The livestock industry has long argued that as populous countries such as India and China become more powerful and, it is assumed, aspire to the developed world’s lifestyle choices, the world will require the production of more meat. However the country’s 828 million Hindus – who account for more than 80 per cent of India’s population of 1.1 billion – are forbidden by their religion from eating beef. Thirty per cent of Indians are wholly vegetarian.
India has been insisting that wealthy countries, which have contributed so much to the changing climate, must bear the brunt for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Along with China, the US is the world’s biggest polluters. The US beef industry is worth $76 billion, with Americans consuming 27.3 billion pounds of beef last year, 25 per cent more than Europe. Ramesh’s calls on the west to reduce its meat consumption has put the ball in their court – responding to it positively would not only show real leadership, but also give India less excuse to avoid adopting binding targets on its own burgeoning emissions ahead of the Copenhagen climate talks next month.
Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said he was happy to hear Ramesh agreeing with his opinions on the meat issue.
“If you look at the beef cycle today, you first clear forests, which increases emissions, then you feed cattle all kinds of food grain, which is energy intensive, and then you kill and refrigerate these animals and then they are transported long distances, then you buy it and refrigerate it,” he said. “If you count all the emissions associated with this entire cycle it is huge.”