Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Why Eating Meat is Bad for the Environment

I own sheep and have sold them for meat, but I am still intelligent enough to know that eating meat is bad for the environment.  I should preface this article to also note that when I talk about meat I am speaking more about meat from animals raised on a large scale and not hunted meat.  I also want to note that I am not trying to convince anyone to turn vegetarian, but rather suggest we should eat less meat to reduce the negative impact of livestock production on the environment.


One of the biggest concerns for the planet as a whole is deforestation.  Vast areas of rain forest in North and South America have been lost due to deforestation to make way for grazing land or to turn a forest into a hay field (or to grow other feed for livestock).  There are many negative implications when a forest is turned into a pasture or used for crops.  The loss of trees means the loss of important carbon filters as well as a loss of habitat for hundreds of animals. 
Cattle at auction


Livestock animals require water.  The foods they eat (crops) require water.  The more water taken out of rivers to be used for irrigation or for livestock to drink the less there is for other needs downstream.  An average steer requires roughly the amount of water contained in 30 Olympic sized swimming pools before going for slaughter.  Water is a vital resource.  We cannot continue to divert water for livestock farming without continued negative impacts on the environment.


Of course animals have always produced waste (methane, urine, feces) but with the numbers of livestock animals being what they are today the amount of waste produced is an environmental nightmare.  We are talking about huge amounts of toxins (more than three times what humans alone produce) that go into the environment.  Some of the waste is used as fertilizer but even this is not environmentally friendly as particles do run off into the local waterways, contributing to the growth of blue-green algae in lakes, and killing coral reefs in oceans.  In the USA the methane produced by cattle is roughly 20% of all American methane emissions.

Poor Use of Resources

Overall it takes far fewer resources to grow crops for humans than to grow crops for livestock to produce "meat".  Cattle are consuming more vegetable matter than humans.  In the USA alone roughly 41 million tonnes of plant protein (including things such as corn and cereal grains) is fed to cattle, to produce an end result of 7 million tonnes of meat, according to a study from Cornell University.   This translates into the equivalent of 50 bowls of food that could have been eaten by humans to produce just one 8oz steak.  Or consider that Basically farm animals are poor at converting one food (plants) into another food (meat).  It would be less damaging to the environment (require less land) if people simply at more plant matter and less meat.


In order to produce all the feed for livestock the USA uses 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer.  This produces nitrogen oxide which is even worse for the planet than carbon dioxide and is a greenhouse gas, as reported by the Scientific American.

Overall Notes

  • The human population is over 7.5 billion people, our numbers combined with the amount of meat we eat are very alarming.
  • We are now eating more meat per person than we have in history.  In the past meat was not consumed daily and not to the portion sizes we consume now.  
  • While a vegetarian diet may not be for everyone, if people could simply have smaller portions of meat (4 oz is the recommended portion size) and could adopt at least 2 meatless days per week (such as Meatless Monday and one other) then we could reduce some of the negative impacts that livestock production has on the environment. 

Further Reading : How is Eating Meat Bad for the Environment