Sustainability & Diet - Barn Vegetarian Guest House

At The Barn we have adopted The Brundtland Definition of sustainable development agreed in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) - "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

There is a growing concern that our way of life, particularly in the developed world, is unsustainable in many ways. The challenges of climate change and energy resources have become clearer. The scale of the issue has gone way beyond thinking that changing a few light bulbs and turning appliances off standby will do the trick.

The Climate Change Bill recently proposed by the government includes the creation of legally binding targets for carbon emission reductions. 60% (compared with 1990 figures) by 2050. If this is to be achieved every aspect of modern living will need to be assessed and amended. There are obvious targets for most people including air travel, car use and energy production. But food, apart from shelter the only real essential in our consumer-led society is rarely focused on. This short document intends to show how important it is to reconsider how we feed ourselves and how the present situation is unsustainable in the extreme.

In November 2006 the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) initiative published the most comprehensive review of the global meat industry to date . In summary the report found that the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.

Some key findings within the report are that livestock production is responsible for:
- 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions (transport emits 13.5%)
- 70% of the Amazon deforestation
- 64% of all acid rain-producing ammonia
- 33% of all global cropland is occupied for animal feed

The report’s authors forecast that the demand for meat will more than double by 2050 and therefore the environmental impact on production must be halved to avoid worsening its already unsustainable effects.

Water consumption for producing meat is some 50 -100 times that required for growing grain. It takes 50,000 - 100,000 litres to produce a kilogram of meat but just 900 litres to produce a kilogram of wheat .

The emphasis on a high meat content of most western diets coupled with the inefficiency and wastefulness of meat production means that the amount of land required to sustain the average American is 9.7 hectares. The average Indian needs just 0.4 hectares .

By using a calculator to work out an individual’s environmental footprint you can see the impact of different diets in terms of how much land is needed to sustain your lifestyle. In the UK the average environmental footprint is 5.8 hectares. If the planet was divided equally amongst the world’s population we would all get 1.8 hectares. In terms of food alone the average person eating meat and dairy every day requires 1.6 hectares. A person following a vegan diet needs 0.5 hectares .

Added to the issues of pollution, land degradation and loss of bio-diversity can be the economic costs of treating illness. One has to look no further than the government’s recent attempts to tackle obesity to see that diets high in animal fats are clearly considered to be dangerous to health.

This short paper has barely scratched the surface of the issue but hopefully is has drawn attention to one of the major areas for urgent work if mankind is to draw back from the brink of self-destruction. By supporting and encouraging those who have chosen a meat free diet The Barn Vegetarian Guest House is, in its own microscopic way, attempting to move in the direction of sustainability.

'Livestock's Long Shadow' Food & Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations - Nov 2006
'Why vegans were right all along' - The Guardian, December 24, 2002
'The Objective of Sustainable Development: Are we coming closer?' - European Commission Directorate General for Research, 2002
Visit to use their calculator to model differences due to diet and other lifestyle factors

Posted: Apr 23rd, 2007 15:06

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