This is the unedited column I wrote for today's Manchester Evening News:
As you read today’s paper you may be having something to eat or thinking about your next meal. But have you thought about where that food comes from and the impact on the environment, your health and wallet? Your next meal will probably contain meat or fish. We think of that as normal, but we do eat far too much meat and fish in the UK and it’s having a huge impact on the environment; 18% of greenhouse gases come from meat production! Have you considered having a ‘Meat Free Monday?’
Vegetarian and Vegan diets have only a fraction of the carbon emissions of meat-based diets. The UN has said that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport. It also says meat production is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems. We can tackle climate change by simply eating less meat. If everyone in the UK gave up meat for one day we could save the equivalent in carbon emissions of taking 5 million cars off the road. The well respected Environmental Economist and former Government Advisor Lord Stern has suggested eating meat could become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving because of the impact it has on global warming.
The Liberal Democrat Chair of the Development Select Committee has said meat should become an occasional product rather than an everyday staple. He warned that it is pushing up food costs especially in developing nations and the need for pasture for cattle feed and ranching is fuelling deforestation. In fact meat production is responsible for 70% of the Amazon deforestation. Poorer countries are producing grain for animals rather than for the nourishment of their own people. Over the last 50 years the amount of meat produced has quadrupled while the global population has doubled; we can’t go on like this. If we continue to rely on the global meat market we run the real risk of food shortages in the future. Reducing our meat consumption would ease this.
There is an enormous amount of evidence to show that eating less meat is healthier and helps prevent disease. Oxford University showed that eating meat no more than three times a week could prevent 31,000 deaths from heart disease, 9,000 deaths from cancer and 5,000 deaths from stroke, as well as saving the NHS £1.2 billion in costs each year. Eating some meat can be healthy but sadly we’re eating too much poor quality processed meat which is really bad for us. The meat we eat nowadays has been farmed on industrial scales and the nutritional benefits are reduced. A standard supermarket chicken now contains significantly less protein and more than twice as much fat as in 1970.
Eating less meat will save you money too. The average family spends about £13 a week on meat and fish but just £6.70 on fresh vegetables and fresh fruit. We’ve seen the cost of meat rise by 10% in just the last 6 years. A meat-free diet is significantly cheaper and is just as nutritious. In fact most people in the world live on a meat-free diet made up of cheap foods like rice, corn and beans.
Most of the meat we eat is farmed in intensive factory farms. 2.5 million animals are slaughtered every day to feed our country. These intensively reared animals are often in poor health because of the unnatural living conditions. By eating less meat we can show these animals compassion and stop their suffering. We are also wiping out fish stocks because of intensive overfishing. Some people think there may not be any wild fish in the oceans by 2050 if we do not stop overfishing and eating so much fish.
Last year I put forward a Council motion calling for Manchester City Council to acknowledge that it has a huge part to play in tackling Climate change and creating a sustainable green City. I suggested the Council can do this by removing meat from the menu in council catering and services one day a week. The Council has little authority to help residents become more ‘green’ if they are not promoting sustainability in everything they do. Sadly this proposal was thrown out by Labour Councillors; despite some having promised to support Meat Free Mondays in elections just a few months before. Manchester’s Lib Dem MP John Leech has taken the idea to Parliament and is calling for meat-free Mondays in all cafeterias in the Houses of Parliament.
The Council and Parliament should be leading from the front and showing that it really is very easy to give up meat for one day a week. We should encourage all schools, Council partners, and businesses in Manchester to follow suit so that we can change the culture towards meat and fish. We should also introduce clear standards so that food paid for by public money is compassionate to the environment and our health and reduces reliance on meat, dairy and fish. Having a ‘Meat Free Monday’ or meat-free day is not about everyone becoming vegetarian or restricting people’s choice but showing we can make huge positive difference on our own and as a society by slightly changing our habits.
For more information and meat-free recipes go to www.meatfreemondays.com and www.vegsoc.org