A car road trip from Christchurch will take you past seemingly endless fields of grass. There are cows, sheep and giant irrigation machines. There are hedges and fences, but a distinct lack of native trees. The Canterbury Plains have been stripped bare of its once extensive lowland forests. No more towering kahikateas, no more majestic totaras, no more bountiful native forests.
It’s not just Canterbury that has suffered this fate, most of New Zealand’s lowland forests have been progressively cut down after the arrival of European farmers over the last three or four generations. Early Polynesian settlers burnt forest, but the destroyed trees were usually replaced by regenerating native shrub-land. European immigrants changed the game by sowing grassland for farm animals to create a ‘profitable’ meat industry.
The New Zealand dairy industry wants to double their production by 20201. Once a dairy farm is established, the land can’t easily be changed back for other uses after the soil is saturated with urea, pesticides and cadmium2. Rivers and streams are also extensively polluted by the run-off. All in all, the long-term effects of dairy farming are devastating to the local environment.
It is far more economical to use land to grow crops than to farm animals. Two and a half acres of land used to grow potatoes will feed 22 people, while the same amount of land used to raise cattle will only support the energy requirements of one human being3.
Deforestation due to animal farming is happening on a daily basis around the planet. Cutting down forests to make way for grazing livestock is still an overwhelming cause of global deforestation. The escalating demand of meat-eaters is directly causing the eradication of pristine virgin rainforests. Brazil is the world’s largest exporter and producer of beef, and approximately 65-70% of annual Amazon Rainforest deforestation is caused by cattle farming4.
As the planet’s population increases and more people adopt a Western eating style, there will soon be no more forests to cut down. What legacy do we leave our children?
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