The recent closures of meat-packing plants in Alberta due to COVID-19 will bring grave socioeconomic impacts on workers and the meat sector. The closures of the Cargill and JBS plants in High River and Brooks, respectively, make up 70 per cent of Canada’s beef-processing capabilities.
The federal government has responded by increasing meat inspectors and decreasing restrictions on interprovincial meat exports. Although these measures may lessen the ripple effect on meat supply and prices in Canada in the short-term, they sadly will not impact emissions from our livestock sector.
These missed opportunities are unfortunate given these recent events represent an opportunity to change Canada’s practices in agriculture to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, Canada’s agricultural sector accounts for approximately 10 per cent of its overall greenhouse gases emissions. Of this 10 per cent, about 40 per cent comes from livestock. The remaining sources are from manure (about 10 per cent to 15 per cent); and nitrous oxide from soils (about 40 per cent). It follows that if Canada is serious about reducing its agricultural emissions, it must aggressively tackle emissions from livestock, most of which is produced from livestock digestion.
The Canadian government must use this crisis to leapfrog into more sustainable and local food production systems. Instead of having an export-based model, Canada must transform our model so that it can meet national demands and needs.
In its 2017 federal budget, the government set as a goal to export at least $75 billion annually by 2025, a massive increase from its 2016 level of $56 billion.
Several initiatives in Nordic countries are encouraging citizens to reduce their meat consumption. For example, the Swedish government and some supermarkets are pushing lower intake of meat and promoting plant-based alternatives; while school cafeterias are offering meatless meals. More specifically on greenhouse gases, Sweden’s 2016 Food Strategy calls on reducing the effects of livestock production on climate. Even investment funds have started to urge food producers to develop alternative plant-based sources.
What people are reading
Perhaps Canada can learn from these measures brought forward by industries and governments. We can seize the opportunity to tackle our present health-environment nexus with “two birds with one stone.” We already have a step in the right direction with Canada’s 2019 Dietary Guidelines,which encourages Canadians to eat more plant-based foods.
Of course, the greenhouse gas emissions avoided from rethinking our meat-intensive diet would outweigh the combined short-term technofixes to beef production facilities, not to mention lessen the impact on our health, waterways, energy usage and biodiversity.
With government control on
With government control on the rise, now would be the time to focus on more environmentally friendly meat production. Again, the "silvopasture" idea could do good for the prairies, as it would at least allow agriculture to coexist with forestry.
Bo Fredvik’s excellent
Bo Fredvik’s excellent article on the “contribution” of the meat industry to greenhouse gases deserves the widest possible circulation. It can be argued that the total environmental impact of the meat industry is as great as the oil industry.
In fact, a landmark article by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, published by the Worldwatch Institute journal in October 2009, brings a great deal of data to bear on its argument that at least half of human-caused greenhouse gasses can be attributed to meat production. The article, along with supporting evidence, plus other related articles, can be found on the “Chomping Climate Change” website.
But what about the animals, themselves, slaughtered in their multiple millions in Canada and elsewhere (also killed for “sport” and fur)? Is not this current tragic period a good time to rethink the moral and environmental impact of all this killing? Indeed, can we overcome the carnivorous culture in which most of us were brought up?
In 1906, Upton Sinclair exposed the
terror inflicted on the animals in the Chicago slaughter industry in his super-realistic novel “The Jungle.” Today, we undoubtedly kill many more sentient beings to meet an ever-growing, insatiable world-wide demand.
In the sense that we — also animals in the web of life — are composed of the same basic materials that constitute “life,” any one of us could in a certain sense have been the animals we eat. People don’t think about this when they spend a few dollars to buy what seems like an endless supply of “meat” — fellow creatures, recently born into the world, not knowing the cruel fate that awaits them.
In her moving song “Woodstock,” Joni Mitchell describes us as “Stardust,” in effect children of the universe, as are all living beings on Earth. And in relation to this, very few of us are really conscious in our everyday lives that the basic foods on which we and all other animals depend are gifts of the universe through photosynthesis. What we are in effect offered by the universe is a plant-based, vegan, means of existence.
Recently, 180 elected government leaders, as well as business and union leaders, NGOs, and activists from eleven European countries signed a letter supporting green, low carbon, post-Coronavirus economies. Moving towards plant-based nutrition in place of meat is crucial if we are to heal the Earth and move away from the destruction predicted by climate change.
Finally, I am with the philosopher Plutarch when he says: “But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”
European leaders’ letter —
Plutarch quote —