ENVIRONMENT: Load your plate with veggies. It could be a simple way to save the planet from global warming, according to some experts. HEMA VIJAY writes

Can the food that we load our plates with actually affect climate? Surprisingly, the answer is “Yes”. What this means is, it's time we did our bit to save the planet from global warming by simply going vegetarian!

Did you know that rearing livestock for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the fuel guzzling cars and trucks in the world put together? Consider this. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that direct emissions from meat production account for 18 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for global warming. Apparently, the livestock industry generates 37 per cent of the total methane (a gas which is 22 times more powerful than carbon-dioxide in warming the globe) in the air.

Besides this direct impact, much of the environmental damage that our planet is now reeling under can be attributed to the livestock industry. The World Watch issue (July/August 2004) concludes: The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the future of the globe — deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, destabilisation of communities and the spread of disease.

How does this happen? Explains P. Sudhakar, joint director, CPR Environment Education Centre, “Ruminant animals like cattle produce methane (a powerful global warming gas) during their digestive process. Also, these animals require vast quantities of fodder for their growth, which in turn depletes the land and water resources available in the world”.

Besides, meat eating indirectly degrades the environment, because forests are destroyed for cattle ranching. “As of 2004, nearly three million acres of Amazonian rainforests have been converted into soy farms to feed chicken and other animals meant for Western markets,” Sudhakar informs. The Indian situation is more pathetic, considering that no such survey has been attempted so far. Further, more fossil fuel is consumed to produce and transport animal-based foods.

“Meanwhile, 15 of the world's 17 major ocean fisheries are either depleted or overexploited, which in turn jeopardises the oceanic ecosystems,” points out environmental consultant, K. Rangaswamy.

According to the American Dietetic Association, ‘a vegetarian diet can provide all the nutrients required by man, besides actively promoting health. Fruits, vegetables, greens, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and lentils can make a healthy meal, the ADA states. And it is a myth that only meat eaters develop strength and stamina. Vegans include legions of greats in every field from scientists and statesmen to athletes — Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Alva Edison, Viswanathan Anand, Olympic swimmer Murray Rose, and tennis ace Peter Burwash to name a few. Then, of course, it is a medical fact that a vegan diet cuts the risk of heart disease, blood pressure, osteoporosis, obesity, constipation and even cancer (especially cancers of the breast, prostate and colon).

But forget the ethics and the health benefits of going veg. Leave out the meat from your plate, just so that we pass on a liveable planet to our kids.

WARNING BELL

* Rearing livestock for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the fuel guzzling cars and trucks in the world put together!

* The livestock industry is a prime driver behind environmental damages like deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, etc.

* Drain on water: 3900 litres of water are required to produce one kilogram of chicken while 900 litres of water are sufficient for one kilogram of grain.

* It also takes far more fossil fuel to produce and transport animal based foods.

* Major ocean fisheries are now depleted or overexploited, which threatens the oceanic ecosystem.