VSS eNewsletter 1 Nov 2006
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VSS eNewsletter 1 Nov 2006
This past week saw an exchange of letters in TODAY newspaper concerning the role of meat production in environmental destruction. Letter (1) (Mon, 23 Oct) is from VSS president, George Jacobs. Letter (2) (Wed, 25 Oct), by Yuen Xiang Hao, attempts to refute some of the points in George’s letter. Letter (3) is a reply from VSS Exco member Lai Nam Khim, published Sat, 28 Oct. Letters (4) and (5) have yet to be published. They were written by Dr Shawn Lum, a science lecturer at NIE and VP of Nature Society ( Singapore ) and George, respectively. VSS appreciates Yuen Xiang Hao’s willingness to exchange ideas on this important topic. Note: the headlines are by TODAY, not the letter writers.
Letter (1) What meat-eaters, haze have in common
IN THE News Comment “Waiting for clear days” (Oct 19), Professor Ooi Giok Ling
makes many valid points. To clear the haze problem, people throughout the region need to adopt a more cooperative attitude towards nature and our neighbours.
In addition to threatening our health and our economy, the forest fires polluting
our air pose yet another risk: They contribute greatly to the worldwide problem of
global warming, as the fires emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Global warming is fast reaching a tipping point. This issue is brought home by a powerful documentary arriving in Singapore theatres this week: An Inconvenient Truth. The film’s title comes from the fact that if we are serious about global warming, we will need to do some things that are inconvenient, such as reduce our use of fossil fuels.
Another truth that may be inconvenient is that meat production is a very inefficient
use of our resources. We have to feed at least 5kg of food to our fellow animals to obtain just 1kg of meat from their bodies. Meat production’s huge waste of food, water, and fuel worsens global warming. For example, the inefficiency of meat means that much more land must be cleared to grow the food that we feed to those that we later eat.
Furthermore, the solid, liquid, and gaseous excretions of these fellow animals are much greater than all such waste we humans create. Some of the animals’ waste contains methane — a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, reducing our meat consumption, as suggested in the website for An Inconvenient Truth — www.climatecrisis.net/takeaction/whatyoucando/index4.html
— is not really that inconvenient.
Singapore is blessed with a large supply of readily available and affordable vegetarian food at supermarkets, food courts and restaurants. Indeed, even most restaurants that specialise in meat also offer tasty vegetarian options.
Letter (2) Meat-eaters are not the culprits
IN “WHAT meat-eaters, haze have in common” (Oct 23), Mr George Jacobs raises the following objections to eating meat: 1. Meat is inefficient. 2. Meat causes global warming, as meat animals produce methane. Let’s take point 2 first. While it is true that cows produce methane, ice-core studies show that the rise in atmospheric methane began to climb steadily not after the wholesale cultivation of cows,
but after the large-scale cultivation of rice. A brief visit to a rice field will confirm the presence of methane and hydrogen sulphide, as a padi field is in effect a cultivated swamp.
As for point 1, while it’s true that eating cows is less efficient than eating corn, as cows “waste” a lot of energy, cows are not necessarily fed on corn. We feed animals on food that we humans cannot eat, so unless one believes we could replace the
grass in Dutch meadows or alpine slopes with cornfields, meat animals are the only way to turn that energy into energy useful to humans.
Letter (3) Getting to the meat of pastoral land use
IN THE letter “Meat-eaters are not the culprits” (Oct 25), Yuen Xiang Hao admits that meat is a less efficient source of energy, but contends that the animals are fed on “food that we humans cannot eat” and they graze on land not otherwise suitable for cultivation. I am sure many believe likewise, but this is far from the truth.
Grazing land is typically cleared from forests. Forest lands are not “unproductive” — they act as “lungs” of the planet in absorbing carbon dioxide and are important for water retention. Large-scale destruction of forest leads to environment problems such as soil erosion and flooding.
The main reason that there is abundance of meat at relatively affordable prices today is the adoption of intensive farming practices. Cattle now spend minimal time grazing the meadows, and some not at all. They are fattened with grains such as soy, barley, sorghum, corn and oats before they are sent to the slaughterhouse. In addition, poultry and animals like pigs do not feed on grass, but grain.
