Research On The Impact Of Eating Meat
Here you will find a compilation of (nowhere near exhaustive) research on the many issues that planet earth faces as a result of the animal agriculture industry: -
Some interesting links that cover many aspects of this issue: -
Livestocks Long Shadow - a landmark report by the UN.
Documentaries/Movies to look out for: -
Other websites: -
The world population has gone from under half a billion historically to 2.5billion in 1950 to approaching 8 billion today. It will be 9.7billion by 2050 and will eventually top out at over 11billion by 2100 before it stops growing, if medium level predictions by the UN turn out to be correct.
The sudden growth, as can be seen in the below graph, is due to medical advances reducing the amount of deaths(particularly in children) and expanding the length of our lives. This was brought on by the industrial revolution. As nations develop, their population expands as a result before the growth falls away and equalises, but at a much higher population than before. This can be seen in Japan and Italy, where the population is actually likely to reduce in the coming years without any immigration.
This link shows you the future of population according to UN predictions: -
The population level of the world is a relatively new problem, only arising in the last century. This is why earths problems are happening now and why now is the time we need to act.
CHANGING DIETARY DEMANDS
Headline findings: -
Current meat consumption is averaged globally at 42kg per person per year. This is set to rise to 52kg by 2030. That's a whopping 24% increase in a single decade.
This poses some questions - where will all these extra livestock animals go? How will we mitigate the climactic impact of these additional animals? What environmental destruction will be needed to satisfy this demand?
Why is the demand changing? It is due to developing countries increasing their demand in line with already developed countries. That's not to say however that these developing nations are to blame. Western countries still eat far far more meat than other nations. Everybody, but particularly the west, need to reduce their intake for the earth to be able to sustain the large human population.
Further findings: -
"A major review by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (16), which makes extensive use of expert judgement, projects an increase of 76% in the total quantity of meat consumed by mid-century. This includes a doubling in the consumption of poultry, a 69% increase in beef, and a 42% increase in pork (16). Although differing in details, the various studies all agree that there will be a substantial increase in the demand for meat".
The World Health Organisations findings: -
Stats shown through maps on changing global habits: -
"According to the results of the calculations, global meat consumption will reach 388 million tons in 2030, 1.44 times the 2011 figure, and 460 million tons in 2050, 1.71 times the 2011 figure, which means that although its growth rate will slow down slightly, consumption of meat will continue to grow".
"Meat consumption is growing at 2.3% per year globally."
"Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years".
"A combination of rising incomes and urbanization are changing diets and increasing the demand for land to the point that dietary change soon may override population growth as the major driver behind land requirements for food. (UN Report)"
"In the US, for example, an average family of four emits more greenhouse gases because of the meat they eat than from driving two cars – but it is cars, not steaks, that regularly come up in discussions about global warming.
what would happen if everyone became vegetarian by 2050. The results indicate that – largely thanks to the elimination of red meat – food-related emissions would drop by about 60%. If the world went vegan instead, emissions declines would be around 70%.
Should we all go vegetarian, ideally we would dedicate at least 80% of that pastureland to the restoration of grasslands and forests, which would capture carbon and further alleviate climate change".
Meat consumption per person: -
A few select countries intake of meat/kg/person/year(2009): -
120.2 - USA
111.5 - Australia
98.30 - Argentina
97.00 - Spain
94.30 - Canada
90.70 - Italy
88.10 - Germany
86.70 - France
85.30 - Brazil
84.20 - United Kingdom
69.20 - Russia
63.80 - Mexico
58.20 - China
58.60 - South Africa
54.10 - South Korea
13.90 - Ghana
11.60 - Indonesia
8.80 - Nigeria
7.80 - Mozambique
4.40 - India
50% of all habitable land on earth is used for agriculture(only 1% is Urban). Of this amount, 77% is for livestock and 23% crops. Despite this ratio, only 17% of calories and 33% of protein come from livestock. This is due to inefficiencies when converting food through the food chain.
1/3rd of all crops grown go to feed livestock.
A meat eaters diet requires 2.5 times the amount of land of a vegetarian diet and up to 5 times that of a vegan diet.
