The suf­fer­ing and eco­log­i­cal de­struc­tion in­her­ent in live­stock farm­ing can no lon­gerer be jus­ti­fied. The growth of the ar­ti­fi­cial meat eat in­dus­try of­fers a sus­tain­able al­ter­na­tive

The Guardian Weekly - - Sport - Ge­orge Mon­biot

What will fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, look­ing back on our age, see as its mon­strosi­ties? We think of slav­ery, the sub­ju­ga­tion of women, ju­di­cial tor­ture, the mur­der of heretics, im­pe­rial con­quest and geno­cide, the first world war and the rise of fas­cism, and ask our­selves how peo­ple could have failed to see the hor­ror of what they did. What mad­ness of our times will re­volt our de­scen­dants?

There are plenty to choose from. But one of them will be the mass in­car­cer­a­tion of an­i­mals, to en­able us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call our­selves an­i­mal lovers, and lav­ish kind­ness on our dogs and cats, we in­flict bru­tal de­pri­va­tions on bil­lions of an­i­mals that are just as ca­pa­ble of suf­fer­ing. The hypocrisy is so rank that fu­ture gen­er­a­tions will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.t.

The shift will oc­cur with the ad­vent of cheap ar­ti­fi­cial meat. Tech­no­log­i­cal change has of­ten helped to catal­yse eth­i­cal change. The $300m deal China signed last month h to buy lab-grown meat marks the be­gin­ning of the end of live­stock farm­ing. But it won’t hap­pen quickly: : the great suf­fer­ing is likely to con­tin­ueon­tinue for many years.

The an­swer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writ­ers,ters, is to keep live­stock out­doors:s: eat free-range beef or lamb, not bat­tery pork. But all this does is s to swap one dis­as­ter – mass cru­el­tyuelty – for an­other: mass de­struc­tion.ion. Al­most all forms of an­i­mal far­marm­ing cause en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age, mage, but none more so than keeping­ing them out­doors. The rea­son is in­ef­fi­ciency. Graz­ing is not just slightly in­ef­fi­cient, it is stu­pen­dously ly waste­ful. Roughly twice as much of the world’s sur­face is used for graz­ing as for grow­ing crops, yet an­i­mals fed en­tirely on pas­ture pro­duce just one gram out of the 81g of pro­tein con­sumed per per­son per day. A pa­per in Sci­ence of the To­tal En­vi­ron­ment re­ports that “live­stock pro­duc­tion is the sin­gle largest driver of habi­tat loss”. Graz­ing live­stock are a fully au­to­mated sys­tem for eco­log­i­cal de­struc­tion: you need only re­lease them on to the land and they do the rest. Their keep­ers aug­ment this as­sault by slaugh­ter­ing large preda­tors. In the UK, for ex­am­ple, sheep sup­ply around 1% of the na­tion’s diet in terms of calo­ries. Yet they oc­cupy around 4m hectares of the up­lands. This is more or less equiv­a­lent to all the land un­der crops in the coun­try, and more than twice the area of the built en­vi­ron­ment (1.7m hectares). The rich mo­saic of rain­for­est and other habi­tats that once cov­ered the UK’s hills has been erased, the wildlife re­duced to a hand­ful of hardy species. The dam­age caused is out of all pro­por­tion to the meat pr pro­duced. Re­plac­ing the meat in our d di­ets with soya spec­tac­u­larly re re­duces the land area re­quired per kilo of pro­tein: by 70% in the case o of chicken, 89% in the case of pork a and 97% in the case of beef. One study sug­gests that if the UK’s pop pop­u­la­tion were all to switch to a plant-basedp diet, 15m hectares of land in Bri­tain cur­rently used for farm­ing could be re­turned to na na­ture. Al­ter­na­tively, the coun­try cou could feed 200 mil­lion peo­ple. An end to an­i­mal farm­ing would be t the sal­va­tion of the world’s wild wildlife, nat­u­ral won­ders and magn mag­nif­i­cent habi­tats.

Un­der­stand­ably, those who keep an­i­mals have pushed back against such facts, us­ing an in­ge­nious ar­gu­ment. Live­stock graz­ing, they claim, can suck car­bon out of the at­mos­phere and store it in the soil, re­duc­ing or even re­vers­ing global warm­ing. In a TED talk watched by 4 mil­lion peo­ple, the rancher Al­lan Savory claims that his “holis­tic” graz­ing could ab­sorb enough car­bon to re­turn the world’s at­mos­phere to pre-in­dus­trial lev­els. His in­abil­ity, when I in­ter­viewed him, to sub­stan­ti­ate his claims has done noth­ing to dent their pop­u­lar­ity.

A re­cent re­port by the Food Cli­mate Re­search Net­work, called Grazed and Confused, seeks to re­solve the ques­tion: can keep­ing live­stock out­doors cause a net re­duc­tion in green­house gases? The au­thors spent two years in­ves­ti­gat­ing the is­sue. They cite 300 sources. Their an­swer is un­equiv­o­cal. No.

As the fi­nal ar­gu­ment crum­bles, we are left fac­ing an un­com­fort­able fact: an­i­mal farm­ing looks as in­com­pat­i­ble with a sus­tained fu­ture for hu­mans and other species as min­ing coal.

That vast ex­panse of pas­ture­land, from which we ob­tain so lit­tle at such great en­vi­ron­men­tal cost, would be bet­ter used for rewil­d­ing: the mass restora­tion of na­ture. Not only would this help to re­v­erse the cat­a­strophic de­cline in habi­tats and the di­ver­sity and abun­dance of wildlife, but the re­turn­ing forests, wet­lands and sa­van­nahs are likely to ab­sorb far more car­bon than even the most so­phis­ti­cated forms of graz­ing.

The end of an­i­mal farm­ing might be hard to swal­low. But we are a re­silient and adapt­able species. We have un­der­gone a se­ries of as­ton­ish­ing changes: the adop­tion of seden­tarism, of agri­cul­ture, of cities, of in­dus­try.

Now it is time for a new revo­lu­tion, al­most as pro­found as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. The tech­nol­ogy is ei­ther here or just around the cor­ner. The eth­i­cal switch is hap­pen­ing al­ready: even to­day, there are half a mil­lion ve­g­ans in the land of roast beef.

It’s time to aban­don the ex­cuses, the fake facts and false com­forts. It is time to see our moral choices as our de­scen­dants will.

Graz­ingGr is not just slightlysli in­ef­fi­cient, it iis stu­pen­dously waste­fulwa

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