Could stopping producing meat save the planet?

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[EN VIDÉO] The (excess) consumption of meat, bad for the climate
Livestock is a sector that emits many greenhouse gases. It is also responsible for much of the deforestation. Thus, meat consumption, especially in excess, seems to be bad for the climate.

In metropolitan France, theAgriculture accounts for about 19% emissions in greenhouse gas (Citepa 2021). This is less than the transport sector, which is around 30%. But it’s still substantial. And livestock alone accounts for half of these emissions – 48% against 40% for crops and 12% for machinery associated with the activity. So much for the numbers. It remains to be understood what is hidden behind it and, above all, to what extent it would be possible to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the livestock sector.

Already in 2016, researchers argued that adopting a vegetarian diet globally would reduce food-related emissions by up to two-thirds. And in early 2022,other researchers suggest that a 15-year gradual transition to an animal-free diet could stabilize GHG emissions over the next 30 years. ” All vegetarians in 15 years, it’s impossible”says Marc Benoit, research engineer at the National Institute for Research in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae). “The question we ask ourselves today at Inrae is to know what would be the ideal proportion of cattle in the human diet to answer a certain number of questions. Among which is climate change. »

First of all, let us remember that today there is no doubt that livestock farming has a deleterious effect on the climate. Mainly because it emits a lot of methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas. Hence the increasingly widespread idea of ​​limiting – more or less drastically – its reach.

“Eating animals is also not ideal. We feed five to ten times fewer people with a ruminant than with the cereals and oilseeds that were used to feed the animal., explains Marc Benoit. This explains why, in France, organic consumers use less farmland than conventional consumers. Even though the yields are about 20% lower. “Because consumption of proteins animals is smaller. » There are, therefore, strong arguments in favor of reducing the share of livestock in agriculture.

Yes to creation, but to rational creation

“But if we hope to produce cleaner, pesticide freewithout herbicides, in particular for the main cereal crops, we will have to naturally break the cycles of diseases and pests and, for that, make these crops more complex”, explains Marc Benoit. By lengthening the rotations. And including forage crops. “The best, then, will be to encourage reproduction, herbivores in particular, to improve them. »

We understand better why the Inrae engineer mentioned in the intro, a great one to be found. The calculation was made for the particular case of the Netherlands. The researchers (H. Van Kernebeek and for., 2014) recommend a 12% share of animal protein in the Dutch diet. With less than 12%, local agriculture would occupy more land to feed the same population.

“Overall, the best would be around 25%”, says Marc Benoit. Because the number varies from country to country. “In mountainous regions, the animal is interesting. It takes advantage of pastoral areas in which it is impossible to produce food for humans. » There would thus be, in the world, no less than 1.3 billion hectares of agricultural lands not arable. Surfaces that some call for afforestation. To store a little more carbon.

“It’s a risky bet. Firstly because without animals to maintain these landscapes, the brush will take over., comments to us Marc Benoit. This increases the risk of fire. An already increased risk in the context of global warming. “And we must remember that the biodiversity blooms more in semi-open environments, such as those kept by herbivores. Not in the forests ». Not to mention the social issue: what will become of the tens or even hundreds of millions of creators in these areas?

Reduce our meat consumption to feed everyone with cleaner agriculture

So asking everyone to convert to vegetarianism would not only be impossible, it would also be totally counterproductive. And despite growing environmental, nutritional and even ethical considerations, the share of animal products in the diet of an average Frenchman today remains at 60-70%. “The ideal would probably be to divide meat consumption in Western countries by three or four. would help us to feed everyone with cleaner agriculture. »

In developing countries, the question arises again differently. “In Africa, there are real nutritional challenges”, recalls the Inrae engineer. We cannot lose sight of the fact that, if in the countries of theOECDfarms have an average of 20 hectares per farm worker, “almost 94% of agricultural workers (data CAM) are located in Africa or Asia, on farms of less than 2 hectares. » Very small farms that integrate a minimum of breeding. “Because if livestock can have a deleterious effect on the climate, it also provides many services. » The animals, as we have already mentioned, consume the by-products of the farm. They can also, thanks to miniature methanizers, provide the gas that will be used for cooking. Sometimes even the manure – when it is not redistributed in the Earth for fertilizing – used to heat a room or cook. And, above all, in these countries that are much less mechanized than ours, animals provide a valuable help at work.

A perspective that once again allows us to realize that the issue is not simple. In our western countries, meat consumption is excessive. This puts our climate at risk. Removing Playback would help resolve this issue. “But on a global level, there are economic, social, land occupation and service issues that we cannot close the doors to. eyes if we want to do sustainable developmentconcludes Marc Benoit. For each country, it is necessary to work towards an optimal participation of livestock in agricultural activity that allows feeding everyone without deplete resources of the planet. »

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