Animal Aid

FEED THE WORLD - The Vegetarian Solution

March is Veggie Month, the time when Animal Aid asks for your support in organising local events to promote our campaign to increase the popularity of vegetarianism. In this feature, Mark Gold and Andrew Tyler examine some of the costs of meat eating.

by Mark Gold

Although it is well established that a move towards universal vegetarianism is essential to efforts to feed the rapidly growing human population, there is disturbing evidence that developing nations are following the example of richer areas of the world by increasing meat consumption.

Worldwide, meat production quadrupled from 44 million tons in 1950 to 195 million tons in 1996. Even though the vast majority fed consumers in wealthier countries like our own, it is a trend also to be found increasingly in poorer countries, particularly those with large populations such as China and India. In the former, pork consumption has risen astronomically in the last decade to the point where the Chinese population now consume more per person than in the meat-obsessed US. China's production of poultry meat increases every year by more than the UK's total annual poultry meat production (730 million birds were killed in the UK in 1997).

The meat industry in comparably expansionist in India, too. Despite still having the largest vegetarian population in the world, India is now also the largest exporter of meat in Asia and it is anticipated that its poultry industry will double to over 820 million birds per annum by the year 2000.

If China, India and other developing nations go on demanding dramatic increases in animal produce the world is heading for a food supply problem of catastrophic proportions.

It is simply impossible for the world grain harvest to continue to expand at sufficient levels to meet the needs of both a rapidly growing human population and an explosion in the number of farm animals. Contrary to public perception, more livestock do not add to the amount of food available for people: on the contrary, they compete for resources. It takes roughly 4 kg of grain to produce 1kg of pork and 3kg to produce every kg of eggs. As becomes clear every time there is an international food crisis, it is grain that is the food of life, not meat or dairy produce. Deriving food from animals is an inefficient way of turning relatively cheap and plentiful vegetable crops into what most people in the world consider a relatively luxurious alternative.

Already, this increase in meat production is starting to take its toll on the world's grain harvest. For example, China's expanding consumption of pork and other meat helped to transform it from an exporter of 8 million tonnes of grain in 1993 to a net importer of 16 million tonnes by 1995. It is joined by many other developing nations which are no longer self-sufficient in grain - amongst them India, Indonesia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mexico and Egypt. The more the world becomes dependent on meat, the greater the pressure on the international harvest. A vicious circle is perpetuated. Grain becomes scarce; prices rise. The poorest nations of all cannot afford to compete in the market. Less food is available; more malnutrition follows. Sometimes this pattern is combined with bizarre strategies by countries facing particularly bleak shortages to raise capital, including the selling of the insufficient amounts of grain that they do possess to richer countries for use as animal feed. Matching the insanity of the Ethiopian government's decision to sell crops to the UK at the height of its 1984 famine, North Korea - suffering a desperate lack of food supplies - last year exported 1,000 tonnes of maize to be wasted by the growing Japanese poultry industry. On a less dramatic scale, thousands of hectares of Third World land is still utilised solely to produce animal feed for wealthier countries.

Twentieth century history demonstrates conclusively that meat eating is almost always embraced as a potent symbol of economic progress. Consequently, despite lack of food resources, all but the most poverty stricken areas of the world continue for the moment to follow the fashion of richer nations by increasing their dependence upon livestock. India's Minister of Welfare, Maneka Gandhi, recently stated pessimistically that the overall trend in her own country is 'to measure progress in the move from vegetarianism to non-vegetarianism'. It is a development that is good news for the meat industries of nations like ours, enabling them to profit by providing all the paraphernalia of intensive production such as special feeds, pharmaceuticals, machinery, highly productive genetic breeds, consultancies and so on. But as a policy to help hungry people it is an inevitable disaster.

One of the great challenges of the next century is for the world to adopt more sane food polices, reducing drastically its dependence upon animals. As the World Cancer Research Fund's recent comprehensive report on the relationship between diet and cancer indicates, only by doing so can we hope to feed more people, improve human health and protect land and soil fertility. Said the report:

'Intensive agricultural methods originating in Europe and the USA, and now also used in other parts of the world, have led to irreversible degradation of much agricultural land. Much of this intensive land use has been to rear animals and to grow crops for animal feed. More appropriate ecological and nutritional use of the land would involve their use for plant-based food production for direct human consumption.'

by Andrew Tyler

British beef exports to Europe - banned for 32 months because of the BSE scare - are due to begin again in the spring. But the health threat to consumers is far from over. Some scientists believe that official figures showing BSE's decline, which are based on animals with clinical symptoms, cannot be trusted. This is because of under-reporting by vets and farmers (Ind. Sept. 11 '98) concerned about damage to beef sales. Furthermore, cows might appear healthy but could be carrying the BSE agent and passing it on to other animals.

There are also strong indications that sheep meat is BSE infected. The government's Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee is to step up tests to gauge the extent of the problem. Infection in sheep would be found throughout the carcass, making it impossible to protect consumers simply by removing the most dangerous parts. (Times, Aug. 21 '98). In cows, infectivity is thought to be largely in the brains and spinal cords. In sheep, it is also in the spleen and lymph nodes.

As the official BSE inquiry rumbles on, news continues to emerge of government cover-up about the scale of the problem, and the failure by abattoirs to apply the rules intended to prevent human infection.

While the human death toll from new variant CJD - the strain linked to BSE in cattle - now stands officially at around 30, the impact on cattle has been catastrophic. By July 1998, at least 170,000 animals had contracted the devastating disease. By the year's end, more than 4 million adult cattle had been slaughtered and incinerated as a preventative measure. And in 1998 alone, 550,000 baby calves were destroyed to avoid the market becoming awash with unwanted beef. The cost to the taxpayer has already exceeded £3 billion and a further £1.3 billion will have been expended by 2000.

The most favoured explanation for the source of the disease is that cattle were given feed containing rendered sheep meat that was contaminated with scrapie - the equivalent condition in sheep. Since the BSE crisis broke, farmers have played the innocent victims: they had no idea what was in their feed, since they weren't told. And yet, Dr Helen Raine of feed suppliers, J Bibby Agriculture, has told the BSE inquiry that the farming press widely supported the use of meat and bone meal (MBM), and farmers specially asked for it to be included in their feeds.

Furthermore, until the early 1950s, the government actually compelled the use of MBM in order to save on imported proteins, according to Edward Spalton, of Spalton Nutrition Ltd, Derby. (Private Eye) tel 01332 332940

An alternative and increasingly popular theory is that organophosphates are to blame for the outbreak - these being highly toxic insecticides that are still being used to combat infestations in cattle and sheep.

When beef exports do recommence, it will be with severe restrictions. All meat must be deboned and from cattle whose histories and those of their mothers can be identified a being free of suspected BSE. None of the beef can be from animals older than 30 months. The good news is that live calf exports have not yet been given the go ahead, although these young animals will continue to suffer extreme neglect and underfeeding en route to the incinerator, as part of the 'calf processing scheme'. The CPS continues until the end of March. Cattle older than 30 months will also still be incinerated on the grounds that they are unfit for human consumption; they too typically suffer extreme neglect.

Go veggie - it's easier than you think.

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