Humans account for about 36 percent of the biomass of all mammals on earth. Domesticated livestock, mostly cows and pigs, account for 60 percent, and wild mammals for only 4 percent. The same holds true for birds. The biomass of poultry is about three times higher than that of wild birds.
The world's animal and plant species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than they did before humans came along. If that continues — and continues for many decades — then by the end of the century we are going to lose one-third or one-half of all species. This has been liked to a 6th mass extinction event(the last one being the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65million years ago).
Beef is up to 10 times worse for the environment that chicken. This is due to inefficiencies in size and growth rates. A cow will live for 18 months before slaughter, a pig 6 months and a chicken 6 weeks.
In a very short time, the last 100 years say, we have gone from a diverse natural world to a human world.
Further findings: -
This UN Report states that: -
Up to 849 million hectares of natural land – nearly the size of Brazil – may be degraded by 2050 should current trends of unsustainable land use continue.
To manage these and other challenges the International Resource Panel uses the “safe operating space” (SOS) concept as a starting point to understand how much more land use can occur before the risk of irreversible damage – in particular through biodiversity loss, release of carbon dioxide, disruption of water and nutrient cycles and loss of fertile soil – becomes unacceptable. The report says that if the goal of halting global biodiversity loss by 2020 is to be reached then cropland expansion, a key driver of that loss, will need to be halted. Using the SOS concept, it calculates that the global cropland area available for supplying demand could safely increase by up to 1,640 million hectares.
Under business-as-usual conditions, the report warns that expected global land demands by 2050 will overshoot this safe operating space. As an interim target, the report proposes 0.20 hectares (1,970 square metres) of cropland per person by 2030. Monitoring global land use of countries and regions for their domestic consumption gives an indication of whether they have exceeded or are within their safe operating space. For the European Union, for instance, 0.31 hectares per person were required in 2007. This is one-fourth more than what is domestically available in the EU, is one-third more that the globally available per person cropland in 2007, and it well above the 0.20 per person SOS target for 2030.
This website gives you loads of data on land use across the world and by country.
This article looks at a hypothetical situation to demonstrate the absolute impact of changing your diet and gives a wish list of what the available land could be used for if we reduced the land we used for our food. Here is an extract -
"Should we all go vegetarian, ideally we would dedicate at least 80% of that pastureland to the restoration of grasslands and forests, which would capture carbon and further alleviate climate change.
The remaining 10 to 20% of former pastureland could be used for growing more crops to fill gaps in the food supply. Though a relatively small increase in agricultural land, this would more than make up for the loss of meat because one-third of the land currently used for crops is dedicated to producing food for livestock – not for humans.
But fortunately, the entire world doesn’t need to convert to vegetarianism or veganism to reap many of the benefits while limiting the repercussions.
Instead, moderation in meat-eating’s frequency and portion size is key. One study found that simply conforming to the World Health Organization’s dietary recommendations would bring the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions down by 17% – a figure that would drop by an additional 40% should citizens further avoid animal products and processed snacks. “These are dietary changes that consumers would barely notice, like having a just-slightly-smaller piece of meat,” Jarvis says. “It’s not this either-or, vegetarian-or-carnivore scenario.”
“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions."
An article about species extinction.
Land clearing is a big issue in Australia. The clearing is primarily to make room for more cows. Up to 70% of livestock in Australia is for export to other countries.
The percentage of biomass on the earth.
More about the biomass of the earth.
A list of the age at which farm animals are slaughtered, starting with 1 day for those poor little male chicks.
Headline Findings: -
Animal agriculture is a major source of climate change causing green house gas emissions.
It's difficult to find an exact agreed upon figure but it seems that 18% is the minimum amount of world GHG emissions that come from animal agriculture, but it's likely to be even higher. This potentially puts 'the meat you eat' ahead of Transport and only behind energy production.
The methane produced by cows could be 86 times more powerful as a GHG than CO². Thankfully it only hangs around for 20 years(CO² lasts 100 years).
The lost carbon capturing brilliance of trees and plants is a big reason animal agriculture is so bad for climate change. This happens when the forests are destroyed to make room for beef or for fields to grow food to feed the cows.
