Beef has replaced all the core issues India should be addressing right now. In a condemnable incident that painted a very intolerant picture of the country’s society, a man was lynched to death by a mob over rumours that he ate and stored beef at his home. Mainpuri, another part of Uttar Pradesh, erupted in violence over the death of a cow.
In response, a section of the intelligentsia is returning awards conferred to them by the State and holding ‘beef parties’ in protest.
But while people are debating over the religious and secular aspects of eating beef, a July 2014 report in the Guardian highlighted the harm to the environment due to consumption of beef.
Citing a research conducted by Bard College in New York, The Guardian reported that beef’s environmental impact is much more severe than that of chicken and pork meats so much so that if people ate less beef, it will be more effective in cutting carbon emissions than taking cars off the roads.
It said that red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. Compared to potatoes, wheat, and rice, per calorie beef production requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.
Half of the 15 per cent emissions due to agriculture are from livestock. Feeding cattle is also a concern for a world where the population is rising exponentially, said the study which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Prof Gidon Eshel, who led the research, had a solution for governments wanting to stop people from eating beef without directly intervening in people’s diet.
“Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”
A professor from the University of Leeds supported the study and said that “it captures the big picture”.
“The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” said Prof Tim Benton.
Researchers in the UK, too, supported the study’s findings. Prof Mark Sutton, at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said that avoiding excessive meat consumption, especially beef, is good for the environment.
A study of British people’s diets conducted by University of Oxford found that meat-rich diets resulted in 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide emissions compared to about 3.8 kg of CO2 per day from vegetarian and fish-eating diets. Pure vegetarian diets produced even lesser emissions.
Pointing at the emission problem, renowned writer Rajiv Malhotra posted on Facebook:
Two days back, writing in the DNA, Pallava Bagla mentions that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has dubbed beef as a ‘climate-harmful meat’.
He paraphrases what Laurence Tubiana, the French Ambassador for Climate Change Negotiations in Paris, said:
“This over consumption of meat is really killing many things (there has to be a campaign) that big meat consumers should stop that. At least try one day without meat.”
According to a 2012 study of ‘Growing greenhouse gas emissions due to meat production’ by UNEP Indians consume only 12 grams of meat per person per day on an average – almost 10 times lower than the global average of 115 grams. US leads with over 322 grams of meat being eaten per person per day.
He further writes that according to the study comparing emissions of the two, a car travelling all the way from New Delhi to Agra would cause about the same amount of global climate change as is done by consuming just one kg of beef!
He concludes that meat eating is becoming chic and fashionable as more and more people become affluent.