Globalisation vs Biodiversity

rare breed of cow

It’s a classic stand-off. The environmentalists want to save a toad, or a lizard, or a butterfly. Industry wants to use the land for something else. With a cry of “jobs, or lizards?”, and with large wads of lobbying cash, industry rallies politicians to their cause.

Environmentalists may argue that, beyond the intrinsic value of life on earth, animals and plants in ecosystems form a complex web of life, and that removing one link in the chain will degrade the entire system of which humans, inescapably, are a part.

And then, with a shrug and a buzz of chainsaws, the habitat is destroyed, and species is snuffed out.

Which is why this report, from the United Nations, is interesting. It takes the already good arguments about ecology, and makes them appeal to people whose response has hitherto been “what good has a lizard ever done me”. The UN has observed that

Around 20 per cent of domestic animal breeds are at risk of extinction, with a breed lost each month

. This isn’t lizards. It’s sheep, cows, goats, pigs and chickens.

“So what? The best cows are the ones that are bred for milk and food. The more beef per cow, the better.”

Except, even if you eat meat, the world is changing. With pressures on water increasing, and with climate change altering the possibilities of animal husbandry, the current cow-as-meat-machine breeds are increasingly untenable. (Even without climate change, the amount of toxic waste associated with the livestock industry is criminally high.) The UN’s point is that

“the globalization of livestock markets … favours high-output breeds over a multiple gene pool that could be vital for future food security.”

The genetic material to survive the altered times is being exterminated for good.

But the meat industry cares little for tomorrows problems. Just for today’s profit. What, after all, has worrying about tomorrow ever done for them?