The impact of meat production on the planet’s resources

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Our ecosystem under threat from our diet, in particular our excessive consumption of red meat.

When we talk about sustainable development, we cannot avoid mentioning the impact of the protein rich diet of the worlds more developed countries. Meat, in fact, is one of the most expensive, wasteful and polluting of all dietary products. Producing meat requires a very high consumption of natural resources. The impact of meat production on the planet’s natural resources is simply devastating: actually we are destroying the planet just to satisfy our demand for animal-based food.

This is further aggravated by intensive farming pratcies which are used to increase productivity and profitability. Intensive farming generally means a very large number of animals in a very small space. This way of raising animals is against nature and heavily depletes natural resources.

The impact of meat production on the environment, explained:

There are at least seven reasons to believe that this type of meat production is harmful to the ecosystem:

1) Degradation
We tend to underestimate the fact that intensive farming of animals is largely responsible for soil erosion, a phenomenon that, at its worst can cause the desertification of the environment. Soil degradation can occur as a result of excessive exploitation of pastures. The cattle wipe away vegetation with their hooves leaving the earth barren and dry and leading to soil erosion. Growing crops to feed livestock also requires a lot of space.

2) Deforestation
Defroestation of the Amazon rainforest is one of the most significant negative impacts of the mass production of meat, where 88% of deforested areas are used for pasture. In Brazil, according to data provided by CIFOR (Center for International Forestry Research) and the INPE (Institute for Spatial Research of the Brazilian government), in the six years from 1997 to 2003, exports of beef have increased by 600 %. The destination of these exports are mainly European countries.

3) Energy consumption
The production of meat, especially beef, is higly inefficient. The economist Frances Moore Lappé (“Diet for a Small Planet“, New York, Ballantine Books, 1982 , pp.69 -71) has calculated that in a single year 145 million tons of grain and soybeans were produced in the United States to feed cattle. These cattle went on to produce only 21 million tons of meat, milk and eggs. The disproportion between the amount of food used and the final amount is huge! Nearly 124 million tons of wasted food, which could have been used to feed malnourished populations.

4) Water consumption
Water consumption for the production of cereals, for watering animals and for cleaning stalls has a major impact on the global consumption of water. The data provided by the “Water Footprint Website” managed by the University of Twente in The Netherlands and UNESCO- IHE Institute for Water Education, indicate rather strikingly that 16,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilo of beef, quite a startling figure!

5) Chemical pollution
Pollution of soil and water is also linked to the intensive rearing of livestock. When the ground is heavily exploited with monocultures to feed the animals, water pollution occurs. This form of pollution emerged in the 50s because of the systematic recourse to chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.
According to the FAO, 50% of the world grain production and 90% of the soybeans are used as food for cattle, another really unbelievable figure….

6) Recycling of excreta
Another consequence of intensive livestock farming is that it is difficult to manage cattle dung. In traditional farming, dung is then used as a natural fertilizer. In intensive farming, the type of farming as currently being adopted in developed countries, the amount of waste produced by one cow is equal to that produced by 20-40 people. It is obvious that this amount of excrement cannot be absorbed by the ground. The dumping of this “natural” waste leads to unsanitary conditions and is, therefore, another threat to the environment.

7) Global warming and acid rain
Livestock directly produce greenhouse gas emissions during digestion, particularly in the case of cattle. These gases, in particular methane, are highly polluting. Some studies have also revealed that the high ammonia content in animal excrement could be at the origin of the phenomenon of acid rain.

If we want to defend the resources of the planet, it is urgent to question our own food consumption to achieve a more balanced diet in which meat consumption is limited



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