Further Findings: -
A short run down by the UN's food and agriculture organisation(FAO) of the green house gas(GHG) emissions of animal agriculture. Key points: Cattle represent 65% of livestock emissions, growing food for the livestock represents 45% of the total and enteric fermentation(burping and farting) 39%.
A scientific report specifically about climate change and meat and dairy consumption.
"under current trends, food-related agricultural emissions of CH4 and N2O may increase to about 12.7 Gton CO2eq/year by the year 2070. This is likely to be larger than the total CO2-equivalent emission level compatible with meeting the 2 °C limit at chance larger than 50 %"
This article includes a bunch of interesting stats.
The landmark FAO report from the UN, Livestocks long shadow, from 2006 gives a level of 18% of all GHG emissions for animal agriculture.
This level of emissions has been challenged for being too small by under-counting livestock levels and using methane to CO² conversion levels that are too low.
Also, the figure is now old and the amount of livestock worldwide has increased a lot since then. It should also be noted that no connection is made to the climate mitigating benefits of restoring forests on agriculture land to capture carbon.
This is a good example of why it can sometimes be difficult to get a concrete figure on anything! But I think its clear that the GHG emissions are very high and the benefits of reducing the amount of animal agriculture are clear.
This chart is extracted from a UN Report.
AFOLU refers to all agriculture, not just animal agriculture.
93% of fish stocks are maximally sustainably fished or over-fished.
The rates of over fished stocks are continuing to increase.
Half of fish consumed comes from fish farms(which pollute wherever they are)
Fish can be caught more sustainably through careful management, regulation and checks, but by catch must be eliminated.
Dolphins, turtles, sharks and many more species are often accidentally caught in nets. Undesirable fish species or fish that do not meet regulations are thrown back into the ocean, often dead.
Further Findings: -
The 93% headline and the graph come from the 2018 UN FAO State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculure publication.
An article covering everything. Here's and extract: -
"Fish farms are also highly polluting. They produce a slurry of toxic run-off – manure – which fertilises algae in the oceans, reducing the oxygen available to other species and creates dead zones. Scotland's salmon-farming industry, for example, produces the same amount of nitrogen waste as the untreated sewage of 3.2 million people – over half the country's population.
Farmed fish are also breeding grounds for infection and parasites that kill off large proportions of fish – escapees then frequently infect wild populations. Farmers try to control infestations with antibiotics, but usually only succeed in creating a bigger problem of antibiotic resistance."
An article covering a WWF report.
An article about the potential impact of sustainable fishing management.
A report on the future of fish.
A article trying to determine how bad we are over fishing.
This briefly covers the subject of a documentary that aims to highlight the difficulty of counting the fish we catch and questions if we are under-counting.
Another article covering fish stocks.
AMAZON RAINFOREST DESTRUCTION
80 - 90% of the Amazon Rainforest deforestation is for the cattle industry
Some of the deforestation is to grow crops for feed for cattle
About three quarters of the beef produced by Brazil is eaten in Brazil. The remaining quarter is exported. This is growing fast though.
Brazil is the world's biggest exporter of beef, providing 19% of the worlds total beef exports.
Further Findings: -
The 91% statistic comes from this report by the World Bank.
"Compared with 1970, 91 percent of the increment of the cleared area has been converted to cattle ranching."
The UN FAO report, Livestocks Long Shadow says "70% of formerly forested land in the Amazon is used for livestock pasture". (Note: this does not include crop land for cattle feed)
"Amazon deforestation, related to agricultural
expansion for livestock, has been demonstrated
to contribute substantially to global anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions".
This Greenpeace report - Slaughtering The Amazon, covers a lot in a quick summary. "According to the Brazilian government: ‘Cattle are responsible for about 80% of all deforestation’ in the Amazon region. In recent years, on average one hectare of Amazon rainforest has been lost to cattle ranchers every 18 seconds."
A short article from National Geographic. "The biggest driver of deforestation is agriculture. Farmers cut forests to provide more room for planting crops or grazing livestock."
