Friday, 8 May 2015

Eating meat and caring for the environment

Meat eating has long been demonised in some quarters for playing a pivotal role in destroying the planet, but has recently found an unlikely champion known the world over.

Recent reports on billionaire Bill Gates’ latest blog highlighted his defence of meat eating, suggesting that, yes, you can eat meat and still care for the planet.

The beef and lamb sector is all too often criticised for its negative environmental impact, but Mr Gates’ suggested that some environmental impacts of meat may well have been overstated. A case in point is water usage, with some industry detractors claiming it takes thousands of litres of water to produce a kilo of beef.

We’ve said it before, but it’s worth highlighting again that criticism of water usage in beef production is often based on global figures, with UK production aligned with other production systems from around the world. This presents a slightly skewed picture. The UK’s rain-fed pasture system means we have one of the most efficient production systems in the world, requiring just 67 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef. This is highlighted in the second part of our environmental roadmap, Testing the Water.

And then, of course, there are the other positive environmental benefits that grazing livestock in the UK bring to the table. A little under 65 per cent of our farmland is only suitable for growing grass to feed ruminants. Not only does that make the best use of the available land, but enables some of our most cherished landscapes to be maintained. Again this is illustrated in our 2011 report Landscapes without Livestock.

Interestingly, Bill Gates’ blog came hot on the heels of WWF claiming that chicken production was far worse for the environment than beef, also citing studies that suggested people in the UK were eating the right amount of red meat. Whilst the emphasis shouldn’t be on finger pointing as to which sector is more or less environmentally friendly than another, the latest WWF comments are encouraging, acknowledging UK beef production’s environmental credentials, but also domestic consumption of red meat.

Of course, more work can be done to mitigate the environmental impact of beef and sheep meat production and EBLEX will continue to work with industry to address this. In the meantime, however, it seems the message about beef and sheep meat’s positive environmental benefits could at last be resonating with a wider audience which is welcome news indeed.

More information on EBLEX’s three-part environmental roadmap can be found in the corporate publications section of the EBLEX website.

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