Chicken RanchLast week, the United Nations issued a dramatic report (pdf) calling on the world to reduce its consumption of animal products. According to the U.K. Guardian, the U.N. believes a “global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”

As the U.N. report makes clear, animal agriculture is extremely wasteful: “Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.” According to Time, “worldwide livestock farming generates 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions — by comparison, all the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.” More than half of all the food grown globally goes to feeding farm animals. And, according to Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

Alas, in many places, people are eating more meat, not less. “Meat consumption per capita in China rose by 42 per cent over eight years from 1995 to 2003,” says Sangwon Suh of the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a nation becomes richer, its citizens become more carnivorous, and the Earth suffers the consequences.

Sadly, it comes as no surprise that the U.N. report doesn’t address the more than 55 billion animals killed worldwide every year in factory farms and slaughterhouses. If you’re looking for something about the moral and ethical issues involving eating animals, you won’t find it in this dry, academic report. Nor will you find anything health benefits of a meat-free diet. And, as Erik Marcus at notes, “The number of times this 112-page report uses the words vegan or vegetarian: zero.”

Many will resist the United Nations’ call to consume fewer animal products. Yet it is now obvious that a vegetarian or vegan diet is about more than saving the animals. It’s about saving the planet.

Photo Credit: Public Domain