Sunday, December 7, 2008

I - Eating Meat Costs the World Too Much

Did you know the gas emitted by cows is one of the greatest culprits for causing global warming?

Now is also the destruction of lands used to grow the feed for the cows.

The hidden cost of our growing taste for meat

As the west's appetite for meat increases, so too does the demand for soya - used as animal feed by farmers. But the planting of huge tracts of land is causing deforestation and destroying eco-systems in developing countries. 

London Guardian
December 7, 2008
by Juliette Jowit and Oliver Balch in Minga Pora, Paraguay, report

To the European eye, accustomed to square hedgerows and neatly tilled arable land, the countryside of eastern Paraguay is unexceptional, almost pretty. The rolling hills spread out to the far distance. The sky is vast, the horizon broken only by the occasional homestead, leafy copse or bulky metal silo.

But to 47-year-old Melitón Ramírez, this is no paradise. It's a wasteland. Juddering down a farm track in a muddy Jeep, he points to a wide field by the road. It has been sown with soya and the green-leafed plants are sprouting. It looks like a huge bed of wild clover.

'Thirty years ago, almost all of this was woodland,' says Ramírez, who's been a farmer in Alto Paraná state all his life. He grew up surrounded by the Interior Atlantic Forest, listening to the sound of bare-throated bellbirds and saffron toucanets. Before the advent of commercial farming, 85 per cent of eastern Paraguay was forest. Now, with roughly 12 per cent of it still standing, silence fills the air.

'There used to be 2,000 families living here. Now there are only 30, if that,' he continues.

The story of Ramírez's home village of Minga Porá is familiar in South America. It is a story that starts on the dinner tables of the UK and other rich nations, where a hunger for meat and dairy products fuels an ever-rising demand for the industrial farming of animals using high-protein feed. At the bottom of this food chain is the soya plant. Millions of hectares of intensively cultivated soya are gnawing at tropical forests and savannah - displacing farmers and communities, leading to poverty, ill-health and even violence, ruining habitats and exacerbating global warming.

A report by campaign group Friends of the Earth is to be published on Tuesday to focus the attention of UK consumers and the government on the scale of this destruction. It will detail for the first time the cutting, burning and spraying that occurs as a consequence. The report, What's Feeding our Food?, will start a campaign urging the government to take action, ending subsidies and other policies that encourage intensive farming and making sure public money spent on food is not propping up damaging practices.

Across the main soya-producing countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, an area the size of California has been cleared for this one crop, which is exported around the world, mainly to the European Union and China. As the third biggest customer in the European Union, the UK required nearly 1.2m hectares - an area the size of Devon and Cornwall - to generate the 1.7m tonnes of soya beans and 652,000 tonnes of crushed soya meal imported in the most recent year for which figures are available, 2006-7. That was most of the soya used by UK farmers producing 850 million broiler chickens, 10 billion eggs, 10 million turkeys, 4.9 million pigs and 10 million cattle for dairy and beef. Some of this food is exported, but imports, mostly from the EU, are also reared using soya feed, says the report.

'Even though bacon, burgers, milk and cheese may be produced in the UK, most will have come from animals fed on crops grown on the other side of the world,' it says. Nor is the pace of change slackening: this year official estimates judge that soya production will increase in all three major producers. Although demand for meat is largely flat in the UK, it is growing in developing countries.

Attracted by generous offers from Brazilian-born soya growers, Ramírez's neighbours began selling their plots. Soon herbicides began to contaminate the land and water supplies. His own crops began to fail. Worried the chemicals would harm his family, six years ago Ramírez decided to leave...con't

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