Drink Wine or Beer for Least Environmental Impact?

Last month I came across this article on treehugger raising the question of whether drinking wine or beer was less harmful environmentally.  When I read the full piece I was a little disappointed as I had imagined it would cover aspects regarding the production – growing conditions, fertiliser use, energy used in wine making versus malting/brewing.  I started to think that vines could be grown locally with few inputs or mechanisation and the wine-making could be achieved with limited energy use whereas growing barley was going to rely on mechanisation, transport, energy for malting/drying and then all the energy to mash and boil.  However, the article covered none of this, the only factors considered were around transportation – of raw ingredients to the production facility and the final transportation to the consumer.  Therefore I thought I’d look a bit further into the subject.

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Meat consumption research – Part 9 Conclusions/Solutions

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Solutions can be divided into what we can do personally as individuals and what can be done at a wider level by corporations, governments and other organisations.

Personal responsibility

To summarise the issues detailed in previous sections, continued human population growth and expanding meat consumption both require expansion of agricultural output. Deteriorating resource and environmental conditions for agriculture and the dangers of rainforest destruction make that expansion difficult to achieve without compounding ecological damage. Western populations have relatively little control over global population growth but certainly have the power to affect meat consumption rates – a relatively small reduction of Western consumption rates could eliminate global growth. Consumers have to become aware of the wider costs that their food choices have in a world with, possibly, billions of similar consumers. With that knowledge, consumers with an interest in environmental protection would have to reject high consumption of meat from modern intensive production. Furthermore, consumers with an interest in animal welfare have to understand that most meat from intensive production systems fail to deliver that welfare due to the conditions in which animals are raised.

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Meat consumption research – Part 8 Ethical considerations

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Fundamental ethics of meat-eating

As discussed in parts 1-4, historically, meat-eating has been a fundamental part of life throughout human history and for our evolutionary ancestors. Indeed, modern humans may never have evolved if it was not for the meat in their diet. In nature, the hunting and consumption of other animals by carnivores and omnivores is part of a survival strategy and philosophical questions regarding the ethics of eating of meat have only been available to relatively modern humans. Before the introduction of agriculture the consumption of animal meat appears to have been almost essential for human life. Therefore, it’s possible that hunter-gatherer humans had a similar relationship and dependence on hunting as carnivores such as the tiger.

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Meat consumption research – Part 7 Other impacts

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Economic factors

The development of the modern agricultural system summarised in part 4 has resulted in an enterprise with some perverse economic realities. Supply has been partly decoupled from demand, prompting over-production. These surpluses have depressed agricultural market prices and subsidised Western farmers have had an unfair advantage over unsupported farmers, often in poorer parts of the world.

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Meat consumption research – Part 6 Impact of meat and diet on human health

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

The Western “killer” diet

Modern food production systems ended millennia of food uncertainty for much of the world’s population. Unfortunately, this security has not reached the poorest billion of population who still struggle to feed themselves due to lack of income or resources. For the richer populations, effective food price deflation has stimulated over-consumption and considerable changes in diet. After years of increasing longevity, life expectancy is starting to retreat as more of the population succumbs to obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

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Meat consumption research – Part 5 Impact on the environment

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

Due to there being fairly extensive information about agriculture’s impact on the environment and my focus on some of the less investigated areas, this section only briefly outlines some of the major environmental impacts.

According to research carried out by FAO (2006), around 70% of the total agricultural land area is used in the raising of livestock. That area accounts for about 30% of the total ice-free land surface. However, much of this land is marginal and is used for grazing and would not be productive for other types of agriculture. Raising of livestock utilises about a third of the total arable land supply for growing of feed-crops. Given these figures, it is clear that continued expansion of the industry presents a challenge in terms of environmental and food supply security as either more land needs to be used or more crops needs to go towards animal feed. Intensive livestock production is still mostly the preserve of the more economically advanced countries and the livestock feed is also mainly produced in OECD countries. Current levels of livestock production let alone expansion look unsustainable due to their dependence on large energy inputs, heavy impact on the environment and dwindling global water security.

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Meat consumption research – Part 4 Industrialisation and modernisation

See Introduction/aim of research for the background to this work.

As the early industrial countries enriched themselves in the 19th century, the spectre of famine gradually diminished with international market-based trading generally guaranteeing food availability. In these societies, eventually even the poorest members came to be able to afford meat regularly. Rising incomes allowed more of society to eat as only the rich had done in the past making elite cuisine more attainable and widespread.

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