Opinion

No beef and bacon on the menu


Published : 08 Nov 2021 10:44 PM | Updated : 09 Nov 2021 03:08 PM

From north to south and east to west, meat is everywhere. Lunch or dinner table looks intermittent without meat. Kitchen sans meat is absurd. But for last few days, meat has become the burning issue.

Animal based food products, especially milk and meat, have come under a huge amount of scrutiny and, indeed, attack in recent years. And this debate has only intensified in the ongoing COP26 climate summit which is being held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Meat consumption is responsible for releasing greenhouse gases such as methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide. These gases contribute to climate change, such as global warming. Livestock farming contributes to these greenhouse gases in several ways.

Globally, more than 88 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food every year. While the industry uses 83 percent of the world’s farmland, it only provides 37 percent of the world’s protein and accounts for only 18 percent of calories. Prior to COP26, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its sixth report which “explicitly” held human activity responsible for climate change, a conclusion that has been supported by other relevant research. According to a comprehensive Oxford University study released in 2018, the meat and dairy industries are responsible for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and that if individuals removed animal products from their diets, they would reduce their carbon footprint by 73 percent. 


This week, world leaders gathered at the 2021 United Nations Climate 

Change Conference (COP26) at Glasgow to discuss strategies for 

mitigating climate change. Interestingly and unfortunately, the food 

menus they encountered were all labeled with the carbon footprint 

created by every dish


Read More: Net zero is not zero 

Despite these findings, climate summits of the past have largely ignored animal agriculture as a topic, which activists, including celebrities Billie Eilish, Moby, and Joaquin Phoenix, hope to change at COP26. 

According to an article published in The Guardian, researchers at Oxford University found that without meat and dairy consumption we could use around 75 percent less land for agriculture globally. That's comparable to the size of the United States, China, Australia, and the whole European Union combined. 

Yes, meat eating has a large environmental impact. Understanding it, UK’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance called for “Significant” behavioural changes such as cutting meat consumption. He said, People should eat less meat and take fewer flights to tackle climate change rather than assuming the problem will be solved by “some magic new technology”.

This week, world leaders gathered at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) at Glasgow to discuss strategies for mitigating climate change. Interestingly and unfortunately, the food menus they encountered were all labeled with the carbon footprint created by every dish. Animal agriculture contributes to 14.5 percent to 18 percent of greenhouse gases and the COP26 took a “plant-forward” approach to constructing its food strategy. 

Delegates have a selection of dishes to choose from at COP26, ranging from options that impact the climate minimally (such as the plant-based Candied Scottish Beetroot & Broccoli Salad which emits 0.2 kg of CO2 equivalent) to those with massive impact (such as the Scottish Beef Burger, which contributes approximately the same amount of CO2 equivalent emissions at 3.9 kg as driving a car for 10 miles). 

Some of the worst climate offenders at COP26 are the Scottish Buffalo Mozzarella Pizza (2.1 kg of CO2 equivalent), Smoked Chicken Pizza (1.7 kg CO2 equivalent), and Buttermilk Grilled Chicken Burger (1.1 kg CO2 equivalent). On the other end of the climate spectrum, plant-based options such as Herbalism Herb Burger, Organic Kale & Seasonal Vegetable Pasta, and Vegetarian Sausage Roll all clock in at 0.6 kg, 0.3 kg, and 0.1 kg of CO2 equivalent, respectively. 

Overall, more than half (58 percent) of the COP26’s “plant-forward” menu contains animal products. So, how effective it would be to reduce meat from the menu is still baffling.

Cows and other farm animals produce about 14 per cent of human-induced climate emissions, and it is methane from their burps and manure that is seen as both the biggest concern and best opportunity for tackling global heating.Although methane breaks down relatively quickly in the atmosphere, it is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Options for reducing methane include alternative feeds for cattle, reducing food loss and waste, and cutting meat and dairy production.

The consumption of beef poses numerous threats to the natural environment. Of all agricultural products, beef requires some of the most land and water, and its production results in the greatest amount of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), air pollution, and water pollution. Requiring high land use, beef is the primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, with approximately 80 per cent of deforested land used for beef production.

The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services also concurs that the beef industry plays a significant role in biodiversity loss. Around 25 per cent to nearly 40 per cent of global land surface is being used for livestock farming, which is mostly cattle. In reality no country has actual target to reduce its livestock-related emissions or meat consumption. We don’t know how much they would do. Unquestionably the scientists would do more research and they will come with new research findings which would clear whether the plant based food can be the substitute for meat or not. Will we get the sufficient amount of nutrients from plant based food? Let’s wait for new more findings to substantiate the ongoing debate on meat as the acrimonious truth is meat is killing wildlife. By clearing forests, destroying habitats and using toxic pesticides to grow animal food, the industrial meat industry is contributing to the extinction of thousands of species, many of which haven't even been discovered yet. 

Even if you aren't already a vegetarian, cutting out some meat, especially red meat and eating lower on the food chain overall can help significantly lower your personal greenhouse gas emissions. And the less meat we eat overall, the more lightly we can tread on the planet. So, don’t pamper your nostrils for mouthwatering beef steak, beef curry.…. It’s time to rethink of your menu.


Ferdous Ara is Deputy Manager - External Communication GPH Ispat Limited.

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