Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

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Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby combatrock » Mon Sep 20, 2010 8:02 pm

I haven't read the book, just the article from Monbiot and thought people might find it interesting.

George Monbiot wrote:This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world’s livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition(1). After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism “is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue.” I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I’m about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: a benign extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate(2). He then subjects their case to the first treatment I’ve read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There’s no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry in the United States as “one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history.” It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets, the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can’t handle waste from many different sources, but most importantly the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot and mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilised scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tonnes of possible pig food, and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in this country, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we’ve been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

If pigs are fed on residues and waste and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands – food for which humans don’t compete – meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 cited by almost everyone, but 1.4 to 1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it’s a significant net gain.

It’s the second half - the stuffing of animals with grain to boost meat and milk consumption, mostly in the rich world – which reduces the total food supply. Cut this portion out and you would create an increase in available food which could support 1.3bn people.

Fairlie argues that we could afford to use a small amount of grain for feeding livestock, allowing animals to mop up grain surpluses in good years and slaughtering them in lean ones. This would allow us to consume a bit more than half the world’s current volume of animal products, which means a good deal less than in the average western diet.

He goes on to butcher a herd of sacred cows. Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that every kilogram of beef requires 100,000 litres of water to produce(3). Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge. A ridiculous amount of fossil water is used to feed cattle on irrigated crops in California, but this is a stark exception.

Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport(4). Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping).

Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce roughly 10% of the world’s emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport(5). He also shows that many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats, and reminds us that even vegan farming necessitates the largescale killing or ecological exclusion of animals: in this case pests. On the other hand, he slaughters the claims made by some livestock farmers about the soil carbon they can lock away.

The meat-producing system Simon Fairlie advocates differs sharply from the one now practised in the rich world: low energy, low waste, just, diverse, small-scale. But if we were to adopt it, we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience. By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It’s time we got stuck in.

www.monbiot.com

References:

1. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2002/12 ... t-stuffed/

2. Simon Fairlie, 2010. Meat: a Benign Extravagance. Permanent Publications, Hampshire.

3. http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2002/12 ... t-stuffed/

4. UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow. ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e.pdf

5. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 were 49 GtCO2-eq - http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_dat ... spm-b.html

Transport emissions in the same year were 6.3 GtCO2 – or 12.9% of the total global emissions - http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_dat ... s5-es.html


http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2010/09/07/strong-meat/
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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby the croc » Tue Sep 21, 2010 7:33 am

Bang on.

There was a recent New Scientist article that concluded similarly.

Veggieworld: Why eating greens won't save the planet

IF YOU’RE a typical westerner, you ate nearly 100 kilograms of meat last year.This was almost certainly the costliest part of your diet, especially in environmental terms. The clamour for people to eat less meat to save the planet is growing ever louder. “Less meat = less heat”, proclaimed Paul McCartney in the run-up to last December’s conference on global warming in Copenhagen. And this magazine recently recommended eating less meat as a way to reduce our environmental footprint.

If less is good, wouldn’t none be better? You might think so. “In the developed world, the most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of diet, on a personal basis, is to become vegetarian or vegan,” says Annette Pinner, chief executive of the Vegetarian Society in the UK.

It seems like a no-brainer, but is it really that simple? To find out, let’s imagine what would happen if the whole world decided to eliminate meat, milk and eggs from its diet, then trace the effects as they ripple throughout agriculture, the environment and society. The result may surprise you.

In 2008 the world consumed about 280 million tonnes of meat, 700 million tonnes of milk and 1.2 billion eggs, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Environmentally speaking, this came at an enormous cost.

All agriculture damages the environment – think of all those felled forests and ploughed-up prairies, all the irrigation water, manure, tractor fuel, pesticides and fertiliser. Agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than all methods of transport put together, and contributes to a host of other problems, from nitrogen pollution to soil erosion.

Livestock farming does the most damage. In part, that is because most livestock eat grain that could be used to feed people. As little as 10 per cent of that grain gets converted into meat, milk or eggs, so livestock amplify the environmental impact of farming by forcing us to grow more grain than we would otherwise need.

As a rough measure of how much more, consider that livestock consume about a third of the world’s grain crop. So as a first approximation, a vegan world would need only two-thirds of the cropland used today. That’s only part of the story, of course: meat and milk make up about 15 per cent of calories eaten by humans, so we would need to eat more grain to compensate for their loss. Altogether, switching to a vegan diet would reduce the amount of land used for crops by 21 per cent – about 3.4 million square kilometres, roughly the size of India.

