By Mark Fergusson
Chief Vegetarian Officer, Chief Executive Officer
Down to Earth ALL VEGETARIAN Organic & Natural

‘Sustainability’ is the buzz word on everybody’s mind when the question of the future of our planet is raised. It has become a common strategy and lucrative business for companies to offer ‘sustainable’ or ‘green’ products and services. However, not all these solutions are as useful, or as ‘sustainable’ as one might think.

For example, according to the World Bank, the increasing trend towards growing corn for ethanol, which is believed to be a more sustainable fuel, means that land normally used to grow crops for food is being converted to grow crops for fuel. As a result, food prices around the world are increasing as more and more farmland is also being used to grow crops for plant-based plastics, putting additional pressure on world food supply.

Another example to consider is that over 70 per cent of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise animals for food and much of this land is also being used to grow animal feed crops. These crops are then fed to livestock animals that often live under crowded, filthy and torturous conditions. This entire process is known as ‘cycling’, where the food crops grown on agricultural land is first consumed by the animals, and then humans consume the meat from the livestock living on the same farmland. A question for society to consider is whether cycling food in such a way is sustainable for the agricultural land because copious amounts of natural resources are used up in this process.

In 2006, the United Nations’ report on global warming stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Harmful gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide make up a large part of the emissions released from manure.

Globally, as more water is allotted for raising cattle, pigs and chickens instead of producing crops for direct human consumption, millions of wells are going dry. Countries such as India, China, the U.S. and some countries in North Africa have freshwater deficits because the rate at which water is being pumped from the aquifers is faster than the rate at which rain can replenish them.

In the U.S., the great Ogallala aquifer, a resource that took a half million years to accumulate, will be depleted in less than 40 years at the current rate water is being used for corn crops for animal feed and ethanol. The fact is that it takes thousands more litres of water to produce a kilogramme of beef than to grow the same quantity of grains or vegetables.

Water depletion is not the only major concern of livestock farming; there is also a major concern with manure, antibiotics and hormones being released into our water system. Another example is that fish farms release chemicals and parasites that threaten natural wildlife.

Another by-product of livestock farming is top soil erosion, which is the process whereby the most organic layer of soil is washed or blown away with excessive farming and irrigation. In the U.S., 85 per cent of top soil erosion is due to raising animals for food and without this most nutritious top soil layer, little to no plant life can grow in the future.

The root cause of society’s problems is the unsustainable use of natural resources. A modest household consuming a meat-based diet uses far more natural resources than a vegetarian household. Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet; while the figure for plant-based diet is higher than meat-based, there is an increasing trend towards meat consumption which is not sustainable.

A meat-based diet is one of the leading causes of damage to the environment because it results in air pollution, water resource depletion and pollution, soil erosion, and the overuse of resources. In contrast, a plant-based diet has lower environmental impact because it requires fewer natural resources to sustain. Nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for daily human sustenance; eating meat is an unsustainable luxury rather than a necessity.

A vegetarian diet contributes to a cleaner and safer environment and better health while causing less pain and suffering for innocent animals. If every individual adopted a vegetarian diet, it would be a small but very significant contribution towards keeping our planet sustainable for future generations.