The UN is calling for people to eat less meat, to combat global warming. This is because animals produce more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogramme of food produced than plants, as a rough rule.
This has major problems however:
- This is only a rough rule. Rice causes high methane emissions. Greenhouses (especially in cold climates) cause high emissions (oil consumption to heat them, construction of the greenhouse in the first place etc.). Some vegetables may be transported by plane to get them to markets fresh (high emissions), while meat is frozen and transported by ship (lower emissions). You cannot assume vegetables are low-emission simply because they are vegetables.
- It completely ignores the fact that large areas of land, such as the New Zealand high country, are completely unsuitable for cropping. If you were to crop them (assuming you could get a tractor on the slopes), you would have massive problems with soil erosion and water pollution. However this same land can be grazed extensively by sheep and cattle with far fewer environmental problems. So for much of NZ it is more environmentally friendly to produce meat than vegetables.
- It ignores the relative importance of different kinds of pollution. Are carbon emissions worse than water pollution and soil erosion, or are they less important?
- It could have serious implications for our export sector, if people actually listen and buy less of our meat.
It is unfortunate that the UN, a body which we should be able to trust, can make such flippant recommendations which would have little benefit but a large potential to cause harm.