The average person in the UK eats over 11 animals in their lifetime. Each of these farmed animals needs vast amounts of land, fuel and water. It’s time to think not only about ourselves, but also about the nature around us. If we really want to reduce human impact on the environment, the easiest (and cheapest) way to do this is to eat less meat.
Beef and chicken on your table is an amazing waste, a waste of land and energy resources, destruction of forests, pollution of oceans, seas and rivers. Animal breeding on an industrial scale is today recognized by the UN as the main cause of environmental pollution, which leads to a whole bunch of environmental and simply human problems. Over the next 50 years, the world’s population will reach 3 billion, and then we will simply have to reconsider our attitude to meat. So, here are ten reasons to think about it early.
1. Warming on the planet
A person on average eats 230 tons of meat per year: twice as much as 30 years ago. Increasing amounts of feed and water are needed to produce such large quantities of chicken, beef and pork. And it’s also mountains of waste… It’s already a generally accepted fact that the meat industry generates the largest CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
According to a staggering 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), livestock accounts for 18% of human-related greenhouse gas emissions, more than all modes of transport combined. These emissions are associated, firstly, with energy-intensive agricultural practices for growing feed: the use of fertilizers and pesticides, field equipment, irrigation, transportation, and so on.
Growing fodder is associated not only with energy consumption, but also with deforestation: 60% of forests destroyed in 2000-2005 in the Amazon River basin, which, on the contrary, could absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, were cut down for pastures, the rest – for planting soybeans and corn for livestock feed. And cattle, being fed, emits, let’s say, methane. One cow during the day produces about 500 liters of methane, the greenhouse effect of which is 23 times higher than that of carbon dioxide. The livestock complex generates 65% of nitrous oxide emissions, which are 2 times higher than CO296 in terms of the greenhouse effect, mainly from manure.
According to a study conducted last year in Japan, the equivalent of 4550 kg of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere during the life cycle of one cow (that is, the period of time that is released to her by industrial animal husbandry). This cow, along with her companions, then needs to be transported to the slaughterhouse, which implies carbon dioxide emissions associated with the operation of slaughterhouses and meat processing plants, transportation and freezing. Reducing or eliminating meat consumption can play a significant role in combating climate change. Naturally, a vegetarian diet is the most effective in this regard: it can reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by one and a half tons per person per year.
The finishing touch: that figure of 18% was revised up in 2009 to 51%.
2. And the whole Earth is not enough …
The population on the planet will soon reach the figure of 3 billion people … In developing countries, they are trying to catch up with Europe in terms of consumer culture – they are also starting to eat a lot of meat. Meat-eating has been called the “godmother” of the food crisis we’re about to face, as meat-eaters need far more land than vegetarians. If in the same Bangladesh a family whose main diet is rice, beans, fruits and vegetables, one acre of land is enough (or even less), then the average American, who consumes about 270 kilograms of meat a year, needs 20 times more.
Nearly 30% of the planet’s ice-free area is currently used for animal husbandry – mostly to grow food for these animals. One billion people in the world are starving, while the largest number of our crops are consumed by animals. From the point of view of converting the energy used to produce feed into energy stored in the final product, i.e. meat, industrial animal husbandry is an inefficient use of energy. For example, chickens raised for slaughter consume 5-11 kg of feed for every kilogram of weight they reach. Pigs on average require 8-12 kg of feed.
You do not need to be a scientist to calculate: if this grain is fed not to animals, but to the starving, then their number on Earth would decrease significantly. Worse yet, eating grasses by animals wherever possible has led to large-scale wind erosion of the soil and, as a result, desertification of the land. Grazing in the south of Great Britain, in the mountains of Nepal, in the highlands of Ethiopia, causes great loss of fertile soil. In fairness, it is worth mentioning: in Western countries, animals are bred for meat, trying to do it in the shortest possible time. Grow and immediately kill. But in poorer countries, especially in arid Asia, cattle breeding is central to human life and the culture of the people. This is often the only source of food and income for hundreds of thousands of people in the so-called “livestock countries”. These peoples constantly roam, giving the soil and vegetation on it time to recover. This is indeed a more environmentally efficient and thoughtful method of managing, but we have very few such “smart” countries.