The fact is, today, more grain is produced for animal feed than for human consumption. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation: “Feed use accounts for nearly 60 per cent of total use of coarse grains.”
Meat production uses up far more land and water to provide the same amount of energy that we could otherwise consume directly from the plants. In addition, the amount of animal waste produced in the process adds to the pollution problem.
Few people are aware of the connection between meat consumption and the environment. There are many resources in our local libraries and online, which the environmentally-conscious reader can look into.
A simple change in our diet — reducing meat consumption — can make a big difference to the environment.
In an age where information is so accessible and with an education that is the envy of much of the world, I still find it surprising how little many of us know about basic – but important – issues. These include knowing about where our food comes from or the causes of global warming, arguably the most serious environment threat facing humankind today.
As a case in point I refer to the letter “Meat-eaters are not the culprits” (Today, 25 October). Without wishing to enter in the debate about the merits of giving up meat in one’s diet, I can say that the writer of the letter either substituted conjecture for fact, or perhaps simply did not have an adequate level of environmental understanding. In either case, I feel that this is a cause for concern with regards to public education, scholarship and general literacy. Here are some well-documented, and readily accessible, facts:
Methane production by livestock is a significant source of greenhouse gases, as is wet rice production. In 2003, livestock “enteric fermentation” (i.e. methane produced in the digestive systems of livestock and released as flatulence) accounted for slightly over 20% of the human-related methane produced in the U.S. (www.epa.gov/methane/sources.html). Meat consumption tends to increase along with rising national average incomes, which implies that more livestock-produced methane may well result in the future.
The claim that “we feed animals on food that we humans cannot eat” shows a misunderstanding of the industrial meat production. Across the world, grain is grown and fed to cattle and other meat sources in ever-increasing amounts. In 2002, Jeremy Rifkin wrote in The Guardian that “the worldwide demand for feed grain continues to grow, as multinational corporations seek to capitalise on the meat demands of affluent countries. Two-thirds of the increases in grain production in the US and Europe between 1950 and 1985, the boom years in agriculture, went to provide feed grain.” (www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,717044,00.html)
And with respect to cows feeding in alpine meadows, research conducted by Swiss ecologists at the University of Basel demonstrated that meadows fertilised by manure produced by a high density of grazing cows led to significant declines in the diversity of flowering plants and butterflies on those meadows.
There is no reason to think that we cannot have a better understanding of how what we use and what we eat impacts the environment. Only an informed consumer is empowered to make rational choices that minimise our impact on our planet as well as benefit our health. I am convinced Singapore can lead the way in scientific and environmental literacy, given our excellent education system and our accessibility to information. Maybe all we need is to do is to make connections between that information and the world around us.
In Meat-eaters are not the culprits, YUEN XIANG HAO paints an out-of-date picture of how we get our meat. Long gone are the days when the animals roamed freely, with chickens strutting around the yard, pecking the ground in search of food.
Nowadays, most of the meat we eat comes from huge factory farms where 1000s of our fellow animals are locked indoors, deprived of anything resembling a natural life. For example, the amount of space given to the average chicken is roughly equivalent to an A4 size piece of paper.
Plus, the chickens' beaks are cut so they don't peck each other, and they are fed growth hormones so they grow quickly. Then, they are sent for slaughter after less than 7 weeks of life. All this crowding, cutting, hormone feeding, and rushing to slaughter means that we have cheap chicken to eat.
Also, in many countries, a significant proportion of the harvest of grains, soy beans and other food crops goes to feed animals whom we later eat. For instance, the Worldwatch Institute, estimates that in the U.S. , 70% of the grain is fed to animals. The same pattern is repeating itself in developing countries as meat consumption rises. For instance, in China , the share of grain fed to livestock rose from 7 percent in 1960 to 20 percent in 1990.
Thus, we need to realize that meat eating is not only cruel to our fellow animals but also very harmful to our fragile environment, especially given the dangers of global warming.
On 26 Oct, VSS took part in the first public screening of the documentary An Inconvenient Truth at Golden Village , Plaza Sing. The documentary dramatically explains why Global Warming poses such an imminent threat to life on earth.
