Don’t be a chicken! We must not be ‘scared’ of no-meat diets to save food reserves, warns Manchester doctor

People need to start recognising animal rights and begin making healthier food choices to prevent the world’s food reserves from plummeting, warns a Manchester ethicist.

Dr Steve Cooke insists, over 68billion non-human animals, not including fish, were killed in 2012 for meat – a number which demonstrates the world’s perception of non-human animals.

The former University of Manchester tutor’s concerns were reinforced after the publication of a new report that warned of the serious implications of food scarcity and its wider environmental impact.

A study from Cambridge and Aberdeen universities suggests that the world’s intake of meat has to be reduced in order to combat future food shortages.

He told MM: “The numbers of animals killed are so high because as countries have become more affluent they have switched to more meat-intensive diets.

“The underlying reason for this, in my view, is that the moral status of non-human animals is not properly recognised, and nor are people aware of, or sufficiently motivated by, the environmental impact.“

The research blames the trend of American-inspired diets that tend to rely on large amounts of meat and dairy.

If this trend continues, experts predict that food production alone will reach, if not exceed, the global targets for total greenhouse emissions in 2050.

This is something that Dr Cooke believes can be avoided if people change their perception of non-human animals.

He said: “People simply do not consider the enormous level of suffering that goes into their meals, and too many people place the pleasure they derive from eating meat above the interest non-human animals have in continued existence and not suffering.”

Lead researcher of the 2014 study Bojana Bajzeli, from the University of Cambridge, emphasised that the ‘basic laws of biophysics couldn’t be ignored’.

He said: “The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals that provide meat for humans.

“The losses at each stage are large, and as humans globally eat more and more meat, conversion from plants to food becomes less and less efficient, driving agricultural expansion and releasing more greenhouse gases.

“Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here – but our choice of food is.”

Bojana’s research advises that people should limit their intake to two portions of meat and seven of poultry per week.

“Food production is a main driver of biodiversity loss and a large contributor to climate change and pollution, so our food choices matter,” he said.

Co-author Professor Pete Smith from the University of Aberdeen also warned that unless diets change, the world faces an uncertain fate.

He said: “Unless we make some serious changes in food consumption trends, we would have to completely de-carbonise the energy and industry sectors to stay within emissions budgets that avoid dangerous climate change.

“That is practically impossible – so, as well as encouraging sustainable agriculture, we need to re-think what we eat.”

Although Dr Cooke agrees that dietary changes will have an impact in the long run, he also insists that education is a fundamental factor in the fight to sustain food resources.

He said: “Eating meat is so embedded in our cultural practices and big business profits so much from it that it is exceptionally hard to change our relationships with other species.

“Reducing the number of animals killed will be difficult, but in the short term we need both increased public awareness of the threat to the planet and the cruelty involved, coupled with stronger domestic and international legislation.

“The bottom line is that we need to be less selfish and more compassionate towards both non-human animals and one another.”

Image courtesy of Jim Winstead with thanks

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