Sunday, September 07, 2008

UN says eat less meat to save the planet

The Observer reports that Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has called for people to have one meat free day a week (something I do regularly if you regard meat excluding fish), because of "the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems - including habitat destruction - associated with rearing cattle and other animals".

Now setting aside the harm this causes economies with a high proportion of meat rearing agriculture, setting aside that the UN produces nothing other than exhorbitantly highly paid and underworked bureaucrats, this call blunders in so many ways. It doesn't distinguish between efficient producers and inefficient producers. How much good would be done environmentally and economically if subsidies and protectionism for meat production was ended worldwide? Oh and at the same time, do it for all other food production, so that other foods are over or underpriced? Sadly British restauranteur John Torode makes the common mistake in thinking that buy local would do it, when NZ lamb has a far lower carbon footprint than British lamb, even after transporting it.

I've noticed how little success the Green Party in NZ has had in fighting the foodmiles myth in the UK - or perhaps how little effort it has taken.

There are reasons to moderate meat intact, mainly health ones. The evidence that a high meat diet may be strongly linked to heart disease and cancers of the digestive tract is quite overwhelming. However, there are also countervailing factors, such as high fibre consumption, fish oil consumption and red wine!

Joanna Blythman in the Observer reflects

"Try telling the Masai tribesmen who have reared livestock for millennia that they should plough up scrubby Kenyan savannah and plant millet"

and points out the value of cattle grazing in some parts of Britain:

"Heather left untamed grows out of control - stringy and lanky - and strangles the growth of other plant species. Without sheep and cattle to graze on them, heather landscapes would eventually become barren and would start to pose fire risks."

As usual, the central planner has a simple solution that does not have universal application (and may be highly damaging).

For all that, it's still some highly paid bureaucrat telling people of all nationalities, what to do, whilst living an affluent lifestyle paid for compulsorily by them. If he talked about agricultural trade liberalisation as well, I might listen, because you see that offers enormous benefits for the world economics and environment.

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