Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
28 March 2014
The meat industry and me

The meat industry and me

This month, for the first time in seven years, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will release a report on the impact of emissions on the earth’s climate. The report is expected to contain information on how climate change will affect economies, security and supply chains – and it is unlikely to make for cheery reading.

Amongst other facts, a draft version of the report estimated that global crop yields will decline by up to two per cent every ten years for the rest of the century.

There is no doubt that as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, humanity will find it increasingly difficult to source enough food and clean drinking water to sustain a growing global population. 

I recently read Under the Skin, a book by Michael Faber (recently released as a film starring Scarlett Johansson), which tells the sinister story of Isserley, an alien sent to earth to pick up muscular male hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands.

Isserley engages the men in conversation before knocking them out with poison, and taking them back to a slaughterhouse, where they are fattened up, killed and sent back to the alien home planet to be eaten.

The natural environment in the aliens’ home world has been destroyed, with humans seen as a kind of delicacy. It is not so much sci-fi as an allegory of the way humans treat nature, and of meat eating in particular.

At first Isserley views humans as a farmer views their livestock and nothing more, before her views begin to change and she starts to see people as, well, people.

The story made me think more carefully about the way I treat animals, and whether I can justify eating meat at all. I am not sure I can.

But, apart from moral questions, the upcoming IPCC report could provide another strong argument in favour of vegetarianism.

A 2006 UN report, entitled ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’, assessed the effect of livestock on the environment. It found that the global livestock sector was responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent – more than transport. It produces 37 per cent of anthropogenic methane and 65 per cent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide. It is also a driver of deforestation.

In short, it takes more land to produce meat than crops, while rearing livestock contributes hugely to climate change.

As such, we may not need an alien with a taste for humans to tell us to cut down on the amount of meat we consume – the evidence is already right here on earth.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top