BRUSSELS, BELGIUM, January 25, 2010: Delegates arriving at the gates of the climate conference in Copenhagen last month were met by women in furry animal suits holding placards showing pictures of lambs, cows and pigs and warning, “Don’t Eat Me.” These activists say that one of her principal goals is to fight environmental disasters, and her representatives in Copenhagen appeared eager to spread the message that methane, which is belched in large quantities by cows and other livestock raised for the meat and dairy industries, is among the most potent planet-warming gases.
But the virtues of vegetarianism as part of the battle to curb climate change are far from being an issue just for the spiritually inclined. Long before the summit meeting in Copenhagen, rising demand for meat and dairy products, particularly among the burgeoning middle classes in countries like China and India with fast-developing economies, meant that links between climate change and food policy were becoming an important element in the debate over what to do about the rising levels of greenhouse gases. The issue appeared to have gained traction in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen conference, with prominent figures from the worlds of science and entertainment stepping into the fray.
Early this month, the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health said it would study the effect of meat output on climate change in light of requests from its member countries. “It’s a question that needs to be studied with a lot of distance,” Bernard Vallat, the organization’s director-general, told a news conference, according to Reuters. “We want to make a modest and independent contribution,” he said. Mr. Vallet said that one of the thorniest issues was how to involve agriculture in efforts to reduce gases while maintaining food security.