How environmentally friendly is veganism?
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For anyone who has ever looked into veganism, however briefly, it is no secret that the voices arguing for and against cutting out meat, fish and dairy are often rather passionate and rather polarised. Yet, in terms of the environmental impact, research largely points towards the positive influence of vegan diets.
While many are quick to criticise the vegan lifestyle, there is no denying its rise in popularity; from 2006 – 2016, it is estimated that the number of people following a vegan diet in Britain rose from 150,000 to 540,000. As well as for animal rights and health reasons, one of the most common reasons for going vegan is the environmental impact.
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Veganism offers real potential to improve some of the world’s major environmental issues. For example, the production of vegan foods requires much lower quantities of crops and water which reduces carbon footprints.
Veganism may not be for everybody, but it is clear that the world’s current level of meat consumption needs to be addressed.
The world’s meat production has quadrupled since the 1960s. The global population has doubled since this period which has likely contributed in part to the rise in meat production. However, as the rises of population and meat are disproportionate, this suggests that a general change in global eating habits could also be a significant factor.
The rapid rise in meat consumption over recent decades is causing widespread issues in nature. A 2018 report by WWF highlighted some particularly concerning statistics, such as the findings that 60% of animal populations have been lost since 1970.
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The impact of meat consumption on the animal kingdom goes much further than the killing of animals for food; issues can start much earlier in the meat-production process as the growth of grain for farmed animals is requiring vast amounts of space. With the increasing demand for meat comes an increasing need for space in which to grow the animal feed.
To make space for the growing of grain, drastic actions can sometimes be taken such as deforestation, which destroys habitats and can harm animals in the process.
While vegetarianism could help to reduce the need for farm space to grow grain for meat cows, it should be acknowledged that the dairy industry also poses a number of issues for the environment.
With around 270 million dairy cows in the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that over two thirds of agricultural land globally is used for maintaining livestock such as beef and dairy cows.
Additionally, a large amount of greenhouse gases are emitted by dairy cows and dairy production can lead to water pollution and soil degradation when badly managed.
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As well as the meat and dairy industries, the fishing industry is also contributing to environmental issues. In a number of aquatic systems, it’s been found that overfishing has been one of the main causes of ecosystem collapse.
Additionally, some fishing practices like dredging, seafloor trawling and blast fishing (a technique sometimes used in tropical regions) are destroying aquatic habitats, reducing water quality and causing unnecessary harm to aquatic wildlife.
If more people took up veganism, the environmental issues that are largely caused by the meat, dairy and fish industries could be reduced.
It is important to note, however, that for some people the vegan diet may be too restrictive or controlled and it will not suit everybody. You can still make your diet more environmentally-friendly by slightly reducing your meat, fish and dairy intake and buying ethically-sourced produce.
Co-op works hard to ensure their meat, fish and dairy products are as high-quality, sustainable and kind to the environment as possible. You can reduce your diet’s impact on the environment by swapping your usual products for alternatives which are more ethically sourced, such as Co-op’s fish which is sourced in a way that makes minimal marine impact.
But, if you decide that you would like to try out veganism and you approach the diet with a healthy and informed attitude, the change in your eating habits would be a small step in addressing the huge issues facing the natural world today.
Co-op is committed to ethical trading. Find out more here.
Information on Co-op's vegan products can be found here.
Students get 10% off at Co-op with a Totum or NUS extra card. Find your local Co-op here.
For more inspiration from Co-op throughout the year follow @coopukfood
To find out more about World Vegan Day, visit the Vegan Society’s website here.