Worldlog Week 26 – 2008

27 יוני 2008

This week we scored an important parliamentary victory. As early as last year my colleague Esther Ouwehand tabled a motion to prohibit the serving of threatened species in the parliamentary restaurant, particularly cod and eel. The proposal was rejected by a large majority following a poll that even saw an ex-Greenpeace campaigner, Diederik Samson, who now is now a member of parliament for the Social Democrats, vote against it.

This year Esther tabled the motion again at a parliamentary private meeting, and the chair of the lower house decided that from now on the only fish that would be served would be fish included on the ‘viswijzer’, an annual sustainability guide published by the World Wildlife Fund and Stichting de Noordzee.

Agnes Kant

This week the leader of the Socialist Party, Jan Marijnissen, decided to step down after 14 years. Under his leadership, his party grew from 2 to 25 parliamentary seats. He has been succeeded by a woman, Agnes Kant, which brings the number of female chairs of parliamentary parties to a record number: 5 of 11 are women. To celebrate (this is also part of the emancipation our party is fighting for), I have suggested all female chairs of parliamentary parties go out to dinner together, which we will immediately after the summer recess.

One of the Netherlands’ largest newspapers organised a major debate on meat consumption last Sunday. As a participant, I was invited to publish my vision in the newspaper. The article excited a lot of interest. For those who can read Dutch, the article and the responses can be found here:

Meat, the societal problem on our plate! Many meat-eaters justify their consumption of meat with nonsense arguments. But anyone who cares about the environment would go vegetarian, says Marianne Thieme.

Meat triggers emotions. There are many arguments for making your consumption pattern more sustainable: improving the well-being of billions of animals, helping the 850 million hungry people in the developing world and conserving biodiversity, the supply of drinking water and the climate. There is just one counter-agrument: meat tastes so good. And to justify that emotion, meat-eaters have thought up countless urban legends, such as the legend that bio fuels will lead to hunger.

According to agricultural expert Louise Fresco, less than 2 percent of the planet’s land used for agriculture is set aside for bio fuels. On the other hand, 80 percent of the world’s agricultural land is used for cattle-raising. Meat intended for consumption in the West undeniably accounts for the lion’s share of this. Our steak competes with ten plates of grains. Currently, only 15 percent of the vegetable proteins from grains and soya ends up in the stomachs of meat-eaters; 85 percent is wasted or, even worse, is largely turned into surplus manure. In the Netherlands alone, more than 4,000 kilos of excess manure are produced each year for each resident!

Another myth is that animals, especially pigs, are champion waste-disposers. It asserts that farm animals convert the waste products of the food industry into meat. Without animals, our mountains of trash would only keep growing. We also hear that grasslands, too, which account for about two-thirds of the world's total agricultural acreage, can only be used to feed animals.


What is always conveniently left to one side is the fact that animals also require energy: almost half of the world’s grain harvest is fed to animals. Harry Aiking of the Free University has calculated that as much as three-quarters of all soya produced goes to cattle. What is more, large tracks of grassland are indeed suitable for growing crops. The world’s current agricultural acreage could feed billions of extra mouths with grains and legumes, provided it isn’t first fed to our livestock.

Do we eat meat for health reasons? Each person in the Netherlands eats an average of 82 kilos of meat a year. That's double the amount of fifty years ago. Since last year, more people have been dying of obesity than hunger. John Powles of Cambridge University says that excessive consumption of animal proteins is major cause of obesity and other illnesses, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The average Dutch person eats 30% too much animal protein. A vegetarian lifestyle is a healthy alternative.

Humanitarian and ecological disaster

It is clear that the growth of meat consumption in the West, China and India will lead to a humanitarian and ecological disaster. Meat production is slurping up a growing proportion of our supply of fresh water, causing ever-more damage to our tropical rain forests and other natural resources. Moreover, the cattle-raising industry is one of the major producers of greenhouse gases, contributing 18 percent of the total. That is 40 percent more than all cars, trucks, airplanes, ships and trains combined. A single Dutch cow emits the same quantity of greenhouse gases as 70,000 kilometres driven. That’s 4.5 average cars.

Is the good taste of meat worth all of this? That cannot be true for people who wish for a sustainable future for their children and for our planet. Allowing a desire for tasty food to prevail above compassion for the needy, animals, nature and future generations attests to enormous selfishness.


Reducing meat consumption is an individual choice, but the government can encourage a shift in our eating habits. If everyone in the Netherlands reduced their consumption of meat for one a day a week, we would meet all government climate objectives overnight. The government has begun taking tentative steps to promote the move from animal to vegetable protein consumption. Yet the government still subsidises advertising of meat and the dumping of excess meat in development countries. This is unethical and evidence of a lack of coherence in government policy, to say the least.

The Netherlands currently has 750,000 vegetarians and 3.5 million people who consciously reduce their meat intake. Meat is among the top 3 causes of a host of social problems, such as the climate crisis, land degradation, the world food crisis, obesity, destruction of the rain forest, the sharp increase in animal disease, and water, soil pollution and air pollution. Your own knife and fork are the most powerful weapons you have in combating this problem.

Until next week!