Will You Stop Eating Meat To Save The Environment?

Posted on October 6, 2015 in Environment

By Oishimaya Sen Nag:

What do you think is the most important factor leading to environmental degradation? Most of you will talk about greenhouse gases emitted by automobiles, mining, damming, expansion of human habitation and all the other stuff which we have grown up learning. True, these factors all contribute heavily towards environmental degradation. However, I have some hard-hitting facts for you.

If any of you have watched the ‘Cowspiracy’ documentary, produced by our favourite Titanic star Leonardo di Caprio, then you will understand what facts I am talking about. Do you know that 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions are produced by human bred livestock and their byproducts? 65% of human-related nitrous oxide emissions (which has a global warming potential 296 times more that carbon-dioxide) is contributed by the livestock industry. 150 billion gallons of methane are produced per day by cows and methane is a dangerous gas with 86 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide? Shocked? Here are some more facts for you.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Today, large parts of our country and the world are suffering from severe shortage of fresh water. 21% of diseases in India are related to consumption of contaminated water. Worldwide, around 1.1 billion people lack access to clean drinking water and by 2025, two-third of the global population may suffer from severe water shortage. Wondering what is the major cause behind such disturbing figures? Then you need to know that in countries like the US, 5% of fresh water is consumed by private homes, and 55% is used for animal agriculture. 1/5th of the global water consumption is for the purpose of animal husbandry. 500 dead zones have been created around the world by nitrogen emissions from the livestock industry. 1/3rd of the world’s land has been desertified with livestock as the primary driving force, and the US produces 130 times more animal waste than human waste. I would suggest you visit the Amazon right now, if it is part of your bucket list of destinations, because the Amazon maybe completely lost in the matter of a decade and that too due to expansion of the livestock industry!

After going through these and many more shocking facts revealed by ‘Cowspiracy’, I thought what have these facts got to do with India? India’s consumption of meat is much lower that that of the US. In fact, in 2007, the UN FAO declared that Indians have the lowest meat consumption in the world. So, that should mean that India’s animal agriculture industry is underdeveloped, right? However, facts and figures suggest just the contrary. For the past few months, there have been a lot of controversies in India regarding the beef ban. However, did you know that India is the world’s largest exporter of beef? 2.4 million tonnes of beef and veal was exported by India in 2015! The country is responsible for 23.5 % of global beef exports!

So, you must be wondering how come a country that holds cows as sacred gets the crown of being the largest beef exporter in the world? That is because India’s beef industry is based on the meat of water buffaloes instead of cows and the meat from water buffalo is classified as beef by the USDA. India has a buffalo population of around 115 million! Also, there are reports of sneak exports of cow meat with buffalo meat from India. So, the next question is, when Brazil (the world’s second largest beef exporter) has lost 600000 square kilometres of Amazon rainforest, with 70% contribution from the cattle ranching industry towards deforestation, what is the situation in India (the world’s largest beef exporter)?

Reports suggest that 63.4% of greenhouse gas emissions in India are due to the livestock industry. It has the largest livestock-related methane emissions the world. The relation between grazing and deforestation is known to us since a long time. To my surprise, I found that there is very little data regarding the Indian livestock industry and its impact on forested lands. If India is the largest exporter of beef in the world, there needs to be enough land for the cattle for beef to graze in. One report suggested that 100 million cattle units graze in India’s forested lands as against the capacity of 30 million. One thing is for sure; the Indian livestock industry is definitely having a large impact on our water resources. The meat industry consumes almost 10-50 times more water than crop production. In 2007, the Indian meat industry produced 3.5 million tonnes of waste water which is 100 times more waste water than what is produced by the sugarcane industry and 150 times more than that produced by the fertilizer manufacturing industries. Improper channelization of livestock waste in India has also led to soil and water toxicity. Forests for growing fodder has led to intense deforestation and loss of wild species.

So, what do you think will be the future of our race? According to reports, India produces 11 million tons of maize of which 5 tonnes are used as poultry feed. Worldwide, 82% children go unfed in countries where food is produced to feed livestock, and the livestock is fed to Western countries. According to a US estimate 1.5 acres of land can produce 37,000 plant-based food while the same area of land can produce only 375 pounds of meat. So, it can be well understood that if Indians shift to a meat-based food habit and continue exporting beef at the rate it is doing presently, the situation of food shortage in our country would be far worse than what is now. Not just food shortage, we will be drinking polluted water and breathing polluted air. More and more people will go hungry as the growth of fodder for livestock will compete with the growth of grains for human consumption. Our forests will suffer the fate of the Amazon, and our wildlife species will be lost forever. In the end, we will be left with barren lands, droughts, floods and famines.

After years of exploiting the planet’s resources for meat production, the Western countries are now decreasing their consumption of meat. Veganism and vegetarianism are now gaining popularity in the US. On the other hand, with the influence of globalization on young Indians, more and more of them are shifting towards a meat-based diet. That is indeed a sad state of affairs.

In the end, this is all I have to ask you? Can we reduce our dependence on animal-based food products to ensure sustainable development of our country? Can we reduce our cravings for beef, pork, poultry and fish for our well-being? Can we stop beef exports to other countries to solve the food crisis of our people?