Environmental consequences of meat
The present and future climate change is a global political issue. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is more and more often part of French, European and global policies. Today, like traveling or housing, eating is an integral part of a citizen’s daily actions, which are indissociably linked to the environment. We used to organize our meals around a piece of meat or fish, but this habit has big consequences for humans, animals and the environment.
The French consume 89 kilos of meat per year. Globally, meat consumption is becoming more and more democratic: in 2014, 312 million tons were produced in the world, which represents an average of 43 kg per person per year. Each year, 65 billion animals are killed (nearly 2,000 animals per second). This is tied to the fact that the world has multiplied its meat production by three between 1971 and 2010.
In this article, the point I want to make is, that is not merely the animals welfare that makes action necessary, but also all this many bad impact cause to our planet by agrifood lobbies.
Most of the figures in this article are from the Cowspiracy report, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, which shows that livestock is actually the biggest cause of environmental problems, even in the transport sector or the oil industry.
The first world cause of greenhouse gas emissions:
The bovine meat shows a carbon footprint between 6.4 and 9.7 kg of CO2/kg of live meat.
The latest FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) report, published in 2013, estimates that livestock production worldwide is responsible for 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, livestock represents 50% of the emissions of methane and protoxyde of azone, two gases that have warming potential higher than CO2.
Livestock’s emissions are higher than the ones in the transport sector. At this moment, we can see these lobbiesbecoming more and more, because they have succeeded to focus international discussions on the energy issue.
1kg of beef = 20,000 litres of water
As the number of droughts increases, causing conflicts in several countries, the meat industry uses 129,000 billions litres of water per year.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret specifies, to produce a burger it takes more than 2,000 litres of water. 1 burger represent two months of showers. Thus, 5% of the water used in the United States is used for domestic use, compared with 55% for livestock.
In other words, the sector uses 33% of the terrestrial water resources.
1.5 billion cows use 170 billion liters of water, 61 billion kilos of food,
against 20 billion liters of water and 9.5 billion kilos of food for humans.
A study published in 2013 notes that the water footprint of Europeans related to their diet could decrease from 23% to 38% by decreasing or eliminating the share of meat in meals.
First cause of deforestation, in front of palm oil
The meat industry achieves the winning combination: The first producer of greenhouse gases, and the leading cause of deforestation. Knowing that the primary function of the foret is to filter CO2, so, indirectly, this industry produces even more CO2.
Extensive livestock and soybeans exported as livestock feed are the main cause of deforestation in Brazil. According to a report conducted by Greenpeace in 2009, livestock is responsible for 91% of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.
Contrary to what the majority of the population thinks: When palm oil is responsible for the destruction of 104 million square meters, breeding leads to the destruction of 544 million square meters of forest.
70% of the agricultural land is for livestock, because for 1 kg of meat it takes between 7 and 12 kg of cereal. Thus, more than 50% of grain and vegetable resources are destined to feed the animals. Meanwhile, today, more than one billion people are undernourished in the world.
And as if this was not enough, the spreading of manure, leads to a pollution of the ground and background water because it increases the phosphate and nitrate in it.
“Every time we eat we make a political choice that has an impact on the lives of people around the world, the environment, biodiversity and climate” said Adrian Bebb, head of Friends of Earth at a conference held in Brussels. A British study (Scarborough 2014) estimated that vegans emit 2.5 times less greenhouse emissions for their diets than omnivores.
Reducing our consumption of animal products is a necessity. So, where do we start?