Nitin Mehta: Each of us should help save the planet by changing our diet

Here is something we can all do and should do to save our planet: give up meat eating and return to a plant-based vegetarian and vegan diet.

Apart from the human population of six-and-a-half billion we are raising a staggering 60 billion animals a year for meat. Our planet is simply not big enough to sustain these numbers. Farmed animals produce more greenhouse emissions than the world's entire transport system.

To produce a pound of meat 2,500 gallons of water are needed as opposed to 25 gallons needed to produce a pound of wheat. In the Gulf of Mexico pollutants in animal waste have contributed to a "dead zone" where there is not enough oxygen to support aquatic life. During the summer of 2004 this dead zone extended over 5,800 square miles. Livestock is responsible for 70 per cent of the Amazon deforestation. On present trends the rain forests of South America, the lungs of the planet, could disappear by 2030 – this could lead to a major catastrophe. The introduction of biofuel combined with livestock rearing may deliver a fatal blow to Mother Earth putting in danger the human civilisation as we know it. Industrial fishing is doing to oceans what animals reared for meat are doing to the land. All marine life from turtles to dolphins is perishing due to modern fishing methods. Mangrove forests and coral reefs are disappearing; mangrove forests are being cleared to start fish farms. The amount of grains fed to animals could feed up to 4 billion people, and with the human population set to grow up to 9 billion by 2050 mass starvation is inevitable unless the Western world and the middle classes of Indian and China reject meat and fish as a food of choice.

On present trends global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while the milk output is set to rise from 580 to 1,043 million tonnes. Unless this trend is reversed, future generations will face a unimaginably bleak future. Let every individual weigh the habit of meat eating with the terrible damage it is already doing to our planet. Here is something positive we can do – go vegetarian and reduce our foot print.

This is an edited extract from a talk given by Nitin Mehta, the founder of the Indian Vegetarian Society, at the Jain Centre, Manchester