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Veganism – the new front in the battle to cut carbon?

We all know the health benefits of a vegan lifestyle but now vegan businesses are arguing that eating less meat can significantly help reduce our carbon footprint.
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“Scientists are saying we need to look at a 90 per cent reduction in carbon emissions just to stop global warming getting any worse, never mind reversing the process,” explains Alex Bourke, who set up his Vegetarian Guides publishing company in 1991. 

"Livestock farming is responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. And it’s the methane from cows, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, that is an important culprit."   

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Indeed, a UN report entitled "Livestock’s Long Shadow" which was released at the end of 2006 backs up Bourke’s claim. 

The report states: "Burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it – and clearing vegetation for grazing – produces nine per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide. And their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of another, methane, which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide." 

The report also points out that the world’s 1.5 billion cattle are responsible for producing more greenhouse gases than all transport combined (including planes), which contribute 13 per cent of such gases. 

Such statistics help support Bourke’s claim that there is a strong environmental argument in favour of veganism. 

“So it’s not possible to achieve a 90 per cent reduction in emissions by cutting back in all the other sectors – the world needs to reduce its meat and dairy consumption by 50 per cent. Now I think that is achievable – world veganism would be nice, but most people aren’t ready for it!”

As far as the UK is concerned, Bourke is critical of the country’s overdependence on livestock farming.

“85 per cent of UK farmland is used to grow animals or animal feed which means we import food like apples from France. Why on earth do we import them? We’ve got a green, wet country which is perfect for growing apples! Britain was covered in forests hundreds of years ago and now most of it’s gone so we’re currently importing wood from Scandinavia because we don’t have enough land to support our lifestyle. It’s just mad and adds unnecessarily to our carbon footprint.”

Bourke believes the UK government is largely to blame because of the huge subsidies they give to livestock farmers. “Dairy sales have been falling one per cent a year. And the whole point of Vegetarian Guides is to make it really easy for people to change their diet.”

Another vegan enthusiast who believes that what we put on our dinner plates could help reduce global warming is Tim Barford who set up Yaoh in 2002. His company supplies organic vegan hemp products including a full bodycare range, food stuffs and clothing.

“Veganism is much better for the environment because it uses a lot less land. The reason the price of rice and wheat has doubled this year is because of factory farming – most of the world’s soya is being fed to animals,” explains Barford. 

“In Argentina, they’re now cutting down rainforests, not just to grow beef cattle, but to grow GM soya. A cow consumes ten kilos of grain to produce one kilo of meat – it’s a very inefficient way of farming.”

Barford believes that as society becomes more aware of the environmental implications of factory farming, veganism will really start to take-off. 

“Everyone is so environmentally aware now so I think there will undoubtedly be an increase in veganism. People don’t have to go fully vegan – they can just adopt a vegan lifestyle, so eat a bit of meat and dairy, while still significantly lightening the load on developing countries and reducing their carbon footprint. So never mind shutting the M32 and Bristol airport!”

Yaoh is now turning over £0.5m a year and Barford is confident about the future growth of his business. “The number of vegan businesses and vegan products on sale have shot up recently. Ten new wholefood stores and 20 new Holland & Barretts have sprung up in London in the last three years alone.” 

Related articlesWaste not, want not

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