Focus Corner

Meat Ireland and the environment: the details

February 10th, 2009 by   (View Author Profile)

There are many stories out there about meat and the environment. cattle.jpg

Much of it is well meaning, but hastily cut and pasted from various US websites. The situation in places like the US, South America etc is sooo different as regards meat production, that I felt it was realy worth putting up a discussion piece on meat, Ireland and the environment.
In truth, the situation is more complex than it might otherwise seem.

(Please note that this article will not consider the issue of animal ethics, except of course for the fact that there is an ethics to protecting and blossoming the environment. Likewise, human health considerations are out.)

′Give up meat for one day (per week) initially, and decrease it from there′. So says Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

That′s a worry for Ireland, as Ireland produces just under 600,000 tonnes of beef annually, 90% of which is exported.

Agriculture accounted for 26.8% of Ireland′s GHG emissions in 2007. While the overall amount produced has increased, this is an overall percentage reduction from a high of 35% in 1990.

Meat production uses up a lot of fossil fuels. Pork and chicken meat are very questionable in environmental terms, due to the cost of heating the houses they are kept in, as well as the fossil fuels used in producing and transporting their feed.

While the environmental costs of feeds and fertilizers is also high for outdoor animals such as beef and lamb, Ireland differs somewhat.

Simply put – we suit beef and lamb production. We have great grass growing weather – rain. We could, quite simply, supply the EU, whilst gettting from the EU a lot of the other stuff – e.g. fruits that aren’t berries or apples.

The vast majority of beef and lamb eaten in Ireland is Irish. This meat is mostly though not exclusively grass-fed.

According to our own Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) ′Irish beef and lamb are produced without deforestation′: Also, if Ireland produced less meat there would be ′more production elsewhere and a net increase in emissions globally′. This would be due to deforestation and the less sustainable cattle farming practices which would follow, according to DAFF.

Critics argue that we′ve already had the deforestation and that we still do use significant amounts of fertilizers and feeds.

So outdoor meat such as beef and lamb is OK, but is there a better option?

How much is too much?

I’ll let you know my thoughts in in my next posting on this topic!

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