Flinders University animal studies expert Dr Nik Taylor is calling for a global reduction in meat production and consumption, warning that the deeply ingrained meat-eating habits of modern Western society are having a “disastrous” effect on the environment.
Dr Taylor, a sociologist from the School of Social and Policy Studies, has prepared a report for the World Preservation Foundation – an international climate change research and advocacy organisation – on the many environmental impacts of meat-eating, arguing that it should no longer be considered normal or natural to eat meat on a daily basis.
Published this month, Reversing Meat-Eating Culture to Combat Climate Change argues the need for a worldwide reduction in meat production and consumption in favour of more plant-based diets.
Dr Taylor said the mass production of meat was “wreaking havoc” on the environment due to a number of factors, including the increased use of antibiotics to keep meat animals disease-free, mass feeding and breeding in confined spaces and the widespread practice of spraying plants with pesticides to produce more yield to feed the animals.
“There’s a lot of land clearing involved in meat production, particularly with cattle, a huge amount of water is wasted to feed animals that end up as food and half of the world’s production of antibiotics is given to meat animals,” Dr Taylor said.
“Estimates vary but between 18 to 50 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production – and greenhouse gas emissions cause climate change – so if we cut down or eradicate the industry that accounts for up to half of those emissions we’re going to do some serious good for the environment,” she said.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that the number of livestock slaughtered nationally in August 2011 included 1,593,041 lambs, 639,830 cattle, 415,296 pigs and 348,127 sheep, adding to the 55 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs killed annually across the world for food.
In compiling her report, Dr Taylor reviewed current research into the barriers and incentives of a meat-free diet, determining that meat and dairy consumption were so ingrained in modern western societies that it was considered normal to eat meat regularly.
The report also described the psychological damage from working in abattoirs, including the increased levels of aggression and violence in meatworker communities.
“Meat-eating is so normal that we don’t even question it, whereas vegetarians and vegans are portrayed to be weird, kooky or downright odd,” she said.
“There really needs to be more education about what a plant-based diet looks like – people assume it’s all lentils and lettuce but it’s actually quite diverse.
“In the long term I think we need to break down the cultural normalisation of meat-eating and the belief that it’s our right to eat cheap meat three times a day because it’s having a disastrous effect on the environment, the animals and possibly our health.”
While international campaigns such as ‘Meatless Mondays’ did have some benefit in that it made people question their meat consumption, Dr Taylor said cultural views and the “industrialised mass production” of meat needed to change.
“The statistics show that 69 per cent of people are ambivalent about eating meat, and most intend to cut down on meat consumption, so the intention is clearly there but we need to open the discussion to shed light on our cultural blind spots.
“We have to consider the issue seriously – for the animals who are condemned to short, nasty and brutal lives as products within the system and for our own health, the wellbeing of our environment and the future of our planet.”