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It's a classic apples-and-beefsteaks comparison

"This lopsided analysis is a classical apples-and-oranges* analogy that truly confused the issue," says Mitloehner, who presented a report countering Livestock's Long Shadow at a chemistry conference in San Francisco this week.

The prof says that in the United States, the true picture is that transportation accounts for 26 per cent of greenhouse emissions and cattle and pig farming just three per cent. It makes little sense therefore for wealthy westerners to become vegans, vegetarians or partial vegetarians as a means of countering climate change, as the emissions reductions would be minimal at best.

In poor nations without much in the way of transport, farming accounts for a larger percentage of emissions, but this is a larger percentage of a low overall total. Many people in the developing world are beginning to eat more meat and dairy, a trend deplored by green activists. Mitloehner, however, argues that the populations concerned are often severely malnourished under their present diet and it would be unfair to tell them they have to stay mostly vegetarian. A better plan, he argues, would be to encourage more efficient animal farming techniques as developed in the rich world.

In summary, ecologically it makes a lot more sense to worry about poor folk getting cars and trucks and buses and trains (and factories to make them and roads and rails to drive them on) than it does to fret over them eating some meat. And stopping them having meat is even more unfair than cutting off their access to transport.

Likewise in the case of wealthy westerners, our meat eating is not a significant factor in our carbon emissions (much like our flying and our IT, in fact). It is things much less simple to do without - washing, health care, ordinary transport and industry - which are actually the main sources of CO2.

"Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries," Mitloehner says. "The developed world should focus on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries where growing populations need more nutritious food. In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production."

There's a statement from the American Chemical Society here. ®

Bootnote

*Or in this case presumably an apples-and-steaks or oranges-and-cheese comparison.

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