VSS and other organizations have joined together to promote the movie: http://www.eco-singapore.org/campaign/ait/seethetruth.php. We feel there is an urgent need for all of us to understand the situation that we as a human race have created for this planet. Although the consequences portrayed in the movie may or may not be certain to occur in all their horror, there are definite and real consequences of the way we mistreat the Earth.
Thus, there is a real need for us to awaken to the reality and make a shift in the way we see the planet we all share, because all of life is connected. This is a serious matter and pertinent to everyone, especially for our future generations.
The movie explains truths which may be inconvenient to us. At VSS, we are elaborating on another inconvenient and important truth that the movie does not highlight but which is well documented and should be made widely known: Our growing meat consumption harms the environment; in particular, it worsens Global Warming.
Yes, it’s still only 2006, but we thought you’d like to hear the exciting news that Jane Goodall, who has done so much to increase our knowledge about and concern for our fellow animals, has agreed to speak at the International Vegetarian Union’s 2008 Congress in Dresden , Germany : http://www.ivu.org/congress/2008/dresdentour.html.
Simple Food, Blk 462 Tampines St 44, #01-64 (opp Tampines JC), Tel: 6782.6142. Open 7 days a week, 7.30am-9pm. MRT: Tampines; Buses 28, 29, 293.
On Sat, 18 Nov, 2pm-5pm, Kampung Senang’s Holistic Lifestyle Centre, Blk 106 Aljunied Crescent #01-205, is hosting a 3hr class on Macrobiotic Vegetarian Cooking, to be taught be Ms Doreen Chua. Price is $60/members, $70/public, or $90 for a member and their caregiver, $100 for a non-member and their caregiver.
Kampung Senang’s Holistic Lifestyle Centre focuses on helping people maintain and regain health, with a special emphasis on cancer patients. Among the many activities available there are sea salt & mud bath hydrotherapy, yoga/qigong, meditation,
calligraphy and arts & craft.
We missed a line in the reprint of Catherine Lim’s poem in Today, 26 Aug 06. Here’s the correct version.
It is bad enough we humans
To save ourselves from disease
Use animals in cruel tests
And kill them by slow degrees
Far greater should be our shame
When a small creature bleeds
For that special cream or scent
To meet vanity’s insatiable needs
Motherhood Magazine’s Positive Article on Veg Pregnancy
The Nov issue of Motherhood magazine features an article that says that having a veg pregnancy is nothing to worry about as long as the mother-
to-be exercises the normal dietary precautions. While the article doesn’t claim that going veg is better for baby and mum, it does dispel myths that veg diets are inadequate for pregnant women.
Motherhood can be found at bookshops and newsstands all around Singapore . You can also purchase it online through www.motherhood.com.sg.
Annalakshmi, one of Singapore ’s best known Indian veg restaurants, has a second location at 133 New Bridge Road , B1-02 Chinatown Point, Podium A (use Chinatown MRT Exit E). They are open 7 days a week from 11am to 10pm for lunch, tea and dinner. Plus, they do catering and delivery. Tel: 6339.9993
A new study suggests that eating vegetables may protect brain function in aging adults. As part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project (CHAP), researchers at Rush University Medical Center examined the association between rates of cognitive change and dietary consumption of fruits and vegetables among 3,718 participants, aged 65 years and older. http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/D/DIET_VEGETABLES_AGING?SITE=DCUSN&SECTION=HEALTH&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
Those people who consumed greater than 2.8 servings of vegetables per day had significantly slower rates of mental decline than those who ate fewer servings. Green leafy vegetables, in particular, were most strongly associated with a decreased rate of mental decline. Fruit consumption was not associated with cognitive change.
Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology. 2006;67:1370-1376.
Earlier, we announced that a new edition of the 3-volume Food Encyclopedia was available in Singapore . Now, you can find the 2005 edition at the following organic shops.
Green Sense Organic Restaurant, 15 Jasmine Rd , 6451.7553
Organic Cottage, 722 Clementi West St. 2, #01-160, 6779.1455
Organic + +, 50 East Coast Rd , 01-43, Roxy Square , 6346.2125
New Green Pasture Café, 190 Middle Rd, #04-22 Fortune Centre, 6336.8755
Yogi Hub, 28 Stanley Street , 6220.4344
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