Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Wildlife, rainforests and vegetarianism

A few of WLT's supporters have suggested that being vegetarian is a way of saving wildlife and rainforests. As is so often the case, the answers are never that simple.

I was brought up a vegetarian (unusual in the 1940s and 50s), but changed in the 1960s to an omnivore diet. The fact is that while there is no question that we do not need to eat the vast quantities of meat that 'developed' (i.e. rich) societies eat, an omnivore diet actually makes as much sense as a vegetarian diet. Grazing sheep on upland pastures can be an efficient way of maintaining interesting habitats, and even in vegetarian areas of India cows are kept to provide manures.

More controversial is the fact that huge areas of rainforest have been devastated for the production of soya beans, which are among the mainstays of vegetarian and vegan foods. The more responsible soya producers only use organic soya, but even those do often get it from areas that were historically rainforest.

My personal belief is that the answer does not lie in vegetarianism per se, but in eating very limited amounts of high quality (organic, pesticide free, locally produced, cruelty free) meat, and locally produced vegetables when ever possible. But international trade is also important to benefit the poorer parts of the world, so ethically and environmentally friendly rice and other cereals etc should not be ignored.

Unfortunately there is no simple answer, other than simply reducing the size of the human population and its aspirations to ever increasing material wealth.

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