The farming of animals is classed as a production line, and we slaughter, or kill, more than 155,000 cows a year, and that’s just in Wales. There are 19 abattoirs in Wales, 2 in Gwent. Worldwide 95% of all the mammals on the planet are the animals we keep to eat.
The overall environmental impact of beef is disproportionately higher than every other foodstuff. Cows reared for beef need 28 times more land than pigs, chickens, or lamb, and 11 times more water.
The UK imports 236,000 tonnes of beef, which is equivalent to 790,000 cows, most of which are bought in little pieces, wrapped in plastic, from Tesco.
The head of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who has openly identified eating less meat as an important step in combatting climate change, says “ Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.” A study of tens of thousands of British people’s daily eating habits shows that meat lovers’ diets cause double the climate-warming emissions of vegetarian diets.
Now I am not at all trying to ‘have a go’ at our farmers, I am in fact asking them to farm in a different way, because not only can they help in the battle against climate change, but they can prepare themselves for a changing marketplace in preparation for our changing eating habits.
According to Google, the search interest for “vegan” spiked in 2015, increasing 32 percent from the previous year.
A rough count shows there are 59 dedicated vegetarian restaurants in Wales, and every restaurant and café I know of has a good selection of veggie food – and I’m not talking about the ubiquitous pre-frozen veggie lasagna either.
In Gwent the internet tells me there are 127 vegetarian- friendly restaurants in Gwent, and 64 vegan- friendly ones – which was a pleasant surprise. Times are changing.
Farmers can grow more food on less land if they cut out beef. When compared to staples like potatoes, grains, and vegetables, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. It is expected that the population will increase by another 2 billion people by 2050, so it makes sense to free up the land to feed us all.
Compared to beef, 78 times more vegetables and grain can be grown on a single hectare of land. That will feed a lot of people.
We don’t really have a choice whether to abandon our fossil-fuel driven cars or to eat less red meat if we truly want to leave a pleasant and habitable world for the future, but the biggest single intervention we can make is to eat less beef.
And don’t tell me vegan food is boring. Try it!