A Stern lesson? - a response to an article by Nicholas Stern

The Times has run with and interview with Nicholas Stern (this story is now behind the paywall placed on The Times website) on the dietary options that may be considered in terms of climate change. Sir Nicholas is reportedly concerned over the use of resources needed for meat production. I’m sure that this has been completely thought through but I have my doubts.

The Times article

The UK’s agricultural land is dominated by grassland. Over 70% is grass. And the best use for this is ruminant production (using the land to farm grazing animals): milk, beef and lamb. If we don’t factor these into the debate we ignore compromising arguments on land use. Without, for example, uplands being grazed by livestock the landscape of the Lake District will change potentially effecting the tourism appeal. Moreover, with a Goverment target to increase farmland birds, removal of grazing animals will affect ground nesting species.

If we have to live within our own resources, perhaps utilising grass-based systems has much to offer. Those ruminants (grazing animals that chew the cud) are also consuming over 2 million tonnes of waste human food which would otherwise be headed for landfill where they would be degraded into methane wastefully rather than being turned into highly nutritious human food. Of course, we can alter rumen activity to reduce methane production but that does mean feeding more grains and cereals that could be used for humans directly. Sir Nicholas makes sweeping statements about wasteful use of water. I don’t know if he’s researched this for the UK or looked out of the window but those self same grasslands are heavily watered and the off take represented by livestock products are minimal.

The UK dairy industry can show reductions in GHG that match any other business sector. Funnily enough the same is true in the USA. Comparing 1944 with 2007, the US dairy industry uses 10% of the land, 21% of the cows and 43% of the methane.

If Sir Nicholas really wants to debate allocation of land and its use, why not look at lifestyle choices, with one million horses in the UK, they are the equivalent of 300,000 producing cows. Which should we, as a society, have?

Posted by Chris on 27 October 2009
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