3. Animal husbandry takes a lot of drinking water
Eating steak or chicken is the most inefficient meal in terms of the world’s water supply. It takes 450 liters of water to produce one pound (about 27 grams) of wheat. It takes 2 liters of water to produce one pound of meat. Agriculture, which accounts for 500% of all fresh water, has already entered into fierce competition with people for water resources. But, as the demand for meat only increases, it means that in some countries the water will simply be less accessible for drinking. Water-poor Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Gulf States are currently considering leasing millions of hectares of land in Ethiopia and other countries to provide their country with food. They somehow have enough of their own water for their own needs, they cannot share it with agriculture.
4. Disappearance of forests on the planet
The great and terrible agribusiness has been turning to the rainforest for 30 years, not only for timber, but also for land that can be used for grazing. Millions of hectares of trees have been cut down to provide hamburgers for the United States and feed for livestock farms in Europe, China and Japan. According to the latest estimates, an area equivalent to the area of one Latvia or two Belgiums is cleared of forests on the planet every year. And these two Belgiums – for the most part – are given over to grazing animals or growing crops to feed them.
5. Harassing the Earth
Farms operating on an industrial scale produce as much waste as a city with its many inhabitants. For every kilogram of beef, there are 40 kilograms of waste (manure). And when these thousands of kilograms of waste are grouped in one place, the consequences for the environment can be very dramatic. Cesspools near livestock farms for some reason often overflow, leaking from them, which pollute groundwater.
Tens of thousands of kilometers of rivers in the United States, Europe and Asia are polluted every year. One spill from a livestock farm in North Carolina in 1995 was enough to kill about 10 million fish and close about 364 hectares of coastal land. They are hopelessly poisoned. A huge number of animals raised by man exclusively for food threaten the conservation of the Earth’s biodiversity. More than a third of the world’s protected areas designated by the World Wildlife Fund are under threat of extinction due to industrial animal waste.
6.Corruption of the oceans The real tragedy with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far from the first and, unfortunately, not the last. “Dead zones” in rivers and seas occur when a huge amount of animal waste, poultry farms, sewage, fertilizer residues fall into them. They take oxygen from the water – to such an extent that nothing can live in this water. Now there are almost 400 “dead zones” on the planet – ranging from one to 70 thousand square kilometers.
There are “dead zones” in the Scandinavian fjords and in the South China Sea. Of course, the culprit of these zones is not only livestock – but it is the very first.
7. Air pollution
Those who are “lucky” to live next to a large livestock farm know what a terrible smell it is. In addition to methane emissions from cows and pigs, there is a whole bunch of other polluting gases in this production. Statistics are not yet available, but almost two-thirds of the emissions of sulfur compounds into the atmosphere – one of the main causes of acid rain – are also due to industrial animal husbandry. In addition, agriculture contributes to the thinning of the ozone layer.
8. Various diseases
Animal waste contains many pathogens (salmonella, E. coli). In addition, millions of pounds of antibiotics are added to animal feed to promote growth. Which, of course, can not be useful to humans. 9. Waste of world oil reserves The welfare of the Western livestock economy is based on oil. That is why there were food riots in 23 countries around the world when the price of oil reached its peak in 2008.
Every link in this meat-producing energy chain—from producing fertilizer for the land where food is grown, to pumping water from rivers and undercurrents to the fuel needed to ship meat to supermarkets—all adds up to a very large expense. According to some studies, a third of the fossil fuel produced in the US is now going into livestock production.
10. Meat is expensive, in many ways.
Public opinion polls show that 5-6% of the population does not eat meat at all. A few million more people deliberately reduce the amount of meat they eat in their diet, they eat it from time to time. In 2009, we ate 5% less meat than in 2005. These figures appeared, among other things, thanks to the information campaign unfolding in the world about the dangers of meat-eating for life on the planet.
But it’s too early to rejoice: the amount of meat eaten is still staggering. According to figures provided by the British Vegetarian Society, the average British meat-eater eats more than 11 animals in his life: one goose, one rabbit, 4 cows, 18 pigs, 23 sheep, 28 ducks, 39 turkeys, 1158 chickens, 3593 shellfish and 6182 fish.
Vegetarians are right when they say: those who eat meat increase their chances of getting cancer, cardiovascular disease, being overweight, and also having a hole in their pocket. Meat food, as a rule, costs 2-3 times more than vegetarian food.