Global Meat Production & Consumption

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Courtesy of Beau Lebens

Global meat production and consumption has steadily increased over the last few decades, which has in turn negatively impacted the environment, the global economy, as well as human health. According to a study conducted by Worldwatch Institute as part of their Nourishing the Planet project, meat production has trebled over the last forty years, and in the last ten years has increased by 20%. The research report titled ‘State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet‘ revealed that meat consumption in industrial countries continues to rise, and is almost double that consumed in developing countries.

“Much of the vigorous growth in meat production is due to the rise of industrial animal agriculture, or factory farming,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Director of the Nourishing the Planet Program. “Factory farms pollute the environment through the heavy use of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used for feed production.”

Environmental Impact

Large-scale meat production not only has a negative impact on the local environment, it also has significant implications in terms of climate change inputs. Animal wastes release two potent greenhouse gases – methane and nitrous oxide. Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while nitrous oxide is a whopping 300 times more potent than the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels.  The global demand for meat is an extremely significant contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is one of the main reasons why emissions are continuing to rise at the rate that they are.

Economic Loss

Large-scale meat production results in animals being ‘factory-farmed’ in intensive, unhygienic  conditions that are conducive to disease outbreaks. Diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, swine flu, avian flu, and mad cow disease result in huge stock losses annually, and consequently also results in grave economic losses in efforts to control these outbreaks. Diseases can also be passed on to humans and pose a serious public health risk.

Impact on Human Health

In order to maintain the health of the livestock and minimize losses due to disease, intensively farmed animals are routinely treated with antibiotics, which ultimately leads to antibiotic resistance in both the animals that are fed the drugs and the humans that inadvertently consume them. According to the Wordwatch Institute’s report, 80% of all antibiotics used in 2009 were used to treat agricultural animals, while only 20% was used to treat human health conditions. Drugs used to maintain the health of intensively farmed animals are not always completely metabolized by the animals and can leach into soil and groundwater where they can contaminate drinking water sources and crops grown for food, posing a severe health risk to humans.

Organic farming

Organic farming – Courtesy of USDA

Organic farming systems that are based on traditional pastoral farming methods not only offer health benefits to the livestock being raised and to the people that consume them, these methods also benefit the environment. Livestock raised on grassy pastures produce meat that is rich in nutrients yet low in fat compared to meat derived from intensively farmed livestock, which is high in fat and low in nutrients. Eating free-range meat reduces many of the health risks associated with consuming meat products, including the risk of inadvertently consuming growth enhancing hormones, antibiotics and other chemical toxins that are fed to intensively farmed livestock in order to promote growth and maintain herd health. Furthermore, a properly managed pastoral farming system can offer carbon sequestration benefits that can mitigate the climate impacts of meat production to a degree.

“Pastoral farming systems, especially in developing countries, improve food security and sustain the livelihoods of millions of farmers worldwide,” said Nierenberg. “Eating less meat and supporting pastoralist communities at every level is essential to combat the destructive trend of factory farms.”

Research Highlights from the Report:

  • Pork has the highest global consumption, followed by poultry, beef, and mutton.
  • Poultry is the fastest growing sector in the meat industry, reflecting an increase of 4.7% in 2010 to 98 million tons.
  • On average, people in developing countries consume 32 kilograms of meat a year, while people in developed countries consume an average of 80 kilograms of meat per person per year – global annual meat consumption per capita was 41.9 kilograms in 2010.
  • 70% of the 880 million poor people living in rural areas who survive on less than $1 per day, depend on livestock for their livelihood and/or food security either in part or in full.
  • It is anticipated that demand for meat derived from livestock will almost double in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, rising from 200 kilocalories per person per day in 2000 to around 400 kilocalories in 2050.
  • Approximately 23% of all water resources used in agriculture are used to water farmed livestock, which equates to 1.15 litres of water per person per day.
  • Livestock production is responsible for approximately 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, with 40% of global methane and 65% of global nitrous oxide stemming from farmed livestock.
  • 75% of all antibiotics administered to livestock are not fully metabolized within the animal’s system, but are instead excreted in animal waste, where it poses a significant risk to human health.
  • It is estimated that male mortality can be reduced by 11% and female mortality reduced by 16% if meat eaters reduced their meat consumption to the equivalent of that of the group that consumed the lowest amount of meat.
  • Consuming meat derived from organically raised livestock offers health and environmental benefits over factory-farmed livestock.
  • By Jenny Griffin

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