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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Animal Liberation and Climate Change

I recently concluded a comment field debate with a member of Animal Liberation of South Australia over at Brave New Climate. It's a good article and well worth a read. I made a few critiques in the comment field which blew up into a full scale debate. Go have a look if you've nothing better to do.

I don't disagree that livestock is doing tremendous damage to the biosphere and I wish more people would look for answers instead of continuing to rant about the problem. I suggested that his proposed solutions (taxation and education) were woefully inadequate. I also disagreed with some details in his argument. The truth is that eggs, dairy, and meat add variety to the diet of the third world poor who are at risk of nutritional deficiencies because their diet, although possibly adequate in calories, may not be be varied enough. Domesticated animals were humanities original multivitamin. In first world nations the excessive consumption of animal products has become a bit of a perversion.

He mentioned that about a third of all crops are not used for food but are instead fed to livestock. In reality, livestock is a means of processing crops into more varied forms of food. So it's misleading to claim that a third of crops don't go for food. Biofuels are the real danger there.

And to be honest, although we could and should consume a lot less egg, meat, and dairy, it isn't all that much per person when you think about it. The main problem is that there are 7 billion of us doing it. The few cups of brown tainted liquid called tea and coffee we consume every day is also wreaking havoc with ecosystems.

The backbone of his argument is the fact that people can get adequate protein without "meat" if they have enough variety in their diet, which is true for most people today, especially in first-world nations, but somewhat misleading because this argument rests on the assumption that all 7 billion of us have the needed variety and would be fine without "meat."

I pointed out that since meat, eggs, milk, cheese, whatever, are roughly equivalent when it comes to resource use, environmental impact, and green house gas emissions, that it's somewhat misleading to keep using the term "meat." I suggested he use a more accurate phrase. The term animal sourced food (ASF) is commonly used for this. He didn't bite. His second article sticks to meat.

I realized in the course of the debate that I was focusing too much on protein supplied by animal sourced foods and switched to terms involving nutrients in general.

The second installment in this series is now up and his argument has been honed, in part, thanks to our debate. In one of my comments I critiqued one of his sources, "A 124 page paper on child nutrition and not a single mention of protein?"

In his new post we find the sentence:

A 124 page paper called “Explaining child malnutrition in developing countries” by acknowledged experts (yes, from IFPRI), has not a single occurence of the word “protein”.

Not sure how relevant that is. Turns out, there are also no instances of the words vitamins, minerals, fats, or even nutrients in that PDF. Nutrition issues involve a lot more than just protein. Some more food for thought:

"...nutrition programs have shifted their primary emphasis from control of protein deficiency, to energy deficiency, and now to micronutrient deficiencies... ...1) the most important findings of the CRSP were that faltering in height and weight of children occurs early and was not caught up later in life; and 2) the quality of food (specifically ASF and micronutrient content) was a much stronger determinant of nutritional status than was the quantity of food. ...1) growth stunting started at birth (or before) and was complete by 18–24 mo; 2) protein intakes and protein quality were adequate in all three locations as were energy intakes except when a famine occurred in Kenya; and 3) ASF intake was the strongest predictor of functional capacity (such as growth, lactation outcome and cognitive function)..."
See for full quotes in context.

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  1. You both are correct. It takes 7 pound of wheat or soy to grow one pound of meat.

    One pound of soy delivers more proteins than one pound of meat, I should know since I eat tofu since years, as replacement for animal meat, and I keep feeling great.

    That means that we can produce and provide 7 times more protein per acre with soy than with animal meat, which allows us to keep 6 acres in their pristine status, IF population does not continue to grow at their 70 million new people a year, compared to the ones who die from a sort of causes.

    However you are right that a banana or a orange provides much more vitamins that what can be obtained from animal food resources, besides giving variety to our food intake : "one apple a day keeps sickness away'"

    And that vegetal sourced oil (olive etc) provides the needed fatty acids that a well functioning body requires.

    I agree with him that if we would reduce meat consumption and switch to eggs and milk intake, we would need less calves and therefore less land destruction, since one purposely bred milk cow can provide enough milk to support 20 people on a daily basis for as long as she is kept healthy, the same appplies to chickens and their eggs, milk and eggs that provide the animal proteins that cannot be obtained from vegetal sources, animal sourced proteins needed to keep a human metabolism operational.

    So that is why I side with both of you : increased unneccessary meat intake is causing environmental damages, and we need to have a varied nutrition to stay healthy.

  2. Nice comment, Alain. My biggest "beef" is with his insinuation that nutrition sourced from animals is irrelevant for everybody everywhere, which just isn't the case for a few billion people.

    In first world countries, where our diets are obscenely varied, even without animal products, we might get by as vegans, but I strongly suspect there would be nutritional issues cropping up, especially for children of the poor if that were to be the case. Although the drop in obesity and diabetes would probably counter that.

    I once built a spreadsheet to see if eggs and dairy products consumed as many resources as other forms of animal products (like chicken meat and pork).

