The War On Meat Has Begun: Join the Resistance

I’m at the opening day of the state fair today, so I’m posting this great article from Matt Ridley that was originally published in The Telegraph on August 11, 2019.

The BBC, misreporting a United Nations report, wants us to switch to a mostly plant-based diet in order to alter the weather. Would it work? No. A recent “meta-analysis” of all the peer-reviewed papers on this topic found that if the average westerner gave up meat altogether it would cut her total emissions by just 4.3 per cent. This is because food is only a modest part of our emissions. And since vegetables are cheap, the savings would almost certainly be spent on other things with emissions attached, so the actual reduction would be even smaller than that. The effect on the climate would be unmeasurable.

“Eating carrots instead of steak means you effectively cut your emissions by about two per cent,” says the environmental economistBjorn Lomborg. “As a vegetarian for ethical reasons, I will be the first to say that there are many good reasons to eat less meat. Sadly, making a huge difference to the climate isn’t one of them.”

Although the BBC seems oddly obsessed with the topic of meat – given how little difference it would make – at least it does not intend to force us to become vegetarians, let alone vegans. Or does it? Last November the former head of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, mused: “How about restaurants in 10-15 years start treating carnivores the same way that smokers are treated? If they want to eat meat, they can do it outside the restaurant.” The climate is just the latest feeble excuse for the nannies who love to lecture us about our diet. In an all too familiar progression, what starts out as a suggestion then becomes ostracism and ends in state coercion. All based on a false premise.

There are other environmental arguments against meat eating than the fact that it generates a little more carbon dioxide per calorie of food than a vegetarian diet. In energy terms, cows are about 10 per cent efficient at turning plants into meat; chickens and pigs more like 30 per cent. So if we ate the plants directly, we would produce fewer emissions and farm less land, leaving more for nature.

But much of the plant material we grow on arable land cannot be eaten by human beings – straw, for example. Plus cows, pigs and chickens turn the indigestible stuff into manure without which soil conservation would be harder and organic farming all but impossible. Professor Imke de Boer of Wageningen University argues that the most carbon-efficient agriculture must include some animals.

Also, much of this planet cannot be used for growing crops, but can produce fodder for sheep, cattle, goats, camels and chickens. The hills of Scotland, Wales and the Lake District, for example, are not suitable for wheat, nor is much of the Middle East and Central Asia. Without these animals, we would not only ruin many farming communities, but have to plough and plant a lot more land elsewhere to grow the protein and fats that we otherwise get from animals – and that would mean destroying more forests and wetlands, because unlike sheep and cows, those crops need well-watered, fertile soil. Bad idea!

Then there is the health argument. It is very difficult for humans to thrive on a purely plant-based diet. Unless they are affluent and have access to balanced nutrition, vegan children become deficient in iron and vitamin A, stunted in growth and delayed in brain development. A study in rural Kenya found that eating eggs made children grow five per cent faster.

This is why globally, as living standards rise, meat and dairy consumption is increasing twice as fast as population. Throughout the developing world, when people get access to dairy products and meat, their stature and IQ tend to shoot up. Denying this opportunity to the many people who are vegetarians through poverty rather than choice would be grotesque. The United Nations posturing about meat abstinence sounds like “let them eat cake”.

Of course rich Western adults could eat less meat. In the United States, the two companies making realistic fake meat from a mixture of plant proteins – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – have expanded to meet growing demand. The share price of Beyond Meat has rocketed by 700 per cent since its float in May despite making a loss and despite the fact that meat substitutes comprise just one per cent of the meat market in America.

Having eaten some of these products, I can believe they will rival the best tasting meat. I’ve enjoyed fake fish and chips and fake scallops (deep-fried banana flowers for the fish, slices of mushroom for the scallops). It will be great having the choice of eating vegetarian and well, even though environmentally I may not be doing the right thing. But the moment somebody decides to shame or coerce me into being a vegetarian, they will lose my vote.