that men who consumed two and a half servings of dairy products a day had a third greater risk of getting prostate cancer than those who ate less than half a serving a day.

C) Good for Animals

Animals are not commodities, but living sentient beings.
Animals bred for their meat or by-products endure exploitation, suffering and diseases.
Both Viva! and the Vegan Society have in-depth information about this aspect.

It is understandable that people may like to make changes to their lives and feel they are green; but then get irritated at the idea that they could perhaps do more; and therefore look for reasons not to. But don't think that compassion is unimportant, that exploiting, killing and eating other sentient beings is justifiable. Many people who are otherwise 'green' don't want to face this, and will spend a lot of time arguing how green their free-range chicken and sheep is. But compassion is a good thing to cultivate; plant those seeds and nurture them.

From 'Outrage' #147, Summer 2007. Click to enlarge.

What can you do? Take action!

World Environment Day by Mornby

Look up simple vegetarian and vegan recipes on these websites and find out more about the issue affecting the planet, people and animals: The Vegan Society, Viva!, and The Vegetarian Society. Also the Vegan Organic Network for how to garden vegan and organically.

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