Regarding beef exports, we have the following: -
It takes about 1750 litres of water to make a quarter pounder burger.
Pork and Chicken use about 1/3rd the amount of water as Beef.
90% of the water a person uses is in the food they eat - the rest is at home in your shower, washing machine, etc.
98% of the water used in animal agriculture is in growing the food that they eat. Only 7% of the water used is 'blue-water'(taken from rivers and lakes) but this is enough to be detrimental to those sources and competes with other potential uses(i.e. thirsty humans)
Chocolate, Coffee and Cotton are also big users of water.
Further Findings: -
This website runs through the whole thing in a nice scrolly graphical way.
This report is the source of the table of water use.
Taking the 15412 Litre per kg of beef and running a quick calculation results in the 1750 litres of water per quarter pounder burger.
This report looks specifically of the 'virtual' water usage of a major city in Australia. Here it is expressed that 90% of the water an average persons uses is in the food they eat.
This report includes a section on water use.
Extract: "Agriculture uses more freshwater than any other human activity, and nearly a third of this is required for livestock. Water used in livestock production is largely (87.2%) “green water”—rain and other precipitation that falls directly on the land. Although “blue water” withdrawals for livestock production—from rivers, lakes, and groundwater—are only 7% of greenwater use, they are particularly important because they compete more directly with other uses of water, including that needed for the maintenance of aquatic ecosystems. Water used for growing animal feed accounts for 98% of the total water footprint of livestock production, with livestock drinking water, service water, and feed-mixing water accounting for only 1.1, 0.8, and 0.03% of the total water footprint, respectively. The effects of blue water withdrawals can have substantial impacts on water resources, such as in the High Plains aquifer in the central United States, where increasing production of cattle fed with irrigated corn is resulting in severe aquifer depletion."
A water footprint report of poultry, pork and beef.
A short one with some key stats(including links to reports/sources) from some pesky vegans.
Some more data
There are many other issues that should also be considered as part of the massive bounty of treasure that can be found at the end of the less meat rainbow.
Here's a few of the headliners:
Oceanic Dead Zones are often created by the pollution from the sewerage run off from animal farming.
Wild animals(wolves, lions, tigers, etc) are killed in the name of protecting farm animals.
It's generally unhealthy as a human to eat meat and has been linked to cancer.
Incredible cruelty is inflicted on the majority of animals that come through the animal agriculture industry.
There are economic disadvantages to eating meat for society. These include paying for additional health care, the subsidies paid to businesses to support the industry, loss of tourism from loss of natural areas and paying to clean up the pollution.
Intensive farming practices cause severe local pollution problems from the animals excrement.
80% of Antibiotics sold in the US are given to animals. This can cause superbugs to evolve.
We could feed the whole world population easily if we didn't feed food to animals that could be eaten by humans. We could therefore solve starvation problems.
Further Findings: -
"Oceanic dead zones are areas of large bodies of water—typically in the ocean but also occasionally in lakes and even rivers—that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life."
"Perhaps the most infamous U.S. dead zone is an 8,500 square mile swath (about the size of New Jersey) of the Gulf of Mexico, not far from where the nutrient-laden Mississippi River, which drains farms up and down the Midwest, lets out."
An article about oceanic dead zones.
All about animal cruelty.
There are many many websites and organisations that campaign for better treatment and/or eliminating all animal products from your diet for these reasons alone. Take a quick google search and be horrified.
1 day old male chicks get killed by being thrown in a mincer, alive. Cows, pigs, sheep, are all subjected to being beaten, stabbed and kept in horrible conditions. Animals often never see sunlight or grass. Dairy cows are kept constantly pregnant and their babies ripped away from them. Animals are transported alive in intolerable heat on trucks and boats(for week or months) and many often die - they are treated as statistics and a business expense. There are many many more issues and cruelty that could be expressed here...
A bunch of posts and stats on the true cost of the meat industry.
An article on the economic savings of giving up meat.
Head over here to find loads of facts and their sources for most of the 'other issues' mentioned.
If you made it all the way down here, well done my friend. We salute you and we worship you. You are a hero. Now go and get yourself a drink, you deserve it!