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Meat-eating is an unsustainable luxury


Meat-eating is an unsustainable luxury. Far better then that in this season of grace and magnanimity we work towards a transformation of our diet. Sustainable eating habits require switching largely to non-animal foods, which would make the national diet affordable and healthy

The post-World War II period has seen striking breakthroughs in our understanding of food choices and health. We have learnt that high consumption of animal protein causes health problems and has serious environmental impact: red and organ-meat is now known to be harmful largely due to its cholesterol-raising properties.

Despite these new insights our schools in the 50s or 60s did not teach any of this. In fact there was no link shown between what one eats and the health issues other than very commonsensical precautions about the need for washing food and boiling water. The connection with the environment came later as a global awakening. This, too, is yet to be taught and discussed in our classrooms.

Moreover, most customers are ignorant of the economic impact of global meat consumption. Or, even if they are aware, they choose to neglect it. Most of those who can afford meat have come to see it as the main course of their meals, a pleasurable essential.
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Roughly one-fifth of the world's land area is used for grazing, which is twice that for growing crops. In the natural state grasslands are healthy ecosystems supporting a diverse range of plants, birds, rodents and wild grazing animals. These areas are often unsuitable for cultivation, but with care they can generally be used sustainably for livestock grazing. Cattle, sheep and goat are ruminants and they fare best on a diet of grass. In Pakistan, animal production is largely on the use of rangelands; very little cereals are fed to the animals. It is 3 percent of all cereal production; in comparison, India uses half of that. The USA uses over 69 percent (so 23 times higher than Pakistan). Given our high population growth, and an increasing demand for meat, it will be difficult to enhance livestock production from overgrazed rangelands.
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Today, when there is a growing fear of the greenhouse effect causing steep rise in global temperature and consequent melting of icecaps resulting in great global catastrophes, the role of diet in this crisis is overlooked. Up until now, traffic and industry have been held almost exclusively responsible for the greenhouse effect. According to the head of Wuppertal Institute of Climate, Environment and Energy in Germany, contribution of cattle breeding is about the same as that for all automobile traffic, if we take into consideration the clearing of forests for cattle and for fodder.

The greenhouse effect is caused by three gases: methane, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, among other things. All three gases originate through animal husbandry on a large scale. The 1.3 million heads cattle kept worldwide (and the consumers of their meat) alone are responsible for 12 percent annual methane gas emissions. Breeding of livestock creates over 110 million tons of methane annually. This is even more critical when one consider that one molecule of methane contributes 25 times more to greenhouse effect than one molecule of carbon dioxide (the main by-product of autos).
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Meat-eating is a luxury that is clearly not sustainable. Far better then that in this season of grace and magnanimity we work towards a transformation of our diet. Sustainable eating habits require switching largely to non-animal foods, which would make the national diet affordable and healthy. This will give all Pakistanis a balanced diet throughout the year.

The writer is an Islamabad-based physicist with a great and growing interest in environment

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full story:
http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2006%5C12%5C25%5Cstory_25-12-2006_pg3_5
 

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