Did you know that a whopping 71% of the total area of the United Kingdom is used as agricultural land? This figure, alongside many other shocking statistics have recently been released in the Government’s report of Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2020. But what does this all really mean for for animal welfare, human health, and the health of the planet?
In 2020 alone, there were 9.6 million cattle and calves, 5.1 million pigs, 32.7 million sheep and lambs, and 182 million poultry that were farmed for their meat, eggs or dairy products in the UK. Within the same year, meat production increased to over 4 million tonnes, while the value of meat increased to £8.5billion. This is believed to be due to an increase in the takeaway industry during lockdown, as well as a rise in consumers cooking meaty breakfasts whilst working from home, and the sunniest spring on record making barbeque season last longer.
It is hoped that these statistics are just another unfortunate side effect of lockdown that will pass in due course, because if our meat production and consumption increases year on year, it could spell disaster for the climate and our health.
How does meat consumption affect our health?
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classed processed meat (such as ham, hot dogs, bacon, salami) as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that they are a definite cause of cancer. This same group includes smoking and alcohol.
- Red meat (such as beef, lamb and pork) is a Group 2 carcinogen, meaning that they are a probable cause of cancer.
How does meat consumption affect the planet?
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases – that’s more than the entire transport sector combined.
- In the UK, agriculture is the major source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions, accounting for nearly 47% of all methane emissions and 68% of total nitrous oxide emissions in 2019. Almost all methane emissions from agriculture arise from the digestive processes of ruminating animals such as cattle. Both methane and nitrous oxide are much more damaging to our planet than CO2 emissions.
- Ammonia emissions, from the animals urine, impact our air quality and subsequently human and animal health. In addition, depositing ammonia can damage sensitive habitats due to water degradation and the acidification of soils. In 2019 agriculture accounted for 88% of the UK’s ammonia emissions.
How does meat consumption affect animal welfare?
- 70% of all farm animals living in the UK are housed in factory farms due to the country’s insatiable want for animal products. Factory farmed animals live in cruel, cramped and unhygienic conditions for their entire life, often never even seeing natural light. These highly stressful living conditions cause the animals’ immune systems to weaken, leaving them vulnerable to viruses and diseases that can quickly spread from one animal to another, and eventually to humans causing new pandemics.
This year, the United Nations Environment Programme stated that transitioning into a plant-based diet and reducing meat intake has the potential to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20%. We need to act now if we are to protect the planet, our health and animal welfare. World leaders must transition towards plant-centric food-systems and recognise the impact that animal agriculture has on climate change while at COP26.