Review/Oorsig Volume 22, Issue 04 - Page 14

Oorsig/Review but the how she is raised that turns her from a roaming, grazing, carbon sequestering, nutritious food giving, environmental saviour to a fossil fuel driven, grain-chomping, environmental disaster. Confusion This conflation of carbon cycles and carbon sources is blindly repeated as a mantra in much of the media, causing confusion amongst many who don’t have the time or inclination to study climate change for themselves. The general population is left believing that methane from cows is adding just as much to the atmospheric load as methane from natural gas production and other human activities. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is no coincidence that the amount of carbon released from fossil fuels corresponds with the dramatic increase in carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere over the past 150 years. This is made worse by our increasingly industrialised food systems, where rainforests have been cleared to make way for food production on an unsustainable scale. This not only uses fossil fuels and releases carbon that was stored in the forest biomass and forest soil, but the impact is further exacerbated by the loss of forested land as natural carbon sinks. Since the industrial revolution, the burning of biomass (forests) to make way for agriculture has contributed 10% of the annual methane emissions (9) and has been the main contributor to a further recent increase (10). Fossil fuel fools It’s easy to be hoodwinked by reductionist research reports that purport to study sustainable farming methods. The idea, for example, of reducing methane production in cattle through feeding them particular diets lacks consideration for the fossil fuel used to sow, spray, grow, harvest and transport such special feeds. These studies are misleading although sound-bites like “Feeding cows linseed reduces methane” make seductive media headlines. There is no upside for the fossil fuel industry of exposing this carbon conflation and it is certainly in their interest to perpetuate the confusion caused. They are making fossil fuel fools of all of us. They realise that human nature is such that we won’t want to reduce our energy use if we believe an easier option will have the same effect on climate change, like cutting down, or even cutting out, our meat consumption. Rice production in flooded paddies produces 10% of global man- made methane, yet those cutting down on meat 14 may eat more rice in the belief that it’s more environmentally sustainable, not realising its carbon footprint from the fossil fuels used to transport it from the other side of the world or that it has none of the carbon sequestration benefits of grazing cattle. And this, of course, plays perfectly into the hands of those with an animal-meat-free agenda, be that for ideological reasons or for the less altruistic, as in the behemoths that are putting enormous resources into growing ‘animal-free’ protein in petri-dishes (and using lots of fossil fuels in the process). While people should be free to choose the food they eat, it is wholly unethical for vested interests to try to influence those choices through misinformation and biased reporting, putting their profits and personal agendas before the future health of the planet and its growing population. The solution Any animal or plant-based food production that uses fossil fuels from soil to sale without a net off-set of carbon sequestration is inherently unsustainable. One solution may be if technology reaches the point where protein can be grown in labs at suitable scale and cost, using renewable energy sources. This would be an amazing achievement that could provide protein for many people. However, unlike the protein produced from grazing cows, there is no carbon sequestration in the process. And the potential for further loss of food security should not be underestimated if food sources consolidate into the hands of a few global players and corporate profits take precedence over human welfare. Animal products provide much more than just protein and it is the multitude of balanced micro-nutrients that are essential to good health. Placing food supply with a few giant corporations increases the chance