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Factoring meat into our carbon footprint

By Brian Sherman - posted Monday, 30 July 2007

The debate about climate change has been raging for a few years now and it is certainly beginning to heat up. The sceptics are slowly being muffled by the overwhelming scientific evidence. In Australia, television shows such as Eco House Challenge and Carbon Cops have hit the screens and public protests with many thousands of people have hit the streets. Politicians are clamouring to be seen as having a solution to the climate change problem. Business and legal communities are discussing carbon trading and the effects that climate change is going to have on their bottom lines.

In order to combat the dire predictions of climate change, we are being told by the media, the government and NGO’s alike that we must all change our lifestyles. We are told to drive less, use less water, turn off the lights, compost, buy new light bulbs, buy locally grown food, plant trees, offset our carbon emissions, and the list goes on.

However, there is one simple thing which isn’t being mentioned in the global warming debate. Our diets.


Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory identified agriculture as responsible for almost 20 per cent of net national greenhouse emissions in 2001. On average Australians eat over 70 kilograms of meat per person each year. Cut out beef from your diet and you'll save 1.45 tonnes of greenhouse gas a year.

By way of comparison, if you were to switch from a normal sedan car to a hybrid car you would reduce your annual emissions by only just over 1 tonne. If you reduced your dairy intake by just 2 cups of milk a week, you would save 250kg of greenhouse pollution in a year.

These statistics show that reducing your meat and dairy consumption or, even better, committing to a vegetarian or vegan diet, is the easiest thing every one of us can do to address global warming. The time has come to factor meat into our carbon footprint.

A few years ago, I went to visit a factory farm for pigs and it was one of the saddest experiences of my life. Factory farms are beyond description. I’m not particularly religious but these factory farms seem to me “ungodly”. It’s the only word I can use to describe the deprivation enforced by man on these poor beings.

Farming in Australia, and across the world, has changed dramatically. Long gone are the days of the Old McDonalds farm with cows, chickens and pigs grazing happily on green grass in front of a picturesque barn. In factory farms today, billions of animals are suffering in ways that many of us find too horrible to imagine or confront. Voiceless’s primary aim is to “lift the veil of secrecy” about what goes on in Australia’s factory farms.

More than half a billion animals, mainly pigs, cows and chickens, in Australia each year are raised in conditions in which many cannot exercise their most basic instincts. Approximately 335,000 female pigs are continually impregnated and confined inside sheds. Sixty-two per cent live in “sow crates” in which they can barely take a step forward or a step back, for part of their reproductive cycle.


Their feathered cousins, about 10 million “battery” hens, fare little better, They spend their lives in barren wire cages, with less than an A4 size piece of paper each in which to move. These birds, who are often debeaked without pain relief, spend their life standing on steel bars as if they were mere egg-laying machines.

Are factory farms the way of the future? With the increasing income of many nations today, there is a growing and unprecedented demand for animal products. A United Nations report states that “the global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector”. Global meat production is projected to double over the next 40 years. Demand for milk and eggs is also set to increase.

Greater demand leads to further intensification of processes to get the animal from the factory to the plate in the most economical way. The lower the cost to the consumer, the higher the cost to the animal. Ultimately the animal pays the price.

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Extracted from Brian Sherman’s speech delivered at 2nd Annual Vegan Expo, Cool the Planet - Bite by Bite on Sunday July 22, 2007.

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About the Author

Brian Sherman AM is co-founder and co-director, with his daughter Ondine, of Voiceless, the fund for animals.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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