    Turns out they are very similar because a lactating cow or egg laying chicken eats far more per day than their non-lactating, non-egg laying counterparts, which makes sense because you would expect them to need a great deal more energy to produce so much protein, just as a growing meat chicken or rabbit does.

    Vegetarians are little better than non-vegetarian in that respect because damage done to the biosphere boils down to how much animal product you consume, be it meat, eggs, or dairy, although beef is the least efficient of all.

  3. Russ,

    There are around 600 millions Indians who live and abide by a strict vegetarian diet, meaning they do not eat any meat. They do like me, replacing it with dairy products or eggs.

    I eat one egg a day to get my necessary animal proteins. One egg a day per person is far less demanding on the environment than one steak a day per person, to cover the same animal proteins intake needed for a normal human body to operate well (I weight 95 kg, that is around 180 pounds).

    As such I disagree with your statement that western vegetarian or non vegetarian diets have the same environmental impact.

    Basic mathematics shows that in this regard, the environment should massively benefit from a move to far less meat eaten, simply because it takes 7 pounds of wheat or soy to grow one pound of meat, and that one pound of meat can be replaced by one pound of soy and one egg/person a day.

  4. Alain, once again we don't disagree.

    The type of animal product you consume is less important than how much animal product you consume. Ten ounces of egg is as bad as ten ounces of chicken, cheese, milk, steak. You can't just compare an egg to a steak because a steak is much bigger than a single egg.

    Compare an equivalent amount of eggs with an equivalent amount of steak and you will find they have roughly equivalent negative ramifications per pound or unit of energy or nutrition provided.

  5. " You can't just compare an egg to a steak because a steak is much bigger than a single egg. "

    Please do not turn the argument on it's head : I say you only need one egg a day to fulfill your human body's animal protein needs, and you are replying that we need to eat ten eggs to have the same animal protein quantity as the steak you eat at lunch.

    My original point is that I replace my 10 ounce steak with 10 ounce of Tofu made from soy + ONE egg, giving me the same amount of vegetal+animal proteins that my body requires to function, while NOT eating any meat at all.

    As I already stated the 10 ounce tofu is made from 10 ounce of soy, and 70 ounces of soy are needed to become a 10 ounce steak.

    10 ounce Tofu thus requiring only 1/7th the amount of vegetal land resources to be made, compared to your 10 ounce steak.

    In other words, if people would become vegetarian, we would replace the 10 ounce steak a day, by ONE egg and 10 ounces of TOFU, thus saving a 50 ounces soy consumption while NOT suffering any nutritional deficiencies (the extra substracted 10 ounces of soy are needed to produce the daily egg).

    50 ounces of soy per person saved every day times 7 billion living human beings, equals a mammoth agricultural land area demand disappearing, if we switched from meat to vegetarian diets.

    In other words, by becoming vegetarian, you save 6/7th of the agricultural land mass needed to grow your bodies protein, compared to red meat eaters.

    6/7th in agricultural lands returned to their pristine state or not being touched equals a better future, if populations do not continue to grow at the 70 million plus people a year compared to the ones that die each year.

    Of course, you are completely correct to say that it is very difficult to change cultural eating habits.

    That will be forced upon us (becoming vegetarian) once we will be so numerous that we won't have any space left to grow the animal protein, unless we start growing animal food from algae grown and harvested at sea.

    This is my last message on this post, since we have clearly a different view on that, and we both are wasting our time debating this issue.

    Unlike you, I became a vegetarian a few years ago, and do feel physically as good as before. So what IS blocking you to do the same, you green parrot ?

    After all, you are always trying to be the perfect environmentalist, so what is blocking you to change your eating habits to get a better environment ?

  6. Alain, once again we don't disagree.

    ...except for one minor point. It is how much animal product you consume, not so much which animal product you consume. It makes little difference if that product is meat or eggs or dairy. A lactating dairy cow consumes about the same resources as a cow being grown for meat. The resources in an egg are roughly equivalent to the resources in an equivalent amount of chicken. If you were to replace that meat in that salad with an equivalent amount of hard boiled egg and some cheese gratings, your environmental impact would be about the same.

    My youngest daughter would disagree. She won't eat eggs or chicken bought at the store because of how they are treated in chicken and egg factories. Lucky for her, she has parents who let her keep five chickens and three ducks in the backyard ; )

    Compare an equivalent amount of eggs with an equivalent amount of steak and you will find they have roughly equivalent negative ramifications per pound or unit of energy or nutrition provided.

    "In other words, if people would become vegetarian, we would replace the 10 ounce steak a day."

    My family isn't vegetarian but we eat very little meat, and very little tofu come to think of it. I don't think we have ever had a ten once steak in the house. I would bet that we eat no more animal products than a typical vegetarian family. The only difference between us and vegetarians is that we occasionally include modest amounts of meat in our diet instead of just eggs and dairy.

    We had free range buffalo burgers for my birthday dinner. I requested it to support efforts to expand bison herds (which need to be culled and a market needs to exist to pay for keeping the herds) on what is left of our prairies. I can't think of a better excuse to eat beef.


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