Cattle play a crucial role in the well-being of the planet, the economy, and society, according to a top research scientist and expert in the area of sustainable agriculture who says the anti-meat campaign has not considered the "unintended consequences" of eliminating cattle farming.
It is true that cattle contribute to increased levels of greenhouse gases and global warming through the emission of methane and nitrous oxide, acknowledges Taro Takahashi, a research scientist in the area of sustainable agriculture sciences and director of Graduate Studies at the Bristol Veterinary School at the University of Bristol.
“Methane comes from the burping of cows — it comes from their mouths and leads to global warming, while Nitrous Oxide is emitted into the environment through cattle urine,” explains Mr Takahashi, one of several agribusiness experts participating in a series of summer webinars organised by the educational body Agri Aware and the firm Alltech Ireland, which delivers more sustainable solutions for agriculture.
However, he argues, because we cannot prevent cows from breathing or urinating, we can never reduce their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions to zero — but it can be reduced through research, says Mr Takahashi, who on July 14 next will give his talk Cows: Why a Sustainable Planet Needs Them as part of the AgCredible Shed Talks summer webinar series which is aimed at highlighting agriculture’s crucial role in securing a sustainable future for the planet.
The current anti-meat debate does not envisage the unintended consequences of eliminating cattle from the world, he warns, adding that for example, cattle are crucial to soil fertility and the health of the economy.
“Cattle urine and dung acts as a very good fertiliser for soil. We didn’t have artificial fertiliser until the 19th century and were very reliant on animal and human manure to fertilise the soil.
“Our soil fertility today is very much a legacy of animal farming in the past and if we suddenly eliminate cattle we don’t know if the soil can stay healthy and well-fertilised.
“If we all became vegan, there would be no cattle to fertilise the soil and we could end up with very infertile soil. In the long-term we may not have enough fertilised soil to support a plant-based diet.” Secondly, he warns, while the consumption of beef is a greater environmental pollutant than a plant-based diet, we need less of it - cattle meat is more nutritious in terms of vitamins and minerals than a plant-based diet, he says.
“Comparisons of meat and plant-based diets in the media are not comparing ‘apples to apples’ because a smaller amount of meat is required to provide essential nutrients than in a plant-based diet. My view is that beef is not as polluting as it is portrayed at the moment.” Thirdly, he believes the elimination of cattle farming would have massive knock-on effects in terms of unemployment and vanishing income in the agri-sector, the local and wider economy and society, as well as the need to find a new use for the subsequently-unused grasslands, whose soil would not necessarily successfully support crops.
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