The World Wide Fund for Nature has responded to claims by Banting diet proponent Tim Noakes that eating more meat is better for the environment. The organisation says the human race faces dire consequences as a result of livestock farming.
"The reality is that global demand for meat and dairy products is growing and there is no getting away from the fact that livestock production has significant environmental impacts," the non-governmental organisation wrote in a statement to HuffPost SA.
The way livestock is bred and raised in most areas of the world is threatening global biodiversity because of changes in land use and degradation of the land, the greenhouse gases produced and the increase in water consumption, according to the WWF. It takes 5,000 to 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of red meat compared with 500 to 4,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of wheat, it says.
A recent WWF report on livestock farming examined the impact of eating a meat-based diet.
"In a world where more and more people adopt a Western diet –- one that's high in meat, dairy and processed food –- producing crops to feed our livestock is putting an enormous strain on our natural resources and is a driving force behind wide-scale biodiversity loss. The United Kingdom food supply alone is directly linked to the extinction of an estimated 33 species at home and abroad," the report says.
Noakes previously told HuffPost SA that "the only way we will save the planet is by going back to eating meat" and that "the myth that livestock is driving environmental issues is driven by the fossil-fuel industry and they are very powerful".
He faced widespread criticism as a result, with one respondent saying: "The logical failing of his argument is a feature of an increasingly desperate attitude to defend his position."
However, the WWF says, there are arid regions around the globe where livestock production is less damaging to the environment than crop production.
South Africa has some arable land that is suitable for crop production. But there are large areas, such as our temperate grasslands, that are suited to raising cattle "in a way that is more compatible with the local biodiversity than many other land uses".
In instances such as these, the WWF says, sustainable livestock production can be the best agricultural use of the land and eating a small amount of "range-fed meat is a good food choice for those concerned about the environment".
Read the full response below:
RESPONSE FOR HUFFINGTON POST
The reality is that global demand for meat and dairy products is growing and there is no getting away from the fact that livestock production has significant environmental impacts. At the same time, there are ways of reducing these impacts, particularly if the consumer makes an effort to scrutinise the source of their food and moderate their consumption of meat.
Livestock production, as practised in most regions of the world, threatens global biodiversity due to land-use changes and degradation, the production of greenhouse gases and water consumption. For instance, red meat production requires high volumes of water (1kg of meat takes between 5,000 and 20,000 litres of water whereas to produce 1kg of wheat requires between 500 and 4,000 litres of water).
Many conservation priority ecoregions (such as the Amazon) are impacted by livestock production in significant ways. In some cases, such as in feed production and deforestation, these impacts form a chain of environmental damage that spans the globe.
On the other hand, it is also true that South Africa has limited arable land suitable for crop production and there are large areas (such as our temperate grasslands), which are well suited to raising cattle in a way that is more compatible with the local biodiversity than many other land uses. In this instance, sustainable livestock production is often the best agricultural land use, and in certain circumstances consuming a limited amount of range fed meat is a good food choice for those concerned about the environment.
If you have the privilege of being able to access and afford a wide variety of food, then our advice to consumers who are concerned about their environmental footprint is as follows:
Eat less meat and dairy and reduce your food waste to zero. The milk in the bottom of your cereal bowl has a far higher negative environmental footprint than the carton it came in.
Enjoy other sources of protein, such as beans and nuts.
Buy local. Ask questions about the source of your meat. In South Africa, some retailers are working to implement more stringent standards across the value chain. But imported meat has no such guarantees.