Meat: a Benign Extravagance - new book by Simon Fairlie

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Sep 20 22:05:07 BST 2010

Eat meat and save the planet, says eco-warrior and former vegetarian

An eco-warrior who lives on a ‘sustainable 
living’ commune and spent six years as a 
vegetarian has written a book that says Britons 
should continue to eat some meat.
Published: 7:30AM BST 20 Sep 2010

An eco-warrior who lives on a ?sustainable living? commune and

Fairlie says the vegan diet espoused by many 
environmentalists is 'neither sensible nor 
attainable for society as a whole' Photo: ALAMY

Simon Fairlie, a farmer and writer, is now 
shattering the consensus that we should avoid 
eating any meat or raising any animals in order to save the planet.

In a new book that questions the impact of 
meat-eating on greenhouse gases, he says the 
vegan diet espoused by many environmentalists is 
“neither sensible nor attainable for society as a whole”.

Mr Fairlie, a smallholder and a former co-editor 
of The Ecologist magazine, believes vegetarianism 
is not the answer to the problem of livestock 
emissions and that Britons should continue to eat meat.

His views contradict the received wisdom of 
experts including Lord Stern, author of the 
government’s 2006 review on climate change, who 
said: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and 
creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts 
enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better

It also deals a blow to the philosophy of 
celebrity vegetarians including Sir Paul 
McCartney and actress Natalie Portman.

In his new book, Meat: a Benign Extravagance, Mr 
Fairlie argues there is some surplus and waste in 
every agricultural system and that animals which 
eat this surplus have little additional environmental impact.

Although he supports a drastic reduction in meat 
consumption, he questions the validity of some of 
the most commonly-repeated environmental claims, 
such as the notion that producing a kilogram of 
beef requires 100,000 litres of water – a figure 
he dismisses because it implies a daily water 
intake of about 25,000 litres per cow.

The 59-year-old, who lives on the Monkton Wyld 
Court ‘centre for sustainable living’ near 
Bridport, Dorset, said: “700 million tonnes of 
human edible food are poured down the gullets of 
livestock every year to provide a luxury 
commodity for the wealthy, while around a billion 
people in the world do not have enough to eat.

"The Gandhian response, of rejecting such a 
tainted product, is understandable; yet the net 
result – importing protein and fat from third 
world countries – has perverse repercussions.”

In a recent contribution to 
magazine, he wrote: “Livestock provide the 
biodiversity that trees on their own cannot 
provide. They are the best means we have of 
keeping wide areas clear and open to solar energy and wind energy.

“They harness biomass that would otherwise be 
inaccessible, and recycle waste that would 
otherwise be a disposal problem. And they are the 
main means we have of ensuring that the phosphate 
which leaks out from our arable land into the 
wider environment, and that is crucial for 
agricultural yields, is brought back into the food chain.”

He also challenges the United Nations Food and 
Agriculture Organisation report Livestock’s Long 
Shadow, which suggested that farm animals 
generate 18 per cent of human-generated global 
warming gases, through their flatulence and other types of emissions.

He said the figure attributes all deforestation 
in the Amazon region to cattle, rather than 
logging or development, and confused the gross 
and net production of nitrous oxide and methane.

Mr Fairline said his earlier experiences living 
on a different commune, dominated by vegans, 
convinced him it was sensible to eat some meat.

He said many of he key ingredients in their diet, 
including olive oil, soya milk, chickpeas, 
lentils and rice, had to be imported, often from 
developing countries, at huge cost despite the 
existence of grass-eating dairy livestock on the site.

“We were producing, from grass, a substantial 
proportion of the protein and fat that we 
required for our nutrition, but this was 
shunned," he said. "Instead we imported it from 
countries where people go hungry.”

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City 
University, endorsed Mr Fairlie's findings which 
he said were a "brilliant and eloquent" argument 
for more sustainable meat-eating.

He said: "He is pointing out that, in countries 
such as Britain where there are upland areas that 
cannot be used to grow anything else, we may as 
well have some livestock and that meat can be eaten if it is there.

"The book is still quite radical. He is not 
giving the green light to go out and eat meat 
because we still consume far, far more than we 
should - not just on environmental grounds but as a public health issue.

"We should ask ourselves, in restaurants or 
supermarkets, whether the meat on offer has lived 
a sustainable life, but it is a question often 
impossible to answer. Almost all the meat we 
currently consume is intensively farmed."

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