What would happen in the world if we were all vegetarians?

What would happen in the world if we were all vegetarians?

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Food production accounts for 30% of the world’s carbon emissions

There are many reasons that can lead a person to become vegetarian.

There are those who stop eating meat to avoid the suffering of animals, and others can follow this path because they think that they will lead a healthier life.

And the truth is that no matter how much the “carnivores” deny it, vegetarians are right: reducing the intake of meat brings many benefits to both health and our planet .

But if we all became vegetarians, we would cause serious inconveniences to millions of people, if not billions of people .

“Actually, it’s a story of two worlds,” says Andrew Jarvis of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia.

“In developed countries, vegetarianism would bring all kinds of environmental and health benefits, but it would have a negative impact on developing countries, in terms of poverty.”

Meat for cars

Jarvis and his colleagues explored the hypothesis of what could happen if the meat stopped being on our menu from one day to the next.

First, they observed the impact on climate change.

Food production accounts for between 25% and 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions generated by mankind around the world, and most comes from agricultural production.

Vegetable stand
Copyright of the ISTOCK imageImage caption If vegetarianism were adopted globally by 2050 we would have 7 million fewer deaths per year.

 

Despite this, the impact of our diet on climate is often underestimated .

In the United States, for example, an average family of four emits more greenhouse gases from eating meat than from driving two cars.

But it’s the cars and not the beef steaks that are usually in discussions about global warming.

“Many people do not think about the consequences that food production has on the climate,” says Tim Benton, a food safety specialist at the University of Leed in the United Kingdom.

“But if we consumed a little less meat a day, we would leave a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

Marco Springmann, a researcher with the Future of Food program at the University of Oxford, tried to quantify how much better this world would be , and built computer models that simulated what would happen if all humans became vegetarians by the year 2050 .

The results indicate that, thanks to the elimination of red meat from the diet, emissions related to food production would fall by 60%.

And if everyone became vegan-did not consume any product of animal origin-the fall would be 70%.

But Springmann admits that “this scenario is not very realistic”.

More forests and biodiversity

Sausages shop in Spain
Copyright of the ISTOCK imageImage caption The elimination of meat would have an enormous impact on the identity of some peoples.

 

The aliment industry aria , especially agricultural, too much space , causing emissions by the loss of biodiversity due to the transformation of land use.

Approximately five million hectares of livestock are used in the world. This is 68% of the total agricultural land.

If we all became vegetarians, in an ideal world, we would dedicate 80% of these pastures to reforestation , which would increase carbon absorption and alleviate climate change.

Transforming pastures into natural habitats would also be beneficial for biodiversity, including for large herbivores such as buffalo, which lost their space to cattle, and for predators such as wolves, which often fall dead from attacking sheep, pigs and poultry. .

The remaining 20% ​​could be used to grow more food , in order to compensate for failures in the food supply.

Although it means a very small increase in cultivated area, this would be enough to cover the loss of meat in our diet, since today a third of the land is used to grow food for livestock.

However, since pastures tend to be highly degraded, both environmental restoration and conversion to agriculture would require planning and investment.

“You just could not get the cows out of the field and wait for the forest to grow on its own,” says Jarvis.

Economic impact

steak
Copyright of the ISTOCK imageImage caption A four-person American family emits more greenhouse gases with the meat it consumes than using two cars.

 

People involved in the meat industry would also need help to change their trade, either in new areas of agriculture, in reforestation or in the production of bioenergy from crops that are now used for livestock.

Some farmers could also be paid to keep livestock for environmental purposes .

If we do not offer clear alternatives and subsidies for people related to the livestock industry, we would probably face a significant increase in unemployment and social upheaval, especially in rural communities with close ties to the industry.

” In the world there are more than 3 00 million domestic ruminants, and tens of millions of chickens that are slaughtered each year for food , ” says Ben Phalan, who investigates the balance between food demand and biodiversity at the University of Cambridge. “We would talk about a huge amount of disruption to the economy.”

Carnivorous traditions

But even the best executed plans would not be able to offer an alternative way of life for all the people who currently work in livestock.

Approximately one third of the world’s lands are arid or semi-arid, which can only be supported by livestock.

” Without livestock, life in certain places would be impossible for humans, ” says Phalan.

This particularly includes nomadic peoples – such as the Mongols and Berbers – who, without their animals, would have to migrate to urban areas, which would probably result in a loss of their cultural identity.

Likewise, people whose lives are not completely dependent on livestock would also be affected.

Meat is an important part of the history , tradition and cultural identity of many peoples.

There are many societies that offer livestock at weddings or in which the center of a celebration is meat or turkey.

“The cultural impact of completely abandoning the meat would be very great, so efforts to reduce its consumption have often failed,” explains Phalan.

Less deaths and chronic diseases

Farmer in a cane field
Copyright of the ISTOCK imageImage caption Studies indicate that rural populations in developing countries could face more poverty with a “universal vegetarianism”.

 

But if we all stop consuming meat, the effects on health would be varied .

The Springmann study showed that if we were all vegetarians by 2050, we would see an overall reduction in mortality from 6% to 10% , thanks to the decrease in coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some types of cancer.

Half of these results are due to a reduction in red meat intake. The other part would be a reduction of calories and an increase of intake of fruits and vegetables.

And a world vegan diet would further expand these benefits, because according to research, a vegetarian diet would prevent one or 7 million deaths a year , while if it were vegan, the figure would rise to 8 million.

Fewer people with chronic diseases related to food would mean a reduction in the medical bill, which would generate savings of between 2% and 3% of the global gross domestic product.

But for this to happen it would be necessary to find appropriate substitutes from the nutritional point of view, especially for the more than 2 billion undernourished people around the world.

Foods of animal origin have more nutrients per calorie than certain grains .

“Vegetarianism on a global scale could create a health crisis in the developing world, because where would we find those micronutrients?” Benton asks.

With moderation

Happily, the whole world does not need to adopt vegetarianism or veganism.

The key is to consume smaller portions of meat with a moderate frequency .

A recent study concluded that if the United Kingdom adopts the dietary recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO), its emissions of greenhouse gases would fall by 17%, a percentage that would drop by another 40% if its inhabitants avoided products of origin animal and processed foods.

“These are small changes that consumers would hardly notice, it would not be something like being vegetarian versus being a carnivore,” explains Jarvis.

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