Alter Diet, Avert Climate Change
“In India, beef consumption was banned recently in almost states due to cultural and religious beliefs, I rely on this decision only because grass fed beef especially red beef is bad for the planet, and I consider this ban as the result of visionary of our ancestors”.
Meat is one of the food products with the greatest environmental impact due to the inefficiency of animals in converting feed to meat. It is assumed that 75-90% of the energy consumed by livestock is needed for body maintenance or lost in manure and by-products such as skin and bones. Depending on the perspective of research, environmental performance may be analyzed in terms of the meat product, the manufacturing processes and the system in which the meat companies operate. Meat is obtained through a variety of methods, including organic farming, free range farming, intensive livestock production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Globally it is one of the predominant sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.
Most cultures in the world have embraced a meat-eating lifestyle, as has been the case since agriculture became a prominent food supply thousands of years ago. Modern agriculture is now the number one contributor to a variety of factors that impose hazards to the environment, including and not limited to, an increase in rates of methane and CO2, overconsumption of water, overuse of land resources, waste production, water and air quality degradation, deforestation, and species extinction. Some of the negative environmental factors that can be seen to have a direct correlation with the demand for meat production include but are not limited to the pollution of the atmosphere through fossil fuel usage, methane produced by animals, land degradation, water consumption and the clearing of forests to make way for grazing pastures. The environmental impact that meat consumption has had on the world is only expected to increase in the next coming years. “The past half century has seen a marked growth in food production, allowing for a dramatic decrease in the proportion of the world’s people that are hungry, despite a doubling of the total population
The Kyoto Protocol identifies livestock as potential sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide. There should be an understanding that the live domesticated animals are important carbon sinks. They assert that cattle-rearing of cattle increases pressures on other carbon sinks such as forests. Furthermore, the photosynthetic capacity of the earth decreases as forests are clear for anthropogenic reasons, and aptly relative livestock to automobiles as products of human inventions, leading to environmental degradation.
Regardless of the perspective, environmental impacts of the meat chain influence three dimensions — climate change in respect to the global warming potential, acidification potential and eutrophication potential; consumption of natural resources (mainly water and energy) and; polluting the environment with various types of waste and wastewater discharge. This paper has revealed two main areas of further research. First is the calculation of various generic environmental indicators deployed in the meat chain. This type of research helps in benchmarking and comparing various meat technologies worldwide. Given the great technological and other differences within the meat chain, promotion of environmentally friendly solutions is the utmost challenge.
It is important to consider land when talking about the environmental impacts of meat consumption. The report published by the Agricultural Organization under the United Nations in 2011 revealed that livestock production accounts for over 30% of the global land being utilized for the meat and livestock-related production. Moreover, the report further revealed that around 70% of all the land under agricultural activities and livestock production is responsible for freshwater pollution, climate change, and destruction of biodiversity.
Water is necessary for all stages in the meat processing chain, which starts with live animals entering the facility and finishes at the last step, where meat products leave the meat processing plant. Machines, equipment and processing areas in the meat industry are designated to work in humid conditions requiring wet cleaning. This affects water consumption as well as the discharge of wastewater contaminated with the product, raw materials and cleaning chemicals. Throughout the meat chain, energy is used for controlling temperature regimes, i.e. heat treatments such as boiling, cooking, pasteurizing, sterilizing drying and smoking and cooling (mainly chilling and freezing). Besides this, energy is used for various transportation purposes. There are two main types of solid waste in the meat industry — inedible products such as bones, fat, heads, legs, skins, hair and offal and packaging materials, mainly paper, plastic and metal. Wastewater results from many activities such as washing of livestock, carcasses and offal, cleaning of equipment and work environment, workers’ personal hygiene and truck washing. Regarding wastewater, it is important to emphasize that it contains several types of pollutants such as blood, fat, manure, undigested stomach contents, meat and meat extracts, dirt and cleaning agents. The main wastewater indicators are the amounts of wastewater discharged and the pollutant load that is generated. Both depend on the type of meat and meat products being manufactured and on the technological environment.
Runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing is one of the leading causes of pollution in our rivers and lakes. Factory farms frequently dodge water pollution limits by spraying liquid manure into the air, creating mists that are carried away by the wind. People who live nearby are forced to inhale the toxins and pathogens from the sprayed manure. A report by the California State Senate noted, “Studies have shown that [animal waste lagoons emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune, irritation and neurochemical problems in humans.”
Using land to grow crops for animals is vastly inefficient. It takes almost 20 times less land to feed someone on a plant-based (vegan) diet than it does to feed a meat-eater since the crops are consumed directly instead of being used to feed animals. According to the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, it takes up to 10 pounds of grain to produce just 1 pound of meat, and in the United States alone, 56 million acres of land is used to grow feed for animals, while only 4 million acres are producing plants for humans to eat. More than 90 percent of all Amazon rainforest land cleared since 1970 is used for grazing livestock. In addition, one of the main crops grown in the rainforest is soybeans used for animal feed. (The soybeans used in most veggie burger, tofu, and soy milk products sold in the United States are grown right here in the U.S.)
While factory farms are ruining our land, commercial fishing methods such as bottom trawling and long-lining often clear the ocean floor of all life and destroy coral reefs. They also kill thousands of dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and other “bycatch” animals. Coastal fish farms release faeces, antibiotics, parasites, and non-native fish into sensitive marine ecosystems. In addition, since most farmed fish are carnivorous, they are fed massive quantities of wild-caught fish. For example, it takes up to 3 pounds of fish meal to produce every pound of farmed salmon.
The land and water demand in agricultural activities is on the rise due to increasing population. Given this, the need to expand land for agricultural activities including livestock farming has led to the deforestation of the tropical areas to create agricultural lands. These changes in land utilization create negative impacts on the environment through greenhouse emission, fragmentation of the species habitats, and the alteration of the hydrological cycles. The effects pose doom to the current and future generations. In Brazil, their practice of clearing of the rainforest for export-oriented livestock feed and production is unsustainable; the temperature in the tropical rainforest has increased by 4 °C. The effects result in the destruction of the wildlife habitat, reduced freshwater supply, and global warming.
So what does this mean for the present and future of humanity? It is important to address is that the general public does not realize the damage that meat consumption creates for the environment. Cultures and education around the world teach that meat and dairy are necessary for good health and growth – in reality; consuming meat and dairy have been shown to cause a wide variety of health defects. Behind closed doors, we fail to see that 99% of meat production happens in factory farms, where ethical and environmental policies are relinquished to yield quicker production and profits. There is a clear correlation between the large-scale consumption of meat at a global scale and the degradation of the environment. There have been numerous published scientific reports stating the vast amount of negative factors brought upon by the meat and poultry industry. Furthermore, we have been able to clearly present the negative effects of the meat industry, which include but are not limited to the degradation of land, deforestation, air pollution and inhumane treatment of animals. In summary, many arguments are against the livestock rearing for meat consumptions because they affect environmental degradation, deforestation, reduced photosynthesis capacity, and the destruction of habitat for other animals. However, these arguments are too simplified because they fail to factor the increasing human population and the massive production of food need to sustain it. In retrospect, it is true that over-utilization of land for agriculture adversely impacts on the biodiversity. Humans must appreciate that and work on the sustainability measures.
– ADARSH PRATHAP
Youth Reporter, COP23, BONN
UNFCCC Global Youth Video Contest Winner