This past weekend, a Washington Post opinion piece by Frances Kissling and Peter Singer raised a question that is on the minds of many who work at the intersection of animal welfare and sustainable development: Why―when the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has highlighted animal agriculture as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale”―is meat so frequently on the menu but not on the agenda at international conferences and events relating to climate change and sustainable development?
Rio+20―the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development―will bring together world leaders from governments, NGOs, and the private sector to discuss ideas for reducing poverty, creating a more equitable society, and ensuring long-term environmental sustainability. Our undue global appetite for meat belongs on the agenda, as the just released GEO-5 (Global Environment Outlook) report from the United Nations Environment Program suggests. But there appears to be a dismissive attitude toward this issue, perhaps because it requires some level of personal reflection and a modification of eating habits.
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We know, for example, that the world’s ever-increasing appetite for meat, eggs, and milk places an undeniable strain on the earth’s natural resources, especially since animal agriculture also encompasses feed grain production, which requires substantial inputs of water, land, and energy. Globally, more than 60 percent of our corn and barley crop and more than 97 percent of soymeal are fed to farm animals, who then inefficiently convert that plant matter into animal protein.
A growing body of research suggests that the projected growth in meat production will help push the planet to the brink of several sustainability boundaries, including greenhouse gas emissions and water availability―thereby placing wildlife, farm animals, and human communities around the world at varying degrees of risk. A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated that farm animals alone are projected to emit more than two-thirds of the amount of greenhouse gases considered safe by 2050.
From our perspective, climate change is an animal welfare issue as much as an environmental one, and it’s an increasingly important focus of work for both The HSUS and Humane Society International. Rising meat consumption is also a significant driver of factory farming, which threatens food security (especially for the poor), water security, public health, and the sustainability of rural communities.
If you’d like to help animals and the environment, it’s as easy as starting with your next meal. Visit The HSUS’ Guide to Meat-Free Meals, sign up to get a meatless recipe delivered to your inbox once a week, and check out our Meatless Monday video.