Is it necessary for humans to eat meat at the scale we currently do?
Taking note of the sheer number of vegetarian and vegan diets practised everyday it is clear we do not need meat, even if we enjoy eating it. Joyce D’Silva, in her journal, written in 2000 for Compassion in World Farming Trust, wrote that cutting out “the costly inefficient factory farmed animal ‘protein converter’” would increase the amount protein we can get straight from the source. This would mean more people could be fed on less food, a positive step in reducing world hunger.
There are a number of potential health issues that may arise with the over-consumption of meat every day and for every meal; obesity has already become a big issue in America, and Europe is catching up. Danielle Nierenberg wrote in 2003 that eating meat every day is a more recent phenomenon — until the industrialisation of the process, meat was generally only eaten on special occasions and, even then, largely by the rich.
Once the factory farming process was perfected it became easier to mass produce large quantities of meat at a much lower cost and quicker time frame, to the detriment of both the quality of the animals’ lives and the environment — particularly when these methods of production are now being adopted by more and more countries. While meat is by no means the sole reason for this rise in obesity, it is clear that diets high in processed foods and red meats do little to help the health of the individuals who dine on these products.
However, despite the importance of individual health, something that is often lost when debating the pros and cons of meat is the increasingly negative effect of meat production on the environment. This is perhaps of particular importance now, when taking into consideration how the demand for meat and meat-based products is growing in Eastern countries as well as in the Western world.
As Eastern economies grow there appears to be a new and growing appetite for meat and other, similar, Western staples. This increase in the production of meat can only serve to further damage our already exhausted planet. Emissions have increased by 144% in Asia alone in the last 50 years, a huge increase particularly when noting this does not include the figures from the UK, Europe and America.
A shocking 30% of land is currently used for rearing animals for meat production. There are suggestions that this is as high as 38% — in the 2011 article “Five Scenarios for 2050: Conditions for Agriculture and Land Use” the authors claim 38% of global land resources are used for agricultural ends. The largest amount of this percentage is used for grazing animals. 11% of land is arable, meaning sustainable for plant and crop growth, with 33% of the arable land used for animal feed production; 33% of all arable land is being used to feed animals that will ultimately feed us. So around a third of all Earth’s land is used to bring animals into existence and then slaughter them for our Sunday dinners. This is a huge price to pay for the fleeting pleasure of a bacon sandwich.
Climate change, with all the challenges that that brings, will be accelerated if we continue to factory farm at the rate we presently do. A cynical, if not altogether inaccurate claim made by Jonathan A. Foley, et al, in their 2005 article “Global Consequences of Land Use” suggests that the intensive farming process, among other reasons, is doing little to help the environment. They submit people will continue to do what they feel will enhance their lives, whether that is by building more houses or producing mass quantities of meat, regardless of the detrimental effect it will have on the climate.
This mass production of meat drains around 10 times the amount of water than plant-based products do. Some reports consider this is a generous forecast and suggest it is likely to be much higher than that. Global Food Security claims that 70% of all usable water is used for agricultural reasons, this is a waste that cannot be defended.
Furthermore it could become increasingly problematic when considering how climate shifts to hotter weather, resulting in increased flooding and draughts, will put a strain on the world’s water supply. Couple this with the wider demand from a progressively globalised world, where everyone wants to live the “good life” and wishes to eat like an affluent member of the elite, and we have a recipe for disaster. Even now, where there are already clean water supply shortages, this natural resource is being unfairly distributed. The fighting and tensions that will result in attempting to equally distribute Earth’s remaining resources are inevitable.
The environmental impact of mass meat production stems from a number of different sources. The fertilisers used on the food for the animals to eat produces the harmful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (refer to this link for more on this gas). Additionally animals, for example cows, sheep and goats, secrete high concentrations of toxic methane (23% of the overall global gas emissions) into the atmosphere, a gas they produce naturally. It is clear that, from the beginning of the meat production chain, the planet is being harmed.
Not only the initial rearing of the animals results in greenhouse gas emissions. The outlook worsens when this is coupled with the rest of the food production chain: transporting animals from factory to abattoir and back to factory, to be cleaned then packaged, and distributing the finished product. The majority of studies indicate 10-25% off all emissions that currently hit the Earth’s atmosphere stem from the meat production process. Studies from 2007 suggest rearing animals for food constitutes around 80% of agricultural emissions. This is likely to have increased further when considering in 2004 the Environmental Protection Agency stated agriculture contributed to 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. If in 2007 it was projected as being between 10-25%, in 2015 it is likely to have reached the latter end of the percentage, or even bypassed it.
A number of predictions state that even halving meat consumption can have a positive impact on the environment. This will drastically reduce the greenhouse gases we discharge into the Earth’s air, prevent the over-use of water and will dramatically drop the need for the land required for the production of food as we will no longer require land to both house the animals and to grow the food to feed them.
In truth, the higher demand for meat is destroying our planet. The resources we use on raising animals would be better used elsewhere; we can get more from less with wheat, corn and soya bean growth and consumption than with meat. Would it be so difficult to eat less meat?
Less demand means less need for supply therefore, less adverse environmental impact. We need to ask ourselves if it is worth wrecking the planet for future generations for the here and now.
Surely a way to sustain and save the planet is what we all want — right?
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