The environmental challenges related to the production of meat include:
• Use of crops to feed animals whilst neglecting humans
• CO2 and methane production of animals and related industries
• High water use of meat-based agriculture
Meat and seafood are the two most rapidly growing ingredients in the global diet and also two of the most costly in resource use. In 2006, 276 million tons of chicken, pork, beef and other meat were produced, four times as much as in 1961. In 2005, the fishing industry harvested 141 million tons of seafood globally, this is eight times as much as back in 1950. On average, each person eats twice as much meat as back in the 1960s and meat is now the single largest source of animal protein in all affluent nations. Over two million land animals are slaughtered daily in the UK alone.
Global demand for animal flesh is expected to more than double by the year 2050.Within this timescale, the livestock population is expected to rise from 60 billion farm animals to a staggering 120 billion.
How on earth can meat production on this scale be achieved? Already, the majority of farmed animals live in overcrowded, cramped conditions and never see the light of day. Current modes of farming and food production are both unsustainable and cruel. High output animal rearing forces us to create a factory-like environment and ignores animals’ natural ways of life. Are we going to see a more genetic modification of animals and ‘messing’ with nature in order to satisfy the desire for flesh irrespective of an animal’s welfare? The Vegetarian Society’s Research and Information Officer, Gilly Prime, points out that there are moves afoot to develop so-called ‘pain-free’ meat – animals could be genetically modified so that they do not feel pain. It’s a proposition that sounds space-age but might be just around the corner.
As vegetarians, and vegans, we know about the devastating environmental impact of eating meat, and we know that many more human mouths could be fed if less of the world’s soya and cereal crop was fed to livestock. A recent report featured in the Lancet stated that in order to meet the 2030 target for greenhouse gas emissions there would need to be a 30% reduction in livestock. A study carried out back in 2006, examining the impact of a typical week’s eating, showed that a plant-based vegan, organic diet had the smallest environmental impact. It’s common sense. But anybody who tries to spell it out soon realizes that it’s a message that a lot of people simply do not want to hear.