The Livestock Industry and the Climate - EU Makes Bad Worse

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By Jens Holm & Toivo Jokkala

Climate change is developing into the greatest threat ever to our world's survival. There is a relatively high awareness of and preparedness for some of the worst emissions, such as industry and the transportation sector. But one of the most damaging contributors to climate change is, remarkably enough, conspicuous in its absence from the debate: the food industry.

What we eat accounts for approximately a third of the average Swedish family's impact on climate. The figures for the rest of Europe are about the same. Certain kinds of food cause many times more damage than others: meat, for example. Last autumn, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) presented Livestock's Long Shadow, a 400 page report on livestock raising and climate change. The meat industry and livestock raising contribute 18% of the total emissions of greenhouse gases. That is in fact a greater impact than that of all of the world's land transportation, reported FAO.

This report investigates the impact of the continually increasing consumption of meat on climate change, and the roll the EU plays in it. We also divulge how the Swedish government, on its home turf, gives the impression of working to abolish the hated export refund for meat products, while in Brussels giving its support for increases in the same.

Without claiming to have all the answers, we nevertheless offer our views in a discussion that, along with the greenhouse effect, is one of the most important questions for our future: What are we going to do with the world's grain and what is the optimal way to use the world's farmland? Climate change is expected to bring about an enormous demand for wheat, corn, and other grains for biofuel production. And that brings us right back to meat production.

Over a third of all grain harvested becomes fodder. Is that rational? Why not produce less meat and raise fewer animals on food crops, thereby freeing grain for feeding more people and even have a surplus for biofuel?

We conclude this report with some concrete demands that can be pursued on both the EU and national levels: Abolish meat subsidies, let meat bear its own environmental costs and work to make modern vegetarian food cheaper.

It is just as researcher Annika Carlsson-Kanyama says in the report, "People need to understand that what we eat is an important environmental issue." Exactly. Today’s wasteful meat production doesn’t bear its own environmental costs. Let us, therefore, build the foundation of an environmentally friendly and sustainable food consumption.

The struggle against climate change begins here and now, at the dinner table.

Stockholm, May 2007

Jens Holm
Member of the European Parliament, GUE/NGL, the Swedish Left Party

The livestock industry and the climate – EU makes bad worse is published by the delegation of the Swedish Left Party in GUE/NGL

Photo: Jens Holm




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