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  • Writer's pictureMeg

Climate Justice

Updated: May 29, 2022

“It is increasingly obvious that environmentally sustainable solutions to world hunger can only emerge as people eat more plant foods and fewer animal products. To me it is deeply moving that the same food choices that give us the best chance to eliminate world hunger are also those that take the least toll on the environment, contribute the most to our long-term health, are the safest, and are also, far and away, the most compassionate towards our fellow creatures” – John Robbins

As a child, if ever I complained that I couldn’t finish the food on my plate my parents would remark, “poor little hungry children in China would do anything to be able to have a hot meal like that”. Aside from inducing shame in me for not having a larger stomach, this meal time recital was a powerful lesson in empathy and to this day I am passionate about seeing an end to world hunger. I used the think that meant we had to increase the finite resources we have on Earth – now I know that we just have to make more thoughtful choices about how we share the resources we have.

FACT: Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock. This means 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals and the animals are eaten by people in western countries (Cowspiracy)

One third of the world’s cereal harvest is fed to farm animals. If it were used directly for human consumption it would feed about three billion people. Cattle, pigs and poultry now consume half the world’s wheat, Around 80% of the world’s maize, virtually all the barley and well over 90% of the world’s soy is fed to livestock. Animals cannot convert everything they eat into meat because the energy is used for other bodily functions such as keeping warm. On average, it takes around 6 kilos of plant protein (which could be consumed directly by humans) to produce just 1 kilo of animal protein. In this way, meat is ecologically inefficient and effectively means eating one step higher on the food chain.

According to Oxfam, the increased demand for grains to feed livestock is likely to push future food prices further beyond the limits of affordability for the world’s poorest people. Additionally, the world’s poorest people, which is, those living on $2 or less per day, live in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their existence. Global demand and production of fish and livestock has reduced traditional fishing stocks and decimated coral reef systems for indigenous people living on coasts and islands, as well as destructed of old growth forests. This will only exacerbate world poverty and hunger because while remote from those who consume animal products, it is the world of the indigenous and the very natural resources they have relied on for centuries.

FACT: 80% of antibiotic sold in the US are for livestock - Cowspiracy

Before the mid-1940’s a tooth abscess might have killed, scarlet fever and pneumonia was often lethal and gangrene indiscriminately claimed limbs. Then penicillin was discovered – using rat studies if my biology studies serve me. Developing antibiotics to treat bacterial infections was one of the most significant medical discoveries in human history — saving countless millions of lives.

When factory farming started in America, also in the 40’s, antibiotics were introduced to chicken feed to stimulate rapid growth to market weight and manage the diseases inevitable with unnatural confinement. To this day, animals are fed antibiotics non-therapeutically in an effort to prevent them from contracting the many diseases inherit in factory farming, which by their very nature promotes the growth and mutation of pathogens, including campylobacter, salmonella and E. coli.

Eating animals that have consumed antibiotics, make these indispensable “wonder drugs” less effective for humans, as they are absorbed by our bodies. Even those who choose not to eat animal products may not be safe from this, when we consider that pathogens can be spread through the environment, through crop contamination or living near a factory farm. However, the vehicle of transmission of food-borne illnesses are overwhelmingly through animal products; poultry being one of the largest (which isn’t surprising if you understand the magnitude of the intensity of factory farming that birds are subjected to). Jonathan San Foer in Eating Animals eloquently and simplistically explains this invisible phenomena; that if you develop a flu, that lasts around 24 hours and is relieved by “retch or shit” you may not necessarily have “caught a bug, so much as ate a bug”. Though organisations such as the World Health Organisation has called for a ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farming, and Europe has followed suit since 2006, the use of antibiotics as growth promoters is still standard in the America, Australia and elsewhere in the world.

“A post-antibiotic era — in which common infections and minor injuries can kill — far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st Century” — World Health Organization, 2014

Aside for the obvious implication of antibiotics rendered redundant due to personal or corporate misuse, such as death from common bacterial and viral infections, there is another less obvious implication – pandemic influenza.

In 1918 the “Spanish flu” pandemic killed between 20-100 million otherwise healthy people worldwide in as little as 24 weeks. The Spanish flu was not the first, but was by far the most deadly influenza in human history. Scientists now believe Spanish flu to have been an avian influenza or a virus that mutated in pigs. In fact, virologist Robert Webster has proven the avian origins of all human influenza, naming the process by which human pandemics recruit some of their genes from flu viruses in domestic birds “barnyard theory”.

In my short lifetime, I have seen the epidemics of bird flu, or avian influenza (read: chicken) and swine flu (read: pig). Many people, including the Director-General of the WHO is predicting a new generation of “zoonotic” (animal-to-human or vice versa) pathogens and a global pandemic of influenza as “inevitable and overdue” in the near future, or so long as there remains sick farm animals confined in cages around the world (particularly birds). The estimated number of deaths for this forecast pandemic is between 2-7.4 million.

FACT: Emissions for agriculture projected to increase 80% by 2050

Global food production is already negatively impacted by climate change. As temperatures climb, fresh water becomes scarcer and soil becomes more eroded. A new study by Oxford University has concluded that eating less meat and more fruit and vegetables will not only prevent several million deaths by 2050, it could cut planet-warming emissions substantially, and save billions of dollars annually in health care costs and climate change. The study showed that 8.1 million fewer human deaths would result in a world of vegans who do not consume animal products, including eggs and milk by the year 2050, compared to omnivores and vegetarians.

“In some parts of the world, what we are doing is already apparent. According to the World Health Organization, the warming of the planet caused an additional 140,000 deaths in 2004, as compared with the number of deaths there would have been had average global temperatures remained as they were during the period 1961 to 1990. This means that climate change is already causing, every week, as many deaths as occurred in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” ― Peter Singer, Practical Ethics

FACT: World Population grows 228,000+ people every day

We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, though that is more than the population on Earth currently, we know that not everyone has access to this food and that soon there will be even more people to distribute this among. We are bringing people into a world that is becoming increasingly harder to survive in. Don’t we have any respect for, or accountability to, the generations that will come after us? Who will not know the beauties of the natural world as we do and will be forced to live within the problems we, and those before us, created.

“You are the last best hope of Earth. We ask you to protect it or we, and all living things we cherish, are history” – Leonardo DiCaprio, Before the Flood

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources

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