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How diet impacts the environment

Animal agriculture is devastating to the environment. Not only that, it also contributes to world hunger, writes Liz Bowie.

With all the talk about the environment and what we need to do to save it, it is a wonder that hardly anyone is talking about what we eat, especially considering the impact food production has on our planet.

In 2006, the United Nations released a report stating that animal agriculture, that is animals raised to end up on your plate is, “One of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.”

In fact animals reared for meat and dairy produce more global warming greenhouse gases than worldwide transportation combined. The report warns, “The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level.”

That means cutting back on the amount of animals being farmed, therefore cutting back on methane, ammonia and waste levels. If you can ignore the fact that these intensively farmed animals that provide your meat, eggs and dairy products live short miserable lives, there is still the fact that animal agriculture is wreaking havoc on our planet.

But it doesn’t end there: livestock production also contributes to shortages of fresh water, land destruction and deforestation, air and water pollution, soil erosion, loss of habitat and acid rain. Considering that over one billion people lack enough safe drinking water in the world, it is important to know that meat eaters use 10 times more water than those who follow a plant-based diet. There is also water contamination from animal waste, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides used to spray feed crops.

In order to deal with this water problem, we began bottling water, which created a lucrative market and also a new eco-disaster. Now we have plastic bottles filling up land fill and creating enormous amounts of rubbish, not to forget the fuels needed to make them and transport them.

The World Health Organisation states that one in three people suffer from malnutrition. This seems crazy when you consider that one third to one half of the world’s edible harvests are fed to animals, not humans. In fact, in developing countries, land that could be used for feeding hungry people is being used to grow crops for export to developed countries to feed animals. This land that is cleared for animal food crops contributes to loss of habitat, extinction of species, global warming, and desertification.

Compassion in World Farming predicts that a 50 per cent reduction in meat consumption in developed countries (where obesity is one of the major causes of illness and death) could save approximately 3.6 million children from malnutrition. If you incorporate everyone suffering from poverty and malnutrition, not just children, the estimate rises to 33.6 million.

If that isn’t enough make you consider a plant based diet then consider this: Doctors for the Environment Australia, a voluntary organisation of medical doctors working to address the diseases caused by damage to the earth’s environment, suggests that in order to combat the environmental damage caused by farming animals for meat, people need to significantly reduce their red meat intake. They also point out that there are many health benefits in doing so, the most common being reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and stroke.

So now that you may be considering a plant-based diet, there is one more thing to think about before you head to the grocery shop to stock up on delicious healthy foods and that is where your food has come from. Consider your food miles – that is the distance your food has travelled to end up on your plate.

If you aren’t buying local then sustainable suggests your food miles tend to be 27 times higher than if you bought from local sources. The fossil fuels used to transport food contribute to global warming, acid rain, smog and air pollution and don’t forget the extra energy burnt up by refrigerating your meat, dairy and vegetables over long distances. There is also the impact the transportation and packaging of the food has on its quality.

On the other hand if you buy locally, you will be eating seasonal, fresh food and supporting your local economy. Buying locally means there is less chance of rot and contamination, of buying produce that has been in storage for months and if you buy organic, no harmful chemicals and pesticides. Head out to your local organic markets every weekend and pick from the best, alternatively there are many organic grocery home delivery services.

Just by choosing a plant-based diet, you are not only saving the planet, but animals, your health and wallet.

Top tips for adopting an eco diet.

•    Go Vegetarian. Order your free Vegetarian starter kit from
•    Buy local, organic produce. There are many markets around selling yummy seasonal food.
•    Buy a refillable water bottle and refill it with purified water.
•    Steer clear of heavily packaged, high-processed foods; they’re bad for your health and the environment.
•    Plant a vege patch, you can’t get more local than that!
•    Give up fast food. It creates huge amounts of rubbish and is gross.
•    Avoid microwaves; don’t store hot food in plastic containers – TOXIC!

Visit these sites for more info:

Liz Bowie is a Sydney-based freelance writer. 

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