Sir Paul McCartney will this week throw his weight behind a growing campaign to address global warming by reducing the amount of meat we eat, lobbying EU politicians for their backing. The former Beatle will interrupt a European tour to fly to Brussels on Thursday, where he will make his case at a special hearing of the European Parliament.
Sir Paul said yesterday: "The message that I am taking to the European Parliament is – less meat equals less heat. I will appeal to world leaders converging on Copenhagen for the climate-change talks to remember that sustainable food policy is an essential weapon in the fight against global warming. At the same time we should not forget our individual capacity to act in ways that will help – such as limiting our consumption of meat. This simple act can help slow global warming and help to feed the world."
It is a perfect fit, for the McCartneys are Britain's best-known vegetarian family. Sir Paul's late wife, Linda, established one of the country's leading brands of ready-made vegetarian meals. And his daughter Stella, the designer, has extended her approach to food to fabrics, refusing to use fur on grounds of animal cruelty.
The very fact of Sir Paul's public involvement is focusing attention on the huge environmental costs of producing meat – something that environmentalists have spent years trying to highlight. And he will be joined on Thursday by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In letters being sent this week, they will call on London Mayor Boris Johnson and his counterparts in more than 20 European cities to consider promoting meat-free days – following the example set by the Belgian city of Ghent, which recently declared Thursdays to be a meat-free day.
Pat Thomas, a former Ecologist editor who works closely with Sir Paul, said: "We look forward to sitting down with Boris over a fantastic meat-free lunch and talking about how we can make London's commitment to sustainable eating even more interesting."
Concern at the impact of livestock farming on the climate has moved up the environmentalist agenda in recent years: a UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) report in 2006 outlined how costly and inefficient meat production is in environmental terms compared with crops: it estimates nearly a fifth of the world's greenhouse gases come from the production of animal feed and methane emitted by livestock.
In terms of methane alone – a gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing global warming – livestock are responsible for 37 per cent of global emissions. Some 70 per cent of the Amazon rainforest lost each year is turned into pasture for beef cattle. Globally, a third of all arable land is used to grow feed for livestock.
European Parliament vice president and Tory MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who is chairing the event, said: "There is growing support for eating less meat so as to reduce global warming and to improve personal health."
Sir Paul added last night: "We must not ignore the impact global warming is having on our children and future generations for decades, possibly centuries, to come."
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