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Mass meat production "wreaking environmental havoc"

12 June, 2012

Flinders University animal studies expert Dr Nik Taylor is calling for a global reduction in meat production and consumption, warning that the deeply ingrained meat-eating habits of modern Western society are having a "disastrous" effect on the environment.

Dr Taylor, a sociologist from the School of Social and Policy Studies, has prepared a report for the World Preservation Foundation – an international climate change research and advocacy organisation – on the many environmental impacts of meat-eating, arguing that it should no longer be considered normal or natural to eat meat on a daily basis.

Published this month, Reversing Meat-Eating Culture to Combat Climate Change argues the need for a worldwide reduction in meat production and consumption in favour of more plant-based diets.

Dr Taylor said the mass production of meat was "wreaking havoc" on the environment due to a number of factors, including the increased use of antibiotics to keep meat animals disease-free, mass feeding and breeding in confined spaces and the widespread practice of spraying plants with pesticides to produce more yield to feed the animals.

"There’s a lot of land clearing involved in meat production, particularly with cattle, a huge amount of water is wasted to feed animals that end up as food and half of the world’s production of antibiotics is given to meat animals," Dr Taylor said.

"Estimates vary but between 18 to 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production – and greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change – so if we cut down or eradicate the industry that accounts for up to half of those emissions we’re going to do some serious good for the environment.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the number of livestock slaughtered nationally in August 2011 included 1,593,041 lambs, 639,830 cattle, 415,296 pigs and 348,127 sheep, adding to the 55 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs killed annually across the world for food.

In compiling her report, Dr Taylor reviewed current research into the barriers and incentives of a meat-free diet, determining that meat and dairy consumption were so ingrained in modern western societies that it was considered normal to eat meat regularly.

The report also described the psychological damage from working in abattoirs, including the increased levels of aggression and violence in meatworker communities.

"Meat-eating is so normal that we don’t even question it, whereas vegetarians and vegans are portrayed to be weird, kooky or downright odd," she said.

"There really needs to be more education about what a plant-based diet looks like – people assume it’s all lentils and lettuce but it’s actually quite diverse.

"In the long term I think we need to break down the cultural normalisation of meat-eating and the belief that it’s our right to eat cheap meat three times a day because it’s having a disastrous effect on the environment, the animals and possibly our health."

While international campaigns such as 'Meatless Mondays' did have some benefit in that it made people question their meat consumption, Dr Taylor said cultural views and the "industrialised mass production" of meat needed to change.

"The statistics show that 69 per cent of people are ambivalent about eating meat, and most intend to cut down on meat consumption, so the intention is clearly there but we need to open the discussion to shed light on our cultural blind spots," she said.

"We have to consider the issue seriously – for the animals who are condemned to short, nasty and brutal lives as products within the system and for our own health, the wellbeing of our environment and the future of our planet."

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Bill Koutalianos | Tuesday, June 12, 2012, 7:06 PM
The UN's Agenda 21 (agenda for the 21st century) which made its debut at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, considers meat eating amongst many other things we take for granted, to be unsustainable. Agenda 21 principles of sustainability have infiltrated virtually all our levels of government as well as many of our educational institutions. The principles are promoted incessantly under the guise of "green" or "sustainability" or as above "the wellbeing of our environment and the future of our planet". Some may not have noticed that the promotion is taking place in every corner of our daily lives. With funding from advocacy organisations and governments, for academics it represents an income stream. Socially, it is wreaking havoc with peoples' minds. You don't need a science degree to be able to read a satellite based global temperature graph showing a flat temperature trend since 1998. Therefore, there's a very big question mark over the greenhouse warming theory, on which much of this agenda is based. Unsurprisingly, many academics seem incapable of questioning the underlying basis of their study, when their livelihood depends upon it. Before we start eradicating industries, it's best to rely on sound science rather than political and ideological agendas, dressed up as science, otherwise the eradication might go further than anyone anticipated. Even academics might find, there was no point in paying off a mortgage, when Agenda 21 considers private property to be unsustainable.