This article looks into meat and sustainability. This is the second in a four-part series looking into meat consumption and how sustainable this is.
It is based on the book and documentary Meat the Truth, which was released in 2010.
Each article covers a slightly different topic. Last weeks looked into how global meat consumption is predicted to double in the next 50 years. You can find this via the link below.
This week we are looking into the impact that meat consumption has on the environment.
Livestock farming (meat consumption) places heavy demands on land, water and energy
There is lots of good evidence in the book to support the above claim.
Chapter 1 Food and natural resources by Harry Aiking points to a lot of interesting evidence. For instance, that as a result of animal metabolism, on average 6kg of plant protein is required for 1kg of meat protein. Furthermore, the 4 million sq. km that is devoted to feed crops globally contain about 114 million tonnes of feed protein. This is protein that is diverted towards animals with a negative rate of return.
On water consumption Aiking had the following to say:
“It is evident that animal protein production requires much more water than plant protein, however estimates vary from 5 to 1,000 fold.”
Chapter 3 Impact of growth in factory farming in developing world by Danielle Nierenberg shed light on the energy intensity of factory farms. She explained that:
“Operationally, factory farms require a significant amount of fossil fuel energy… Electricity for heating, cooling, and ventilating factory farms, in addition to powering any other mechanized processes such as manure removal or egg collection, all make up a large part of this energy expenditure.”
In Chapter 6 Meat, climate and the EU Jens Holm shares an interesting perspective. Whilst biofuels are often criticised for the land area they consume, animal feedstock receives far less attention. He explains that:
“Approximately two percent of the world’s cultivated land is used for bio-fuels, while nearly 40% goes to fodder production in the livestock industry.”
Chapter 8 Overconsumption by Mark Bittman also contains a lot of interesting information on the impact of meat consumption. For example:
“To produce one calorie of corn takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel. For beef the number is 40: it requires 40 calories to produce one calorie of beef protein.”
“Try to imagine each cow on the planet consuming almost seven barrels of crude oil.”
Chapter 12 Promoting a sustainability transition in the food domain by Jones et al had some eye-opening statistics. For instance, that:
“On average, 6 kilograms of wheat is required for the production of 1 kilogram of meat protein (poultry and pork are significantly more ‘efficient’ than beef). A considerable amount (40%) of the world’s total production of wheat is reserved for the cattle stock sector (bio fuels take up around 5% of the total production of grain/wheat. Thus a vegetarian or non-red meat diet is considerably more efficient in terms of ecology, carbon and energy, and therefore more sustainable.”
Chapter 11 Making meat moderation marketable By Tobias Leenaert explains the following:
“Meat production is the number one cause of deforestation in South America, and is solely responsible for the destruction of an area the size of Belgium every year worldwide.”
What you need to know
This article looked into meat and sustainability. This is the second in a four-part series looking into meat consumption and how sustainable this is.
The evidence for this article is based on the book and documentary Meat the Truth.
This week’s article looked at meat consumption’s impact on the environment.
We looked at how converting plant protein into animal protein is an incredibly inefficient process. We also looked into the large area of land that is taken up by animal feed crops.
Animal protein production is a very water intensive process, placing more impact on the environment.
We also looked into how animal agriculture is very energy and oil intensive.
Overall, there are a number of insurmountable barriers that mean that animal agriculture as it currently stands places a burden on the environment.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of the relationship between meat and sustainability?