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NEWS: UN report says shift to vegetable-based diets needed to reduce climate change

A United Nations media release this hour states, “With current production and consumption of fossil fuels and food draining freshwater supplies, triggering losses of forests and other ecosystems and raising pollution levels, (a new UN) study concludes that dramatically reforming, rethinking and redesigning how the planet’s people are fed and fueled could spur environmental, social and economic returns. …Perhaps controversially, the report – by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management – also calls for a shift away from animal-based protein diets to more vegetable-based foods to ease pressure on the environment.”

The Telegraph UK notes that, “The report, that will be presented to world governments, said the only way to feed the world while reducing climate change is to switch to more a more vegetarian diet.”

The Canwest News Service says that the report, to be released today by the United Nations Environment Program concludes, “A substantial reduction of impacts (to the environment) would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animals products.”

The article adds, “The panel was asked to identify activities associated with the largest environmental pressures and impacts in the world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes and rising consumption. It identified agriculture as a priority area in need of ‘transformational change’, along with fossil fuel use — which is helping drive climate change — and production and use of materials such as iron, steel, aluminum and plastics, which also has a large environmental footprint. …Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of global freshwater consumption and 38 per cent of total land use, and is a major source of greenhouse gases, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution.”

German scientist Ernst von Weizsaecker, co-chairman of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, says, “Livestock now consumes much of the world’s crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilizers and pesticides linked with that crop production in the first place.”

A November 2006 United Nations report – ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options’ – says the meat and livestock industry contributes about 9 percent of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, including 37 percent of methane and 65 percent of nitrous oxide emissions. Scientific American magazine adds that, “The FAO report found that current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of ‘CO2-equivalent’ greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles.” A University of Chicago study that same year concluded that a person switching from the typical American diet to a vegan diet with the same number of calories would prevent the emission of 1485 kg of carbon dioxide. That difference exceeds that of an individual switching from a Toyota Camry to the hybrid Toyoto Prius.

In terms of water consumption, the Guardian UK reported on a International Water Management Institute report in 2004 that stated, “Western diets, which depend largely on meat, are already putting great pressures on the environment. Meat-eaters consume the equivalent of about 5,000 litres (1,100 gallons) of water a day compared to the 1,000-2,000 litres used by people on vegetarian diets in developing countries.” Author John Robbins adds that it takes approximately 60, 108, 168, and 229 pounds of water to produce a pound of potatoes, wheat, corn and rice respectively. He says that a pound of beef requires 12,000 gallons of water.

The Canwest News Service report is at http://www.vancouversun.com/technology/United+Nations+identify+meat+eaters+warming+planet/3102494/story.html. The UN media release is at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=34886&Cr=sustainability&Cr1=. The Telegraph UK report is at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/7797594/Eat-less-meat-to-save-the-planet-UN.html.