Sensible Union Minister Jairam Ramesh urge to stop eating beef

published on November 19, 2009

Stop eating beef to cut emissions, says Jairam

M Madhusudan | New Delhi – Daily Pioneer

Stop eating beef to cut emissions: That was the suggestion mooted out by Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to major beef-consuming nations on Thursday from a UN forum.

“You may laugh at it. But the solution to cut emissions is to stop eating beef. It leads to emission of methane (CH4) that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But the best thing for us, India, is we are not a beef-eating nation,” he said, while speaking after the release of the United Nation’s Population Fund’s (UNFPA) report: State of World Population 2009 — Facing A Changing World: Women, Population and Climate.

Ramesh’s suggestion comes amid ever-growing concerns worldwide over livestock methane adding to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and countries like Germany and Australia discouraging its consumption.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, livestock produces 18 per cent of the total GHG emissions, which is even more than the transportation sector.

The simple reasoning: Less consumption of beef means its less production. The cow contributes to GHG emissions by way of producing methane in burps and dung, mostly due to the soyabean and corn in livestock. However, according to various researches, the bigger issue is that the around one billion cattle in the world need 17 times as much land, 26 times water, 20 times fossil fuels, and 6 times as many chemicals. In fact, producing a kilogram of beef takes up seven times more farmland than that needed vis-à-vis chicken.

The United States, which is yet to make a commitment on emission reductions despite being the biggest emitter, leads the pack of the highest beef consumers in the world. According to the statistics of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and US Dept of Agriculture (USDA), beef consumption in the US in 2009 stood at 12,554 million tonnes (current working estimate — CWE), which is nearly 25 per cent more than what the European Union nations consumed.

Intriguingly, though Ramesh may have put forth his advise, India’s own livestock is pegged at a whopping over 48 crore, arguably the largest in the world. Researches by scientists at the Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre have shown that together the livestock emits nearly 12 million tonnes of methane annually.

Moreover, a surprising fact is that Indians consume more beef than their counterparts across the borders. FAS/USDA data for the year 2009 pegs the consumption of beef by India at 1,875 MT, CWE. Pakistan on the other hand consumed 1,155 MT, CWE. India’s larger population could be a factor, observers said. According to different researches, reducing beef and pork intake would create a new carbon sink, as vegetation would thrive on unused farmland. Millions of tonnes of methane would be saved every year due to reduced farm emissions.

The simple reason

Less consumption of beef means its less production. Cow contributes to GHG emissions by producing methane in burps and dung, mostly due to soyabean and corn in livestock. However, according to various researches, the bigger issue is that around 1 billion cattle in the world need 17 times as much land, 26 times water, 20 times fossil fuels, and 6 times as many chemicals. In fact, producing one kg beef takes seven times more farmland than that needed vis-a-vis chicken.

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