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How Does Meat Consumption Affect the Environment?

Global meat production and consumption have 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.”

How Does Meat Consumption Affect the Environment?

piece of beef and slices on wooden cutting board

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.

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A brief history of meat-eating

Meat has been eaten by human ancestors for approximately two million years. Meat consumption helped our brain to grow larger and more complex. The availability of the amino acid was a key component in our evolution.

For hundreds of years, cooking made meat digestible. More than 325 million tonnes of meat were created this year alone, according to statistics produced by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.

Most of the meat produced for human consumption comes from intensive breeding of livestock in factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Globalization and climate change have increased the demand for meat all over the world. Global production systems are set to create a surge in demand for red meat and poultry by 2050, equivalent to an extra 12 million tonnes of meat each year.

One of the biggest issues with meat production is that it requires massive amounts of feed, which are made from soybeans or other grains. The amount of demand for livestock feed is not sustainable for the environment. Livestock also eats food crops directly as their main source of food.

Global meat production requires 80% of all soybeans produced globally to be fed directly to livestock.

The environmental impact is huge, both in terms of greenhouse gases, emissions, and deforestation. One important aspect is how much water it takes to produce one calorie of protein from different types of protein sources.

For the most part, humans have eaten animals for 10,000 years since farming came to an end. That’s when you adopted a diet of cultivated wheat, barley, oats, rice or corn instead of eating everything in sight. Meat became one of the most lavish meals among several civilizations only on special occasions.

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Economic Considerations of Meat Production and Consumption

Slicing juicy beef steak by knife in chef hands closeup

Animals are “factory-farmed” in large-scale meat production such as beef production, which entails treating them in intensive, unsanitary conditions that are conducive to disease transmission.

Foot-and-mouth disease, swine flu, avian influenza, and mad cow disease all cause significant stock losses every year and have a significant economic impact in efforts to control the outbreaks. Global

When a chicken is raised in a cage, it produces a tremendous amount of feces. This necessitates the use of antibiotics for animal feed, which are entering the food chain directly. Global meat production is also disadvantageous for antibiotic resistance, environmental impact, water usage, deforestation, global warming, and animal welfare.

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Impact of Meat Consumption and Production 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 Worldwatch 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 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.

The health risks connected with eating meat are significantly decreased when you eat free-range meat, including the chance of ingesting growth-enhancing hormones, antibiotics, and other toxic chemicals that are given to intensively farmed livestock in order to stimulate growth and preserve 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.”

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Meat consumption and viral infections such as COVID

Focus on the hand of a patient in hospital ward

It has been shown that excessive animal product consumption, particularly wild meat, is linked to viral infections. The most prevalent virus infection acquired via meat consumption is hepatitis E (HEV).

HEV infection can cause mild or severe illness in some people. It is unknown whether coronavirus may be detected by humans, and if so, whether human blood within the body poses a hazard or not. Also, bat meat consumption might lead to zoonosis if security measures are not followed.

Animals are the cause of approximately three-quarters of all new diseases. Deforestation and fires put wild animals in closer proximity with human beings, allowing them to be infected. Meat farms have been linked to the spread of illnesses from animal to person.

Because huge numbers of animals are kept in close quarters with compromised immune systems, there is a greater risk of treating animals with antibiotics and growth hormones poses a risk to humans who consume these drugs through animal-derived food products.

This implies that these viruses may spread more quickly or have a human pandemic-like impact. The greater the number of forests destroyed, the more likely it is for a pandemic to come from industrial meat.

Alternatives to meat

Cooked white rice in dark wooden bowl

Meat has protein amino acids and a few critical micronutrients in our diets. There are several choices if we reduced meat consumption. No choice is without risk. Some manufacturing processes haven’t been put to the test at larger scales, and the costs and health risks involved aren’t known.

White rice is among the least processed forms of carbohydrates, which makes it an excellent source of protein. The protein content in white rice is about 9% of total protein. It’s a full protein that includes all essential amino acids, making it a good choice when rice protein alone isn’t enough for nutritional reasons.

Although they provide less concentrated forms of protein, eggs and dairy products are also viable alternatives that can reduce the negative health effects associated with meats.

A growing number of rice protein powders are becoming widely available. The quality varies markedly from one brand to the next, and those that use a combination of carbohydrate fillers such as maltodextrin and dextrose (both corn-derived) will be less effective for maintaining stable blood glucose levels.

Meat is an important source of nutrients in the diets of many people throughout the world, but when consumed in excess or without balanced nutrition, it can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and obesity.

Global meat production has increased sevenfold since 1950, primarily due to increased demand in rapidly developing economies.

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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 liters 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.


How is meat consumption harmful to our environment?

Meat consumption is harmful to our environment because of the strain on land and water, and livestock production’s contribution to climate change.

People in developing countries typically consume less meat than people from developed countries do. Global meat production per capita has been steadily increasing over recent years, which is not only a public health concern when it comes to antibiotics residues transmitted in animal waste, but also a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports that the average person consumes 41 kilograms of meat per year globally with 30% going toward poultry consumption alone.

Mutual interest in the economics of climate change has increased discussions about future strategies in reducing agricultural contributions to GHG emissions by animals who live in industrial livestock operations. Global livestock production accounts w is meat consumption harmful to our health?

Meat consumption can be harmful to your health when it contains antibiotic residues and higher levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Livestock raised on industrial farms is sometimes given unregulated antibiotics that can pose a risk to human health.

Meat produced on industrial livestock operations is lower in nutritional value than grass-fed livestock w is meat consumption harmful to our society?

Meat produced on industrial livestock operations can be a risk to public health because of the unregulated use of antibiotics. Global meat production has been steadily increasing over recent years, which not only poses a threat to human health caused by antibiotic residues transmitted in animal waste but also contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions.

How does meat consumption affect climate change?

Meat consumption has enormous environmental consequences. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture alone is responsible for at least 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re concerned about how your diet affects the environment, start by minimizing your consumption of animal-based foods since unlike, plants which take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the atmosphere, livestock emit methane.

How does reducing meat consumption benefit the environment?

Global meat production and consumption have a much greater environmental effect than any other type of food. Global livestock activities account for 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, 37% of global deforestation, 24 to 32% of all nitrous oxide emissions, and 14.5% of anthropogenic methane emissions. Corn ethanol is our single largest source of total US food.

The most effective way to solve the problems that livestock causes are to reduce meat production. Currently, global meat consumption averages at around 90 pounds per person per year, which is projected to increase by up to 50% worldwide by 2050. Global revenue for processed meats is predicted to reach $137 billion by 2020 based on current trends of food consumption.

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