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Meat production and climate change

Will the future hold a high-tech and intensive meat production or a wider spread of ecological suppliers? Will the consumer trend be to eat more meat or none at all? An ethics survey of meat production and its impact on climate change seeks to lay bare tomorrow's meat supply challenges and political decisions.

Meat production, which is mainly beef production, is responsible for one fifth of all greenhouse gas emission, according to a 2006 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO. Reduction of the meat industry emissions ought to be a prioritized issue for the political sphere, but quiet prevails.

Anders Nordgren, Professor of bioethics at the Center for Applied Ethics, CTE, will work jointly with Postdoctoral Fellow Henrik Lerner at the Tema Health and Society, Dept of Medical and Health Sciences, and a research team from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU. Together they will explore the current theories about the impact of the meat industry on our global environment.

"One can distinguish four main schools of thought in this debate," Anders Nordgren explains.

"One is that a high-tech and intensive meat production will pull down emission levels. A second is that an extensive and ecological production can reduce levels because grazing will replace concentrated fodder. A third idea is to eliminate meat production entirely and promote vegetarianism, and finally a futuristic school promotes the idea of "meat without animals", a laboratory-based and stem-cell-generated meat production."

All these methods have drawbacks. For instance, development of the "meat without animals" option is not just around the corner, and emissions need to be cut now. It is doubtful that the world population will embrace vegetarianism. The global trend is just the opposite.

Slashing meat production can cause political snags. In Sweden, as in the rest of the European Union, the dominant political policy has long been an active subsidy of meat producers.

"Food issues are closely related to lifestyle, and people are pretty touchy about that," Anders Nordgren says.

The first step in the project (which is backed by the Swedish Research Council), will be to compile an overview of pertinent technical literature. Next step is to interview key representatives. These include the Federation of Swedish Farmers, LRF, ecological producers, politicians, public sector organizations and businesses, all with vested interests in environmental issues.

The project has a three-year horizon. The goal is to find a viable platform for policy decisions.


2008-11-26




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Last updated: 2009-06-03