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Meat reducing: eat less; eat better

June 2, 2010

By switching to higher welfare meat and eating much smaller amounts than you’re used to, you can help prevent the worst effects of global warming.

Meat consumption is set to double by 2050 as a result of increasing global affluence and ever more ‘efficient’ or intensive methods of production. ‘Sixty billion farm animals are already used to produce food annually, the majority in industrial-scale factory farms.’ (CIWF) The figure for the UK is almost 900 million.  This will have a serious effect on the environment, carbon emissions, water supplies, hunger and animal welfare.

Climate Change: Quick facts: Meat production contributes nearly 20% of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Cows and sheep produce around a quarter of all man-made methane emissions globally. Methane is 23 times more more deadly in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide.

Animal Welfare: In the real world cheap meat comes at a high price in terms of animal welfare. Reared in extremely cramped conditions with no semblance of a natural  life, most never see the light of day. Ducks are farmed in artificially-lit industrial sheds with no access to water apart from tiny drinking bottles; Chickens don’t scratch about outside while the injuries they end up with have been well documented by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Chicken Out campaign and Viva‘s long-term investigative work in this area.

There’s no getting away from it cheap meat = low welfare standards.

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) says: ‘It not only causes huge suffering to billions of sentient creatures but also wastes precious resources such as grain and oil.’


If you’re in any doubt about the way in which animals destined for supermarket chill cabinets are treated check out CIWF’s authoritative supermarket survey (the detail makes for uncomfortable reading). Waitrose and Marks and Spencer consistently come out top for animal welfare.

World hunger: Meat production accounts for around 30% of the world’s useable land and a third of the global grain harvest. Intensive meat production uses artificial animal feed which in turn uses our resources (water and land) to an excessive degree in terms of the amount of protein created. These resources are under serious threat with water shortages becoming an increasing problem in the US and Europe and soil erosion reducing the amount of cultivatable land. Grass-fed cattle have a much smaller impact on resources.

Health: Industrial meat production creates the cramped conditions which encourage increased ill-health amongst animals and the spread of disease – hence the use of antibiotics in animal feed as a preventative measure. This leads to problems of drug resistance in humans. This is before we start talking about BSE and dicey feedstuffs.

Ask the experts:

CIWF and Friends of the Earth’s Eating the Planet report goes into great detail on this topic.

UN expert, Professor Edgar Hertwich, says: ‘Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.’

Lord Nicholas Stern, an expert on the economic impact of climate change came out in favour of vegetarians:  ‘Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better’.

Over 100 Professors from Dutch Universities have joined forces to issue a “Plea for Sustainable Livestock Farming”, which calls for a radical reform of industrial farming.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests we have a meat-free day each week to help cut carbon emissions.

How to be a meat reducer

CIWF has calculated that if the average UK household halved its meat consumption, this would  reduce emissions more than if we halved our car use. It seems that we are already eating slightly less meat: recent Defra figures show a 5% drop in meat consumption in 2009 from 2005.

You could try switching to organic meat: try your local farmers market or order a meat box from an organic farm’s veg box scheme. Riverford (minimum spend £25 for mixed box; sausages, beefburgers to mince and lamb chops) and Well Hung Meat Company (chicken, sausages, mince and usual cuts) are multi-award winning, ethical companies who work hard to keep the quality up and the cost to shoppers down. Try ordering a month’s supply at a time and freezing it.  It will cost more than cheap meat per ounce, but if you eat a smaller quantity on fewer occasions you needn’t spend more each week.

You’ll probably notice an improvement in flavour which can reduce the amount you need to use in some recipes. Make pasta sauces with organic chorizo sausage to make a little go a long way; or perhaps revist cottage pie with organic mince and herbs.

What we need is an attitude change akin to the recent shift in smoking patterns in the West.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2010 3:36 pm

    Hi fooddigest,

    I just wanted to write and congratulate you on your fantastic blog meat reducing eat less eat better, thank you for mentioning our work.

    As I’m sure you are aware Compassion in World Farming is the only charity working specifically to end factory farming. We are a small but dedicated team who work tirelessly to promote better treatment of farm animals. We receive no government funding and as such are not in the position to fund large media campaigns; therefore we greatly value your work to promote our cause. It is fantastic to have eloquent advocates such as yourself onboard working as virtual ambassadors, spreading the word about farm animal welfare. Digital online technology has made it possible to reach an audience of millions using the peaceful weapon of the word. It is amazing to note the impact that just one person can have!

    It’s always great to read comments and feedback from supporters, it helps us know that we are getting things right. I am glad that the information we supply is of use to you. I wish you all the very best with meat reducing, eat less eat better, what a fantastic resource. If we can be of any future assistance please do not hesitate to get in touch and we’ll help you in any way we can.

    Thank you for your support.

    Kind regards,


    • Katharine Reeve permalink
      September 19, 2010 5:15 pm

      Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. This issue seems to be getting an increasing amount of coverage in the media and with 2 out of 3 animals being factory farmed, it’s about time too.

      Anyone interested in reading more, check out the CIWF website: tons of interesting and useful information – especially about which supermarkets are best/ worst for animal welfare!

  2. August 10, 2010 5:29 pm

    Enjoyed this article. The better the meat the less of it we need. Could cost consumers just a few pence more to change the World.

    • Katharine Reeve permalink
      September 19, 2010 5:16 pm

      Thanks. Yes, the thing about meat reducing is that it allows you to eat real meat from organically farmed animals without costing you any more.

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