Globally, meat consumption has increased by 20 per cent in the last decade despite concerns about its environmental impact. So, asks Laurie Tuffrey, can going vegetarian really help the earth?
A quick glance at the statistics for the environmental impact of meat production provides ample food for thought. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provides some staggering statistics. For instance, there are almost 1.4 billion cattle and 1.1 billion sheep on the planet producing 37 percent of the total methane generated by human activity, a gas that is 20 times more effective at trapping greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. 70 per cent of all agricultural land, just under a third of the earth's entire land surface, is used for rearing farm animals. The amount of water needed to produce one kilogramme of beef varies depending on which figures you look at, but estimates are between 13,000 litres and 100,000 litres. With this in mind, just how sustainable is eating meat? And if things really are as frightening as they appear, why don't more people turn to vegetarianism or even veganism?