Worldlog Week 18 – 2008

2 מאי 2008

All over the world, including the Netherlands, people are debating the pros and cons of new clean fuels. In addition to wind, water and solar energy, there are the so-called “bio fuels”. These are fuels derived, for example, from plants such as sugar beet and corn. Part of the discussion about the acceptability of bio fuels is the question of whether they compete with food crops since in many cases vegetables grown for fuel could also be consumed as food. This discussion is particularly poignant now there’s a worldwide food crisis accompanied by rocketing food prices.

While it is a good thing that the world food crisis has acted as a wakeup call to all of us, it isn't right that bio fuels are being portrayed as the culprit that is literally taking food out of the mouths of the poor and encouraging the destruction of the rainforests. It is not bio fuels that are the chief cause of the worldwide food crisis, but the cattle-raising industry!

Just 1% of the world’s agricultural land is set aside for bio fuels. 80% of the world’s farmland is used for cattle raising! Nearly 50% of the world’s grain supply ends up in the stomachs of farm animals. This means that 85% of vegetable protein is wasted since each kilo of meat requires 7 kilos of vegetable protein!

With the current area of land used for agriculture, the earth could produce more than enough food to feed 40 billion people. However, as many scientists point out, that would be on condition we all stick to a vegetarian diet of beans and grains.

Furthermore, the cattle-raising industry is responsible for discharging more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks and other means of transportation combined. Cattle raising is also a huge drain on our current supply of fresh water and is a major cause behind deforestation and the loss of diversity. The gigantic quantities of manure produced by the billions of farm animals contaminate on an equally gigantic scale the earth’s soil, water and air.

Here lies the main challenge as we face of these worldwide problems. All over the world, we need to change our societies and lifestyles to make them for vegetable-based, animal friendly and – consequently – more socially and environmentally responsible.

A move from animal-based to vegetable-based proteins will yield further benefits. Agriculture can supply bio fuels from plant residue. Two-thirds of land used for agriculture in Europe is devoted to cattle raising. This means there is a huge potential to produce biomass without the need to cut down rainforests or compete with food crops for arable land. This could produce 50% of Europe’s transportation energy needs although we would first need clearly defined sustainability criteria.

The key to resolving the world food crisis lies in a dramatic shift in policy. In other words: an end to cutting down rainforests for the production of bio fuels and cattle feed. The cattle-feed industry must be cut back and people need to move towards a more vegetable-based diet. A vegetable-based diet would require just a fraction of the area of land used for agriculture today, and there would be land available to produce bio fuels from plant residues.

More and more people are eating a vegetable-based diet. The United States now has 7.3 million vegetarians and 22.8 million people in that country say they follow a largely vegetarian-inclined diet!
11.9 million people who still eat meat say that they would like to go vegetarian in the future.

I think we are witnessing something of a turnaround. Just as smoking is increasing being viewed as an undesirable type of behaviour all over the world, so is the popularity of eating meat steadily losing ground. And many people in the public eye like Paul McCartney are setting a good example:

Gandhi will finally be proved right: the earth can provide for everyone's needs, but not everyone's greed. As more and more people around the world understand this message, animal and environment-friendly politics will keep gaining ground.

Until next week!