Print Version    Email to Friend
Meat eating tigers and people

In his encyclical, Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’) Pope Francis reminds us, “Our sister (planet earth) now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will” (No.2).

In the next paragraph he tells us that he would like to enter into dialogue with all the people of our common home in order to determine what needs to be done. The pope is aware that this will call for serious sacrifices, which amount to changing our modes of production and consumption, and opting for an ecological conversion (No.5).

One of the most difficult conservations which must take place is about the amount of meat which many of us eat each day. In November 2015, the World Health Organisation warned us that eating too much meat can cause cancer and heart disease.

Our human body is not designed for a heavy meat diet. Our hands are flat, which facilitates pulling fruit and nuts from trees. Our teeth are designed to grind plant material. Our intestines are 12 times longer than our trunks in order that they can absorb nutrients slowly.

Finally, our stomachs and liver have a low concentrate and tolerance for acids, which are needed to digest animal protein. Contrast that with a tiger—a true carnivore. Their intestine is only three times longer than their trunk.

Their stomach and liver have high concentrates of uric acid to help them break down animal protein. So, even if we do not become vegetarians, meat should only be a small portion of our diet.

We might think that this generation is merely following the tradition of our ancestors when it comes to eating meat. In reality, the global meat industry has grown dramatically in recent decades.

Between 1963 and 2014, meat production globally has grown from 78 million tons to 300 million tons. This amounts to a fourfold increase. With growing prosperity in Asia, meat-eating has increased in China and India.

Experts believe that with population increase and a growing appetite for meat, production will increase by 75 per cent by 2050.

According to Damien Carrington from The Guardian, to reach a healthy level of meat consumption, citizens of the United States of America would have to cut their meat consumption by two-thirds, while Britain should be eating half as much meat as it does.

Our current effort to produce meat takes a huge toll on our environment. A total of 40 per cent of the world’s land surface is used to feed its population, which now stands at 7.2 billion.

Much of this land is grazed by cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens. One third of the world’s fresh water is used in food production.

The 75 per cent increase, which is expected to take place by 2015, would be disastrous, making it impossible to keep the increase in the average global temperature to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

While people are aware that transport and industry contribute hugely to climate change, most people do not realise that agriculture is responsible for 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Fifteen per cent of greenhouse gases are attributed to the meat industry globally, because ruminants produce methane, which is 20 times more heat retentive than carbon dioxide. This is more than all the cars, trains, planes and ships combined.

We are expected to reduce greenhouse gases in response to the agreement made at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015.

I have pointed out on numerous occasions the contradiction in the commitment made in Paris by the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, to be actively involved in reducing greenhouse gases, while at the same time planning to increase the country’s bovine heard by 300,000. It simply does not stack up.

An analysis from Glasgow University and the thinktank, Chatham House, found that in 12 countries, measures to change peoples’ behaviour can be acceptable to the public if they are seen to promote the common good.

Of course, if there was a concerted effort to begin to tax our use of meat, the farming lobby and large multinational agribusiness corporations would be up in arms. The average subsidy on livestock in 13 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in 2013 was US$190 ($1,472) per cow.

There would need to be a huge education campaign to support initiatives such as cutting subsidies to livestock farmers. Farmers would also have to be given support to diversify their food production.


• Father Sean McDonagh