Such a reduction would have a huge effect on the environmental impact of farming. Take nitrogen pollution, which can lead to eutrophication in lakes. As a small-scale illustration, environmental scientist Allison Leach of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville calculated that if everyone at her university cut out meat from their diet, it would reduce the university’s nitrogen footprint – the amount of nitrogen released to the environment from all activities – by 27 per cent. This is largely because of reductions in fertiliser use and the amount of nitrogen leaching from manure. If everyone went a step further and eliminated dairy products and eggs as well, Leach found that the university’s nitrogen footprint would fall by 60 per cent.


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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby xSUSPECTx » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:09 am

i didnt know jeff was doing so much harm, especially in the amazon.
Carly Ngarotata-Simon wrote:U misd two commas u illiterate fuk. It should read...mainstream, whilst at the same time, ... Who da dumb cunt now. Im bilingual. I can txt speak n also write in 'proper' english havin bn a legal secretary 4 13 years. So im actualy fukn streams ahead in inteligence ova u. Plus i hav a life! I dnt waste my time typing evry leta out cos i have a life! Dum ass. Peace, im out. Hahahahaha

Spots2012 wrote:do animal rights activists vehemently oppose Maori eating pigs etc, or are they willing to let that one slide?

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Lentil » Wed Sep 22, 2010 4:58 pm

yeah don't know if it adds up to me also there is a danger in this message being interepreted as "phew I carry on as usual" rather than meat and dairy consumption has to be reduced alot in the west in particular.

It seems to me also when they are looking at a world on a plant based diet they just assume it would have to be the same kind of horticulture we have at present, which is far from ideal.

Moving towards a small scale permaculture kind of farming should be the aim rather than large monocultures of animals or crops.

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby xSUSPECTx » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:22 pm

thats the point tho, its monoculture thats the problem, thats what people need to understand, especially dyed in the wool vegans, telling average people they cant eat meat is just alienating them, and they are the majority, youre letting personal ethics defeat your stated purpose.
Carly Ngarotata-Simon wrote:U misd two commas u illiterate fuk. It should read...mainstream, whilst at the same time, ... Who da dumb cunt now. Im bilingual. I can txt speak n also write in 'proper' english havin bn a legal secretary 4 13 years. So im actualy fukn streams ahead in inteligence ova u. Plus i hav a life! I dnt waste my time typing evry leta out cos i have a life! Dum ass. Peace, im out. Hahahahaha

Spots2012 wrote:do animal rights activists vehemently oppose Maori eating pigs etc, or are they willing to let that one slide?

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Lentil » Wed Sep 22, 2010 8:59 pm

Yes agreed mononculture is a problem. Also the massive amount of land required to eat the number of animals we in the developed world do at present and how this effects water and the climate.
To me a diet needs to be of a standard everyone in the world can live on without stuffing up the planet and without having people over eating in one part of the world while others starve to death - it could I imagine include some amount of meat if people wanted to, just not anywhere near what we are eating now.

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby the croc » Thu Sep 23, 2010 3:52 am

We also need to drastically reduce population. How the fuck we do that without committing mass genocide I have no idea. Population has artificially increased exponentially since the Haber-Bosch process was industrialised in 1913, and we've been fucked ever since.
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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Fadge. » Thu Sep 23, 2010 7:46 am

bring back eugenics i say.
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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Lentil » Thu Sep 23, 2010 8:47 am

Yeah are numbers keep increasing and we don't live in balance with the earths ecosystem. With an economic and political system that eggs us on to consume more and more we have become parasites.

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby the croc » Thu Sep 23, 2010 8:53 am

Fadge. wrote:bring back eugenics i say.


Funnily enough modern environmentalism developed out of the old eugenics movement.
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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby xSUSPECTx » Thu Sep 23, 2010 9:53 pm

explain...
Carly Ngarotata-Simon wrote:U misd two commas u illiterate fuk. It should read...mainstream, whilst at the same time, ... Who da dumb cunt now. Im bilingual. I can txt speak n also write in 'proper' english havin bn a legal secretary 4 13 years. So im actualy fukn streams ahead in inteligence ova u. Plus i hav a life! I dnt waste my time typing evry leta out cos i have a life! Dum ass. Peace, im out. Hahahahaha

Spots2012 wrote:do animal rights activists vehemently oppose Maori eating pigs etc, or are they willing to let that one slide?

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Lentil » Fri Sep 24, 2010 12:16 am

To add to discussion :D

Livestock and Climate Change
by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang


Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are...cows, pigs, and chickens?

The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs), according to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, co-authors of "Livestock and Climate Change".

A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock's Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. But recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.
http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby the croc » Fri Sep 24, 2010 9:38 am

There's more to life than thrash
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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby Lentil » Fri Sep 24, 2010 8:10 pm

A brief read of those links and it seems this only relates to a some of the American Conservation movement to me not to the Environmental movement as a whole.

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Re: Simon Fairlie - Meat: a benign extravagance

Postby the croc » Sat Sep 25, 2010 11:33 am

Yep
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