View from the fence

Social, environmental and economic issues surrounding GM foods, and the latest news

Difficult green choices: our diet and our pets

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The recent TalkScience event was so thought-provoking I had to spill over into two posts. This one is about ways to reduce consumption, possibly as an alternative to increasing production.

Having an economist on the panel provided interesting insights. Taxing foods based on their health or environmental impact could influence people’s choices. Policy interventions on public health issues, while valuable, are seldom game changers on their own (the change in social attitudes resulting from the smoking ban and the legal requirement to wear seat belts were the only examples of that Professor Tiffin was aware of, and even those were accompanied by public health campaigns). I’ve previously blogged about the challenges of health-related taxes.How much meat we should eat was inevitably a big topic, given how much we know about the land needed to raise livestock and the contribution to climate change. There are lots of meat-related facts on the Talk Science blog so I won’t repeat them here. Having just come back from Brazil where I ate vast quantities of meat, I have decided to be a near-vegetarian for a bit.

Related to this, it was good to see pets getting mentioned. We feed lots of meat to dogs and cats and, although some of which is unfit for human consumption, this inevitably is an environmental burden.

Vicki Hird (FoE) was the first to admit that an anti-pet campaign would make her far too unpopular. It might be time for more environmentalists to at least acknowledge the impacts, even if pet ownership is something few people are willing to give up.

Sustainable intensification received some attention, with the interesting idea that we could be seeing this on a landscape scale – we could choose to intensify production on some land, and not look to increase production in marginal areas where it could cause environmental damage.

Author: Rebecca Nesbit

I am author of a popular science book 'Is that Fish in your Tomato?' exploring the fact and fiction of GM crops. In my work and leisure so far, I have trained bees to detect explosives, used a radar to study butterflies for my PhD, written a novel, taken the train from London to China, organised Biology Week, sold science jewellery on Etsy, and traveled to four continents with Nobel Laureates. Best off all, I've made lots of friends whose support I very much appreciate. Thank you! Please visit my website:

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