Climate chief, Lord Stern of Brentford, has said that we should give up meat to save the planet from global warming.
While it's undeniable that rearing herds of animals for meat is bad for the environment, is vegetarianism the answer - or even an answer? This is not an entirely scientific response to Lord Stern but there are a few points more serious responses have missed that have occurred to my flu-addled brain.
In order to provide vegetarians with dairy products, cattle must be bred. But only females are needed for milk. The males will not be sent off to live out their lives happily in green pastures; apart from a few kept for breeding, they will be slaughtered. The same goes for male chicks in egg production. The bodies will have to be disposed of, either as landfill or by burning, both of which have health and ecology implications.
Apart from environmental issues, this also removes any moral high ground from vegetarians. What's more, in Veggie World, anyone who eats meat but not dairy would be forced into veganism. That's not just lactose intolerant Westerners but a large proportion of the population of Asia.
Veganism may be the only true moral position regarding the exploitation of animals. But it has its problems as vegans don't eat honey. The bees that produce honey also pollinate crops as well as wild flowers and other flora essential to a healthy eco-system. Wild bees are not enough. So if we all became vegan, the planet would be headed for disaster unless we all kept bees as pets (not such a bad idea).
What would Veggie World be like?
Pigs would disappear. Children would grow up learning about them as semi-mythical beasts from the past, along with dodos. Or possibly they could see them in zoos. People who overeat could no longer be meaningfully compared with pigs. The film Babe might be mistaken for a historically accurate tale of pig farming. Sheep and goats would go too, apart from a few breeds used for cheese. Breeding sheep for wool would probably end as wool is a non-essential fabric. All the religious iconography and symbolism about lambs would become obscure. The Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd would become empty images. None of this is necessarily a bad thing.
Humans aren't the only ones who eat meat. What would cats and dogs eat? If humans have to stop eating meat, feeding it to pets could hardly be justified. Apart from guide dogs and police dogs, man's best carnivore friend would become a thing of the past. Farmers wouldn't need dogs any more as there would be no sheep to herd. One Man and His Dog would never be seen on TV again. Nor would Crufts. Again, not necessarily a bad thing if it meant that Ben Fogle was on TV less. There would be no dog poo in the world either. The Andrex puppy would be no more. The Internet would no longer be flooded with pets in cute poses or dressed up in clothes. A whole section of the greetings card industry would be threatened; no more pictures of fluffy puppies and kittens.
Macdonalds would either go out of business or switch to making meat-flavoured veggie burgers. We'd all be eating a lot more beans to get our protein. Methane produced by farm animals farting is one of the contributors to global warming but six billion people farting constantly is not going to do the ozone layer any favours. Incidentally, rice paddies also give off methane.
We do eat more meat than is good for the planet and many of us eat more than is healthy for us but as far as vegetarianism being the solution - Stern really hasn't thought this through.
I now appear to have swine flu. The irony is not lost on me.